How Do You Decide Which Engineering Career is Right for You?

How Do You Decide Which Engineering Career is Right for You?
Beth Dumbauld

Whether you start your engineering career with an associate or a bachelor's degree, your career options are many – and your job outlook is excellent. Because engineering covers such a broad range of job roles, you’ll first need to explore the different career paths you can take in engineering, such as:

  • Engineering technician (which requires only a certificate or an associate degree), or
  • Engineer (which requires a bachelor's degree). Common engineering career paths include: civil, electrical engineer, petroleum, aerospace, environmental, industrial, mechanical, biomedical, computer, and nuclear engineers.

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Then you’ll need to take a closer look at the qualities that are essential to those considering a career in engineering – and valued by those who make engineering hiring decisions. As we spotlight the essential qualities for a successful career in engineering, you learn how to assess where your career goals and interests fit, and determine what level of education you need for the engineering specialties that interest you most.

Engineering Technicians

Engineering technicians work within the broad spectrum of engineering, assisting engineers and scientists. The skill that unites engineering technicians in all fields is their ability to solve technical problems.

Typical Duties - May Vary with Type of Engineering Specialty

  • Help engineers and scientists conduct research and development
  • Build or set up equipment
  • Do experiments
  • Collect data and calculate results
  • Help make a model of new equipment
  • Quality control: check products, do tests, and collect data
  • Manufacturing: design and develop products
  • Assist and find ways to produce things efficiently
  • Education Required

Students who earn a 2-year associate degree in engineering technology have the best chance of getting a job as an engineering technician. Some engineering technicians can earn their credentials while in the military or by earning a certificate in engineering technology combined with on-the-job training.

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Engineers

Aerospace Engineers

Aerospace Engineers design aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. In addition, they test prototypes to make sure that they function according to design.

Education: Must have a bachelor's degree in Aerospace engineering or another field of engineering or science related to aerospace systems. Some aerospace engineers work on projects that are related to national defense and thus require security clearances.

Agricultural and Biological Engineers

Agricultural and Biological Engineers work on a variety of activities, ranging from aquaculture to land farming to forestry; from developing biofuels to improving conservation; from planning animal environments to finding better ways to process food.

Education: Agricultural engineers must have a bachelor's degree, preferably in agricultural engineering or biological engineering.

Biomedical Engineers

Biomedical Engineers analyze and design solutions to problems in biology and medicine, with the goal of improving the quality and effectiveness of patient care.

Education: Typically need a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering. Alternatively, they can get a bachelor's degree in a different field of engineering and then either get a graduate degree in biomedical engineering or get on-the-job training in biomedical engineering.

Chemical Engineers

Chemical Engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, and physics to solve problems. These problems involve the production or use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and many other products. Chemical engineers design processes and equipment for large-scale safe and sustainable manufacturing, plan and test methods of manufacturing products and treating byproducts, and supervise production.

Education: Must have a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering, now sometimes known as a bachelor's degree in chemical and biomolecular engineering. Earning a Professional Engineer license may increase chances for employment.

Civil Engineers

Civil Engineers design and supervise large construction projects, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.

Education: Need a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, and typically need a graduate degree for promotion to managerial positions. Civil engineers who sell their own services publicly must be licensed.

Computer Engineers

Computer Engineers research, design, develop, and test computer equipment such as chips, circuit boards, or routers.

Education: Most entry-level computer hardware engineers have a bachelor's degree in computer engineering, although a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering is generally acceptable.

Electrical and Electronics Engineers

Electrical and Electronics Engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacturing of electrical equipment such as electric motors, radar and navigation systems, communications systems, and power generation equipment.

Education: Must have a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering.

Environmental Engineers

Environmental Engineers use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems.

Education: Must have a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering or a related field, such as civil, chemical, or mechanical engineering. Obtaining a license improves the chances of employment.

Geological and Mining Engineers

Geological and Mining Engineers design mines for the safe and efficient removal of minerals, such as coal and metals, for manufacturing and utilities.

Education: A bachelor's degree from an accredited engineering program is required. To work as a professional engineer, a license is also needed. Requirements for licensure vary by state, but generally require passing two exams.

Industrial Engineers

Industrial Engineers find ways to eliminate wastefulness in production processes. They devise efficient ways to use workers, machines, materials, information, and energy to make a product or provide a service. Industrial engineers frequently end up with jobs in manufacturing.

Education: Must have a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering.

Marine and Ocean Engineers

Marine and Ocean Engineers design, build, and maintain ships from aircraft carriers to submarines, from sailboats to tankers.

Education: Must have a bachelor's degree in marine engineering, naval architecture, or marine systems engineering.

Materials and Ceramics Engineers

Materials and Ceramics Engineers develop, process, and test materials used to create a range of products, from computer chips and aircraft wings to golf clubs and snow skis. They also help select materials and develop new ways to use materials.

Education: Materials Engineers must have a bachelor's degree in materials science or engineering.

Mechanical Engineers

Mechanical Engineers design, develop, build, and test mechanical devices, including tools, engines, and machines.

Education: Need a bachelor's degree – a graduate degree is typically needed for promotion into managerial positions. Mechanical engineers who sell services publicly must be licensed in all states.

Nuclear Engineers

Nuclear Engineers research and develop the processes, instruments, and systems used to get benefits from nuclear energy and radiation.

Education: Must have a bachelor's degree in nuclear engineering.

Petroleum Engineers

Petroleum Engineers design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the earth’s surface. Petroleum engineers also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells.

Education: Must have a bachelor's degree in engineering, preferably in petroleum engineering.

Sales Engineers

Sales Engineers sell complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses. They must have extensive knowledge of the products’ parts and functions and must understand the scientific processes that make these products work.

Education: Sales Engineers typically need a bachelor's degree in engineering, combining technical knowledge of the products or services they are selling with strong interpersonal skills.

Important Qualities

Here are some of the important skills and qualities that you will need to develop in order to be successful in engineering. Get real experience, and earn credit, by taking college courses online that focus on these skills - and are usually required for a career in engineering.

  • Good communication skills
  • Work well within a team
  • Motivated and willing to take initiative
  • Adaptable under changing conditions
  • Strong analytical skills
  • Strong computer skills
  • Good organizational skills
  • Detail-oriented

If you answer yes to most of these questions, there’s a good chance that a career in engineering is an excellent match for your skills – and that you do have what it takes to earn your degree in engineering.

Not sure where to start? Download our free guide on How to Go back to College today!

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