Which engineering hat should you wear
Which engineering hat should you wear? Image: VTT Studio/Shutterstock

What type of engineer do you want to be?

27 Feb 2018

There are so many career options within the broad spectrum of engineering. Which path do you want to take?

What springs to your mind when someone says the word ‘engineer’ to you? Someone who works with physical materials? Chemicals? Software?

All of those things are true, and a great deal more. Engineering is one of the broadest sectors in existence. You can find an engineer in agriculture, computers, electronics, oil and gas, transport – the list goes on.

So, to mark Engineers Week, we decided to break down a wide-ranging selection of career options for anyone who wants to become an engineer but isn’t sure what sector they want to land in.

With so many engineering roles, we couldn’t possibly list every single one. However, we hope that the following list will give you a strong grasp of the options available to you as a budding engineer.

Aerospace engineering

Aerospace engineers are responsible for the design and structure of aircraft or spacecraft. They are also responsible for the internal structure so you will need strong mechanical, physics and possibly electronic engineering skills. Anyone who wants to work on vehicles that stay on the ground should peruse automotive engineering. Another transport option is rail engineering.

Agricultural engineering

With the rapid evolution of the agritech industry, agricultural engineering is a very exciting route to take. Agricultural engineers could design agricultural machinery, equipment and structures. They could also be responsible for food engineering, soil management and conservation or processing of crops.

Biomedical engineering

Biomedical engineering includes the design of devices, instrumentation or processes for clinical use. A biomedical engineer applies scientific and engineering principles to assist medical staff in the development of advanced healthcare technology. With the rapid growth of the medtech industry, particularly in Ireland, it’s a very exciting time for biomedical engineers.

Building services engineering

Being a building services engineer involves a number of tasks depending the specific role you have. However, it can have a lot of crossover with health and safety engineering, power engineering and maintenance. Building services engineers design, install and maintain energy-efficient systems such as water, lighting, heating and air conditioning.

Chemical engineering

Chemical engineering involves the development and experimentation of machines and plants that leads to chemical reactions, which create valuable products and solve everyday problems, particularly in healthcare. Chemical engineers are needed mainly within the biotech and pharma sector, and there is often crossover with manufacturing.

Civil/commercial engineering

For budding engineers who have a passion for architecture, civil or commercial engineering is a good path to go down. Civil engineers are responsible for the design of structures such as bridges, tunnels, car parks, train stations or railways. Commercial engineers can often be involved in the creation of landmark buildings.

Defence engineering

Defence engineering is the development and production of technology that focuses on the national security and stability of governments throughout the world. Due to the changing security needs of different countries, this career is always changing and can vary depending on the specific branch you’re in.

Electrical engineering

Focusing on the design and manufacturing of electrical systems for buildings, transport and construction, electrical engineers are involved with the design right through to the implementation of electrical systems. A qualification in electrical engineering will give you plenty of career opportunities within other engineering sectors. You could also pursue electronics engineering, which deals with smaller electronic devices.

Geotechnical engineering

Geotechnical engineering involves construction with soil or rock. These geotechnical engineers have to evaluate the quality of the soil and other elements to determine whether the particular project is suitable for the chosen site or not. It also involves assessing slope stability and the risk of landslides, rock fall and avalanches.

Hydrology engineering

Hydrology engineers focus on the quantity and quality of water on a land surface. Their general responsibility includes checking the development of flood-risk maps. However, their skills are also useful in developing countries for testing the level of quality in drinking water.

Infrastructure engineering

This form of engineering straddles the line between IT hardware and networks, and those perusing a career down this path can take either route. Infrastructure engineers maintain IT systems within organisations. The network engineer generally focuses on the set-up of the internet and communication, while hardware focuses on the development and testing of the physical system.

Marine engineering

What aviation engineering is to planes and aircraft, marine engineering is to ships, boats and other sea vessels. Marine engineers generally design, build, test and repair these nautical vessels, and are usually involved with the same work with drilling equipment and offshore platforms such as oil rigs.

Materials engineering

Materials engineers work with a lot of raw materials and substances. Their expertise lies in understanding the properties and behaviours of these substances as well as finished products. Materials engineers develop, process and test materials used to create a range of products, from computer chips and aircraft wings to golf clubs and biomedical devices.

Mechanical engineering

Mechanical engineering is one of the broader disciplines within engineering and is usually associated with manufacturing, construction or anything that can be thought of as a machine. These engineers can pursue careers in many of the more specialised fields that we’ve mentioned, such as aviation, agriculture or civil engineering.

Nuclear engineering

Depending on the specific industry, nuclear engineers can perform a number of different tasks. They can be responsible for designing nuclear equipment used in power plants, medical machinery and other devices. They may also need to handle emergency situations around nuclear machinery.

Petroleum, oil and gas engineering

A strong knowledge of geophysics as well as crossover with chemical engineering is important for this discipline. Petroleum, oil and gas engineers are responsible for the economical and environmentally safe handling of the activities related to the production of hydrocarbons such as natural gas or crude oil. Petroleum engineers devise methods to improve oil and gas production, determining the need for new or modified tool designs.

Process engineering

In line with manufacturing engineers that produce food, drink, pharmaceuticals and other such products, a process engineer develops the industrial processes that lead to this manufacturing of said products. It is hugely involved with chemical and biochemical processes leading to the change of raw materials, so there is a lot of crossover with other disciplines.

Quality engineering

Quality engineers assess products to ensure they achieve a certain standard. These engineers would be responsible for improving systems and processes to ensure that standard is met or improved. Jobs for quality engineers are commonly found in pharma, medtech, and the food and drink industry.

Software engineering

One of the most popular roles within the tech sector, software engineers are responsible for the development and implementation of software. Unlike many of the other strands of engineering, this path will require a background in computer science or a similar discipline rather than engineering. Strong IT, analytical and problem-solving skills are also important for this role.

Telecoms and networks engineering

This field of engineering focuses on the design and development of communication networks for voice, data and multimedia applications. As a networks or telecoms engineer, you are responsible for progression of internet, mobile phone and wireless communications. Electronic, telecommunication and computer skills are all very valuable to engineers working with networks.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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