Engineering is a fun and thrilling field to get into. It allows you to put theoretical knowledge to work and breathe new life into projects that typically have a huge impact on the world around them. It doesn’t matter what type of engineer you focus on or how you work to improve your career, because what you do will always make changes for the future.
Engineers work for private corporations, charity organizations, governments, and even for themselves as consultants or freelancers. You have so much power and opportunity when it comes to being an engineer, and a rather unique career path ahead of you.
Engineers don’t have the standard career ladder like many other fields. You can flip between roles on a project-by-project basis depending on your own needs and your qualifications. You can work as a project manager and then on the next project be a lead expert, then on the one after that work in an even more advanced management position in operations or product innovation.
The ability to work either for a single employer or on a project basis puts a lot of power in your hands. This power is the ability to customize your career as you need. In fact, becoming bored and complacent in engineering is one of the sure signs that it is time to move on to the next phase of your career.
As management and expertise roles are not parallel and do intersect, however, you are going to want to go into engineering with a different mindset than you would for almost any other field. You can and should build up your specialist experience, yes, but you will also want to get started with management experience relatively early on.
Many great engineers find themselves thrust into management positions before they are ready, which means you have a greater risk of failure. Learning on the job is always an option, but having the right framework to guide you with your new management roles will help you make the right decisions sooner, rather than learning by putting out fires.
Though every career will be unique, there are a few great tips that will help you see great progress and help you get the most out of your engineering career, and they include the following steps.
Step 1: Understand the Types of Engineering Fields
There are multiple engineering fields, and while there is a lot of flexibility, each requires a substantial amount of training and education. The good news is that there is plenty of overlap, allowing you to really invest in your interests and still provide a great service to yourself and to the world.
Though these fields do not encompass the sheer amount of different roles in engineering, the top fields that you will want to consider when becoming an engineer include:
Mechanical engineers bring machines to life. If you love to make things and work with your hands, mechanical engineering can be the perfect fit. From automobiles to robots your work can help influence the next generation of mechanical feats. Though you can specialize solely within mechanical engineering it is a good idea to branch into AI and machine learning, as many projects are veering into autonomous design.
The private space sector has brought massive new investments into the sector and a renewed interest in space as a whole. This new space race of sorts has meant many aerospace engineers can get back into rocket science and reach for the stars. Work on a variety of projects from rockets to satellites and enjoy being part of a new paradigm and age in space exploration.
Work to create new products that will be used in a variety of different applications, from cleaning to medicine to industrial application. Chemical engineers work to craft new products for a variety of uses in this multidisciplinary role that is in high demand across various sectors in their research and development departments.
Civil engineers build cities. From bridges to buildings your work will be seen and embraced by citizens everywhere. You can work on essential projects that make living in increasingly urban areas possible, or you can work on private projects to create stunning new architectural gems that will be admired by generations. Civil engineers work closely with architects, city planners, and governments.
Electrical engineers work to build the next generation of computers. Though we are not yet at the phase where quantum computing is possible, it is electrical engineers that work to take us closer and closer. Their work and influence have drastically altered society and technology as we know it, and will continue to play a massive role in the future development of technology.
These are of course the big sectors, but they are hardly the only fields out there. Environmental engineering is a relatively new field that was created to help address the climate crisis and environmental concerns of today. Systems engineers are essential for continually bringing older systems like transportation into the future. As technology continues to develop new areas of engineering will crop up in order to address the evolving challenges of the day.
Though you cannot prepare for the future entirely, you can absolutely build a foundation that will help you adapt to new trends and technologies – both within engineering and within your own role.
Step 2: Launch Your Career from Day One of Your Undergraduate
You can start preparing for your career from the first day of your undergraduate degree. Start first by signing up and committing to the various relevant societies and programs on your campus that relate to your field. There should be something, considering your university has a department in the field you want to get involved in.
You should also have a look at your department website or have a talk with your student advisor to learn about any external programs or competitions that are available to you. Knowing what you can do is the first step to actually getting the job done.
Not only will going for these societies, programs, and competitions look great on your resume and offer unrivalled experience, it is also how you can start making friends and networking with the next generation of engineers.
The job market can be very tough as well, even for internships. While your careers services and also your department should work to partner with great employers, that still won’t guarantee you will make the cut.
That is where personal and group projects come into play. Not only will you be able to build your resume with practical and theoretical experience, you’ll also have finished projects to show to employers to help you get those coveted internships.
Interning is a complicated issue, which is why you will want to get through your interning period while you are still at university. Once you graduate you won’t have the comfort of your student loan to support yourself, so working without pay becomes less acceptable the older you get.
You should aim for one to two internships, depending on their length, per school year. Use all of your experience from personal projects, internships, and any group or competitions to help you land your first job as an engineer.
Step 3: Furthering Your Experience
You can try to rush forward with your engineering field and start to realize that the floor begins to fall under your feet because you don’t have the foundation you need to keep going. Furthering your training and experience is an absolute must, regardless what specialization you have chosen for yourself.
There will be a certain amount of ongoing training as well. You’ll need to continue to practice and learn the programming languages and their newest editions. You’ll need to keep up with new technologies, and with the ever-changing regulations that affect your sector.
A degree can help you build a foundation but you need to further your experience with a lifelong dedication to your craft. This means hard skills, soft skills, general knowledge and networking.
Furthering your experience this way will prepare you for every future you can take with your career, but if managing is in your goals then you will want to consider a very special type of degree in order to prepare you for the new role and all it entails.
Step 4: Understanding the Benefits of Engineering Management
A masters in engineering and management comes with a massive number of benefits. Every project will need a lead, and that lead needs to know how to manage and get the most out of their team. Higher level managers need to be able to properly integrate teams into the bigger picture.
Many engineering managers end up thrust into the position out of sheer need, which can be daunting and can set talented people up for failure. By taking the plunge and investing in a Masters in Engineering and Management before this you can really take the wheel of your own career. You can get those advanced positions sooner, and you can complete the job in question with greater efficiency.
Management degrees have always existed, but engineering management degrees are incredibly new. In the past you may have had to try to force what you learn in an MBA to work for your engineering career, but today you can cut right to the heart of what you need to learn with a degree specifically designed for engineers.
These degrees can help all types of engineers as well, from those in mechanical engineering all the way to computer engineering. Even physicists and other scientists can benefit from this type of degree because it specifically helps those in project-based workflows.
You will need at least two years of engineering work experience, an undergraduate, and two letters of recommendation. The requirements are far less than what you need for an MBA, which allows young engineers to get a leg up on their own career path and avoid being pushed into a management or leadership role without any experience.
Engineering careers can move very fast. For the best results, you want a background in engineering management, accounting and finance, management and leadership, and also project management at minimum. Depending on what type of engineering field you work in and what each project you work on is involved in you will also want to choose a concentration in data analytics, advanced project management, product innovation management, or in operations management.
Step 5: Understanding How to Grow Your Reputation as an Engineer
Doing great work as an engineer is a great way to build your reputation, but that isn’t your only avenue. You also want to invest in your own projects and in building up your network. You want options. Options are how you can continue to adjust and tackle your career so that it stays exciting and interesting.
Start by making it a habit to attend local events in your area. These can be talks, workshops, conferences, meet and greets, and more. You’ll find a lot of them on group and event sites for your area. If the event in question would be of use to your employer you may even be able to get your attendance sponsored.
Put yourself out there and try to meet as many people as you can and really get in depth with what you talk about. This is how you network effectively and learn while you do it.
Don’t forget your own personal projects, either. This will naturally be more applicable to certain engineering fields than others, but it is always possible. At minimum, writing great content and having it published in notable magazines or journals can help improve your reputation and get your name out there for all the right reasons.
You want your name to precede you in the engineering world. You want a Google search to bring you and your accomplishments up on the first page. You want employers and opportunities to come to you, and putting yourself out there, both by improving your network and also by developing your own personal projects and publications is how you do it.