The truth about what engineers really do for a living

Introducing yourself as an engineer usually leads to a change in the conversation, a blank look or a suggestion that you could fix their boiler problem. So just what does an engineer do?

Engineers solve society’s problems. Simple.
Engineers solve society’s problems. Simple.
  • Updated: 07 June, 2017
  • Author: Zakiyya Adam MEng, MSc, GMICE. Graduate Member on ICE Council 2015-2017

So why should anyone know or care what engineers do? I was half way through my engineering degree before I actually started to get it.

Engineering is broad. It's all around us, hidden in plain sight. And sometimes, it's actually just hidden. Think, where does the water come from when you turn on your kitchen tap? The breadth of the field makes it difficult to define. Doctors specialise in medicine, lawyers are experts of law, and engineers, well, we're the problem solvers.

Engineering is problem solving

Problem solvers. Sounds great. But what does that actually mean? Engineers are concerned with the issues that affect people's everyday lives. We make sure everyone can move around, communicate with each other, have access to clean water and safe buildings, and so on. And what are our tools? Our knowledge of the fundamental principles of science and maths, our curiosity, our ability to face seemingly impossible tasks and get excited by the challenge, our willingness to venture into the unknown.

How do engineers do it?

The role of an engineer doesn't fit into a neat little box. Some engineers will work on the technical details of design while others will focus on resource management. Some engineers will spend their days in an office, others will conduct tests in laboratories or spend time managing construction sites. Some will strive to create the world's tallest structure or longest bridge while others will work at the nanoscale.

The role, the work environment and the scope of the problem are just a few of the aspects in which the profession operates at both ends of the scale.

What does a typical engineer look like?

Engineering is a varied profession and so are the people who work within it. We are both outdoor people and people who prefer to work in an office. We can see the bigger picture and get stuck into the minute details. We work collaboratively across disciplines and we are experts in our niche. Our logical approach to creative problem solving, however, is something that we all share.

It's not easy to define engineering or the typical engineer. And that's the point. That's what makes engineering so great. We work on problems facing real people and our planet today. We work on shaping tomorrow's world. Those challenges and our vision for the future evolves. So we do too – as does our approach and our work.

To understand what it means to be an engineer you only need to understand the one thing that remains constant, our ultimate goal: to solve society's problems. All of them. Simple.

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