What does an engineer do?

Engineering is all around us. And we engage with it every day in almost every aspect of our lives. From the smartphone that connects you to your world to the car that gets you from A to B and the office building you work in – all of these require the specialised skills of an engineer to bring them to life.

Understanding what an engineer does starts with a greater understanding of what engineering is – and who better to explain it than two engineering ‘celebs’? Henry Petroski, a civil engineering professor who specialises in failure analysis, said that, “Science is about knowing; engineering is about doing.” While Elon Musk, who requires no introduction, defines engineering as, “Magic made real.”

There’s also insight to be gained from the origin of the word ‘engineer’, which comes from two Latin words, ingeniare meaning ‘to contrive, devise’ and ingenium meaning ‘cleverness’. Put these together and we arrive at something along the lines of a clever invention or innovation. And that’s really what lies at the heart of this fascinating discipline – engineers applying principles of maths and science to create products and technology designed to make our lives easier. Or as world-renowned scientist Isaac Asimov explains, “Science can amuse and fascinate us all, but it is Engineering that changes the world.”

Now let’s get back to the question of what engineers actually do. The first thing worth noting is that this depends entirely on the field of engineering an engineer has chosen – and there are many! While the four major ones are chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical, the list of others is long and includes aerospace, agricultural, biomedical, environmental, industrial, marine, mining and geological… as mentioned, it’s a very long list.

The earliest engineers built many astonishing structures, including the pyramids, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, Solomon’s Temple and the Colosseum. Today, engineers build everything from modern marvels like the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Millau Viaduct in France and the Venice Tide Barrier Project through to prosthetic limbs, drug delivery systems and rockets bound for Mars.

Depending on their field of expertise, the average day of an engineer will include meetings with clients, conceptualising designs, creating detailed drawings of these designs, and site inspections. Beyond that, their day-to-day deliverables will vary considerably. As will where they work – some work mostly in an office, while others spend the majority of their time on-site. But no matter how different their days may be, there’s one thing all engineers have in common: putting their advanced problem-solving skills to work to create innovative solutions that enhance how we live, work, travel, connect, and more.

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