Engineering is similar to the medical field in the sense that you don’t just choose to be a “doctor.” In the same way, you don’t simply choose to be an “engineer.” You have to pick a specialty as there are many types of engineering jobs.
This gives rise to the question: “how many types of engineers are there?” In this guide, we’ll be comparing and contrasting the different aspects of engineering careers, including:
- Job responsibilities
- Educational requirements
- Salaries (applicable in the United States)
- Pros and cons
- How to get your foot in the door
We have a lot to cover, so let’s jump right in.
Types of Engineering Jobs and Salaries
Median Salary: $101,250
An electrical engineer’s job involves designing an electrical system or electrical equipment. Electrical or electronics engineers work with computers, cell phones, and any device or item that transmits energy.
The daily responsibilities of an electrical engineer could include the following:
- Testing an electrical system
- Solving any problem that comes up
- Designing a system or piece of equipment
- Checking a system or piece of equipment for safety
Electrical Engineering: Pros and Cons
For one, the pay for electrical engineers is definitely attractive. It’s also a fairly flexible job. There are various industries that you could apply your skills in.
Unlike software engineering, you may need to use your hands more and get out of the office every once in a while. That’s not to say that you won’t spend time at a computer. Electrical engineers use programs to design and map out systems and equipment.
A con of electrical engineering is the inherent dangers involved with working with electricity.
How to Become an Electrical Engineer
Electrical engineers need to have a bachelor’s degree, at the very least. Master’s degrees are often encouraged.
Median Salary: $107,510
A software engineer spends most of his/her time creating computer programs or applications. The daily activities of a computer engineer include various other duties. Among these are making patches or updates, finding and fixing bugs, and much more.
Software Engineering: Pros and Cons
Chief among the pros is pay. Software engineers get paid very well, especially as one gains more experience in his/her career. This is one of the main reasons why software engineering is not only one of the most lucrative types of engineering. It’s also one of the best tech jobs for the future.
Another pro of software engineering is, physically, it isn’t very labor-intensive. Much of your work will be done in a comfortable office space on a computer. Lastly, it’s a high demand job, meaning you won’t have to worry too much about there not being jobs available.
Perhaps the biggest con is that sometimes the job can be mentally stressful. Issues like a bug in a program often require quick-thinking to fix, lest the end-consumer get frustrated with the software or application.
How to Become a Software Engineer
Becoming a software engineer doesn’t have as big of a barrier to entry as the other careers in this list. If your self-taught skills are strong enough, you can have a career in software engineering. With useful resources such as coding bootcamps, you can expedite your path to becoming a software engineer.
Median Salary: $88,430
Mechanical engineers design and develop physical products. They tend to be the broadest of the types of engineering careers. That is, they design a wide variety of things.
Car engines are the work of mechanical engineers. So are refrigerators, HVAC systems, printers, airplanes, the controls on an airplane, and much more.
A mechanical engineer’s duties include:
- Designing product blueprints
- Finding efficient ways of manufacturing products
- Running simulations
- Testing products
Mechanical Engineering: Pros and Cons
You can apply many of the pros of being a software engineer to a mechanical engineering career. There’s the fact that you work in a comfortable office much of the day. You may, however, get to leave the office sometimes depending on your specific job.
Also, mechanical engineering is one of the most varied engineering careers possible. There are numerous industries that you can find a mechanical engineering job in.
Perhaps one of the biggest cons is that mechanical engineering is on the lower end of the pay spectrum among the engineering jobs.
How to Become a Mechanical Engineer
A mechanical engineer needs a bachelor’s degree from an accredited mechanical engineering school. A master’s degree is often encouraged. S/he must also get a license in the state s/he wants to work in.
Median Salary: $88,020
Industrial engineers use their skills to make manufacturing and industrial systems as efficient as possible. They ensure that industrial processes are not only efficient but also cost-effective. They do so by designing plans for large systems, managing inventory, increasing worker and machine efficiency, and much more.
Industrial Engineering: Pros and Cons
Industrial engineers have the benefit of being able to translate their skills to a variety of industries and different areas in a company. They also tend to coordinate teams of people and have the potential to move into management positions. So if you enjoy leadership, you may enjoy industrial engineering.
The biggest con of industrial engineering is that the pay is the lowest average for the engineering jobs we’re discussing. Yet, the pay is great when you compare it to most other jobs.
How to Become an Industrial Engineer
An industrial engineer needs a bachelor’s degree and, preferably, a master’s degree. Although a license isn’t required, it is recommended. Licenses in electrical, mechanical, and industrial engineering are a good way to advance your career. So, getting them as soon as possible is often the best course of action.
Median Salary: $116,500
As the name implies, aerospace engineering deals with flight. Aerospace engineers design, develop, and constructs aircraft and spacecraft.
Aerospace engineering can be broken down further into two more specific engineering disciplines. First is aeronautical engineering, which deals with aircraft that fly within the Earth’s atmosphere. The second is astronautical engineering, which is concerned with spacecraft that fly beyond our planet’s atmosphere.
Aerospace Engineering: Pros and Cons
The most obvious pro of being an aerospace engineer is the fact that every aerospace engineer gets to go to space at least once. Okay, that’s not true. But you do get to work in what is easily one of the coolest industries on (and off) the planet.
And maybe this is just a lifetime of reading science fiction. But, I think there’s something noble about aerospace engineering’s project of extending human civilization out into the fire and void of empty space.
For this honor, you are also paid pretty well. Aerospace engineers have the second-highest average salary of any engineering discipline, second only to petroleum engineering.
Probably the biggest con associated with aerospace engineering is the limited number of places at which you can find work. This has a few consequences.
First, you’re almost certainly going to end up working for the government. You may also work at one of maybe a dozen private firms that specialize in building and testing aerospace equipment.
It’s true that we’ve seen a really exciting expansion of job opportunities in the form of companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. However, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos can still only hire so many people to build rockets for them.
For this reason, you may well find yourself in an exceptionally hierarchical workplace once you do find employment. Moreover, when you have lots of people chasing a limited job pool, competition can be extremely severe.
If you do take a government job, you should also be aware of how glacially slow government projects tend to move. I’d wager that for every hour you spend building or thinking about rockets is an hour of being in a meeting or filing reports.
How to Become an Aerospace Engineer
Your best bet is to earn at least a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. You might also consider attending one of the programs that allow you to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s in just five years.
As with the other majors mentioned, you will probably be well served to take the fundamentals of engineering (FE) exam after graduation. Follow this up by getting your professional engineering license after you’ve acquired the requisite four years of work experience.
Median Salary: $108,770
Chemical engineers primarily devote their time to developing manufacturing processes for chemical components. This discipline is concerned with manufacturing and using chemicals in fields that involve a specialized understanding of chemical elements and processes. These include pharmaceuticals and energy sectors, among others.
Chemical Engineering: Pros and Cons
Chemical engineering has much to recommend it. It is one of the better-paying engineering jobs. The discipline racks up an average pay in the low six figures, with around 10 percent of practitioners clearing $150,000.
Chemical engineers also have their pick of industries to work in. It’s hard not to marvel at the sheer variety of places chemical engineers can end up.
There are obvious destinations, like the pharmaceutical industry. The less obvious ones include architecture, manufacturing. Chemical engineers also work on developing new cleaners, stains, solvents, paints, paint removers, lipsticks, and basically everything else.
Naturally, there are a few cons associated with this engineering discipline. Depending on where you end up as a chemical engineer, your job could have its fair share of dangers. Any time your mixing chemicals, there’s a chance that you’ll cause an explosion or inadvertently summon Cthulhu.
How to Become a Chemical Engineer
Like most types of engineering, the journey usually starts with earning a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. As the ranks of college-goers continue to swell, it’s becoming more important for you to distinguish yourself. Arguably the most straightforward way to do this is by completing one or more internships while studying.
Doing so will help you choose a specialty early and begin building expertise and industry contacts in it. You should also look into completing the fundamentals of engineering and professional engineering exams when you’re eligible to do so. The former can be taken after you graduate. The latter requires at least four years of relevant work experience.
Median Salary: $88,860
Environmental engineering involves combining elements of a variety of scientific disciplines to solve environmental problems. The main goals of an environmental engineer are as follows:
- To ensure the ongoing health of humans and other living organisms
- To increase the health of the overall environment itself
Environmental Engineering: Pros and Cons
There are quite a number of pros associated with environmental engineering. For one, it seems to be one of those engineering disciplines that people feel really strongly compelled to pursue.
With all the talk about climate change, environmental engineers often feel a sense of grand purpose associated with their chosen field. This isn’t always seen in other people and other professions. It might also be why the discipline has relatively high job satisfaction ratings.
A lot of environmental engineering takes place in the lab or in an office. However, there is a real chance that you’ll get to spend time outdoors, getting fresh air, sunshine, and exercise. On the other hand, it’s always possible that job sites could be remote, dangerous, or require your presence for long weeks at a time.
This aspect of the job could be a pro or a con, depending on your personality and the specifics of your situation.
Relative to other engineering disciplines, environmental engineers don’t get paid that well. If you love the work, this will tend not to matter. It’s worth bearing in mind as you undergo the process of taking out loans to finance your education.
How to Become an Environmental Engineer
If you’re interested in becoming an environmental engineer, you must attain at least a bachelor’s degree in the field. Educating yourself up to the level of a master’s degree or a Ph.D. will increase your career prospects and eventual pay.
Some colleges offer programs that will allow you to complete bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years. Others have partnerships with companies that will allow you to complete internships and gain relevant experience.
To advance as quickly as possible, you’ll need to complete the fundamentals of engineering exam after graduation. Take the professional engineering exam after gaining at least four years of relevant work experience.
Median Salary: $80,720
Agricultural engineers combine elements of mechanical, electrical, chemical, and civil engineering to achieve farming and food production goals. Much of the work of an agricultural engineer involves using and optimizing machinery and various types of farming tools and equipment.
Agricultural Engineering: Pros and Cons
Anyone with the word ‘engineering’ in their title is likely to be responsible for a wide variety of different tasks. That’s nowhere truer than in agricultural engineering. This involves tackling a range of projects, from troubleshooting equipment malfunctions to assessing the purity of water sources.
Depending on your constitution, this facet of the job could either be a pro or a con. You could view it as a waste of time or an exciting chance to broaden your horizons. Similarly, agricultural engineers don’t make as much as most engineering professionals. How important this ultimately turns out to be is up to you.
How to Become an Agricultural Engineer
As will no doubt be shocking, the best way to become an agricultural engineer is to study agricultural engineering in school. From what I’ve seen, a bachelor’s degree is almost always sufficient to enter the field. Keep in mind though that more training increases your chances of moving to a higher pay scale.
Median Salary: $137,720
You guessed it: petroleum engineering is all about oil. Indeed, petroleum engineers are those who are tasked with producing hydrocarbons (oil and gas). Their work involves exploring sources of oil and natural gas, as well as implementing the processes of extraction.
Petroleum Engineering: Pros and Cons
Petroleum engineering is the highest-paying of all the types of engineering on the market. There is also a huge demand for petroleum engineers, creating some 1,100 jobs from 2019 to 2029.
This is not to say this career doesn’t come with some drawbacks. Petroleum engineers tend to work really long hours, sometimes in shifts of 80 hours or more if you work on a drilling rig. All told, petroleum engineering is often considered among the toughest engineering professions.
How to Become a Petroleum Engineer
You’re unlikely to get a petroleum engineering job without a degree in engineering. Petroleum engineering is obviously the best degree to pursue. However, it isn’t unheard of for holders of mechanical or chemical engineering degrees to make the cut. A fair number of relevant jobs require more advanced degrees.
Median Salary: $91,160 (includes mining engineers)
A geological engineer can work anywhere that large amounts of earth need to be extracted, explored, processed, or otherwise dealt with. Their responsibilities can include:
- Auditing tunnels for safety
- Designing underground or open-pit mines
- Developing means for transporting valuable minerals to processing facilities
- Handling conservation, sustainability, and reclamation efforts
- Surveying or preparing technical reports.
Geological Engineering: Pros and Cons
There are several substantial pros to geological engineering. One of the biggest is common to all engineering paths. That is, you get to apply engineering principles to solving valuable, large-scale problems.
The second is that your job should be relatively secure. Geological engineering is slated to grow at least as much as the average for all occupations.
There are two major cons to being a geological engineer. The first is that the pay is on the lower end for engineers. The second could be a pro or con, depending on your personality.
Much of geological engineering occurs on-site. This means you could be working in offices or remote wildernesses. You might need to travel a fair bit or be on location for multiple weeks at a time.
How to Become a Geological Engineer
Geological engineers need to at least have a bachelor’s degree in a relevant discipline. In the United States, any engineer wanting to market their skills professionally must pass two additional tests. These are given by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying.
Median Salary: $91,410
A biomedical engineer uses the analytical methods of other types of engineering and applies them to solve problems in medicine and biology. Biomedical engineers, for example, are the ones responsible for developing advanced mechanical devices and other health care innovations.
Median Salary: $76,679
Automotive engineering deals with the study, planning, and production of automobiles. Most automotive engineers have a strong background in mechanical engineering.
Median Salary: $113,460
Nuclear engineers specialize in the processes, research, and systems surrounding the safe use of nuclear energy. Most nuclear engineers dedicate their work to power generation. Others focus on researching and testing innovative uses for nuclear materials in medicine or industrial processes.
Median Salary: $87,060
In many ways, civil engineering is what most people think of when they think about what engineers do. Civil engineers are involved in the planning of public works, like roads, bridges, dams, and other large projects. Indeed, civil engineers are the folks that make our environment inhabitable and usable in the modern world.
Median Salary: $69,466
Generally speaking, structural engineering is a branch of civil engineering. Structural engineers are the civil engineers who create the designs for, well, the structures that underlie larger projects found in other types of engineering.
Other Types of Engineering Careers
Finally, we’ll close with a list of all the other types of engineering that we couldn’t fit in our already expansive list. Be sure to check out these lesser-known fields and other sub-disciplines within the engineering sphere:
- Biomechanical Engineering
- Architectural Engineering
- Computer Science Engineering
- Mechatronics Engineering
- Robotics Engineering
- Microelectronic Engineering
- Materials Engineering
- Paper Engineering
- Sustainability Engineering
- Systems Engineering
- Manufacturing Engineering
- Marine Engineering
- Photonics Engineering
- Nanotechnology Engineering
- Mining Engineering
- Ceramics Engineering
- Geomatics Engineering
- Health and Safety Engineering
As you can see, although these different types of engineering vary widely in their responsibilities, they do share some DNA. All of them have to do with designing something and testing it to make sure it works well. In some ways, these jobs can’t exist without each other.
Currently, the highest-paid engineering field is petroleum engineering. Petroleum engineers earn an average of over $130,000 per year.
Definitely. Because of the multi-faceted nature of engineering, as a whole, opportunities in the field never really disappear. In fact, they’re expected to keep increasing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the market can expect the addition of 139,300 jobs from 2016 to 2026.
Considered one of the legacy roles, civil engineering tops the list of the most sought-after engineering jobs. The discipline is expected to see the creation of 32,300 jobs from 2016 to 2026.
Most engineering disciplines require a bachelor’s degree to qualify for a job, with a master’s degree often recommended for advancement. However, there are disciplines that you can break into without a degree, such as software engineering. With the rise of coding bootcamps, it’s become easier for aspiring software engineers to launch a career in the field.
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