Choosing your career path is a life-altering decision. Once you start the path, any time you invest toward learning your trade puts you one step closer to becoming a professional.
An especially lucrative career option is engineering. But engineering is similar to the medical field in the sense that you don’t just simply choose to be an “engineer,” just like you don’t simply choose to be a “doctor.” You have to pick a speciality, as there are many options. Some of the most popular options include software engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and industrial engineering.
In this blog, we’ll be comparing and contrasting the different aspects of these engineering careers, such as:
- The job responsibilities
- The educational requirements
- The salaries
- The pros and cons
- How to get your foot in the door
Read on to learn more.
Responsibilities of a Software Engineer vs. Electrical Engineer vs. Mechanical Engineer vs. Industrial Engineer
Each of these types of engineering jobs differ in a variety of ways, and sometimes they even share some similarities. When choosing which career path is right for you, you’ll want to consider every factor.
First, let’s talk about software engineers. A software engineer spend most of their time creating computer programs or applications. If you’re reading this blog from your Google Chrome app, you’re reading from an app that was created by a software engineer. That’s a pretty broad stroke, but it gives you a good idea of their overall job description. Their daily activities will likely include various other duties, such as making patches or updates, finding and fixing bugs, and much more.
Next, an electrical engineer’s job will typically involve designing an electrical system or electrical equipment. If you’re still reading this blog from your phone, an electrical engineer created the system that powers your phone. Electrical engineers work with computers, phones, and basically any device or item that transmits energy. The daily responsibilities of an electrical engineer could include 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, and much more.
A mechanical engineer typically designs and develops physical products. Mechanical engineers tend to be the broadest of the engineering career choices, in the sense that they design such 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 much more. A mechanical engineer must be able to design product blueprints, find efficient ways of manufacturing products, run simulations and test products, and much more.
Finally, an industrial engineer will use their skills to make manufacturing and industrial systems as efficient as possible. An industrial engineer will make sure that industrial processes are not only efficient, but cost-effective. This is done by designing plans for large systems, managing inventory, increasing worker and machine efficiency, and much more.
As you can see, although these jobs vary wildly in their responsibilities, they do share some DNA. All of them have to do with designing something and testing it to make sure the product, system, or process works well. In some ways, these jobs can’t exist without each other. Electrical, mechanical, and industrial engineers all use programs developed by a software engineer. Electrical engineers designed the circuitry that allows the software engineer’s computer to work. Mechanical engineers developed the various components of the computer and industrial engineers make sure these computers are manufactured cost effectively and efficiently. All engineering jobs have common ground in some ways and differ in others. But the responsibilities aren’t the only differences.
One way in which most of these engineering jobs are similar are their educational requirements. Most of these jobs require a bachelor’s degree. Of course, if you wish to pursue education past a bachelor’s degree, your initial salary may be higher.
The one exception to the above rule is software engineering. It’s one of the few engineering jobs you can get without a degree. Many people get jobs in this field who are self-taught or who have gone through a coding bootcamp.
Keep in mind, all of these jobs require you to stay up-to-date with current trends and changes in the industry, so the learning process never really stops. These jobs existed decades ago, but if someone who started software engineering in the 1990’s tried to apply those same skills today without any new knowledge, they would be very lost. The same goes for electrical, mechanical, and industrial engineering. With the rapid pace that technology develops and changes, these jobs change too.
Although salaries between these different career options don’t vary by extremely huge amounts, there’s still a noticeable discrepancy between a few of them. Keep in mind, your salary for each of these careers will obviously depend on your location and level of experience. Let’s break down each:
Software Engineer Salary: According to payscale.com, the average salary of a software engineer in the United States is close to $84,000 per year, with some of the lower range salaries being close to $70,000 and the higher range salaries being around $154,000.
Electrical Engineer Salary: According to payscale.com, the average salary of an electrical engineer in the United States is close to $74,000 per year, with some of the lower range salaries being close to $56,000 and the higher range salaries being around $108,000.
Mechanical Engineer Salary: According to payscale.com, the average salary of a mechanical engineer in the United States is close to $69,000 per year, with some of the lower range salaries being close to $52,000 and the higher range salaries being around $97,000.
Industrial Engineer Salary: According to payscale.com, the average salary of an industrial engineer in the United States is close to $65,000 per year, with some of the lower range salaries being close to $50,000 and the higher range salaries being around $89,000.
As you can see, the average salaries of the electrical, mechanical, and industrial engineers are all fairly close, with industrial engineer being the lowest. Software engineers beat them out by quite a decent margin, with the average salary being nearly $20,000 more than the average industrial engineer salary. The software engineer also has the greatest salary potential, with the highest salaries around $124,000. The only option that comes close to that figure is the electrical engineer, with the high salaries topping out around $108,000.
This is before we even look at the Senior Engineer salaries. Gaining enough experience and putting enough time in could net you a Senior Engineer job in any of these fields. A Senior Software Engineer, for example, can make around $150,000 a year, with $112,000 being the average. Again, if money is one of your primary motivators, software engineering might be your best option.
Of course, each of these jobs come with their own set of pros and cons. Let’s take a look at some of those.
Software Engineering Pros and Cons
There are various pros and cons when it comes to software engineering. Chief among the pros is definitely pay. Software engineers get paid very well, especially as you gain more experience in your career. 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. Although, for some, this may be seen as a con if you like to use your hands and move around your work environment. Another pro of software engineering is the fact that it’s a high demand job, meaning you won’t have to worry too much about there not being jobs available. Finally, the hours can typically be a pro of working in software engineering. Depending on your position, usually the hours aren’t too demanding, and you’ll work a typical 40-hour work week.
The cons of software engineering aren’t numerous, but you’ll want to keep them in mind if you’re considering this career path. Perhaps the biggest con is that sometimes the job can be intense or 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. Also, as we mentioned before, if you don’t like working in an office, software engineering might not be ideal for you.
Electrical Engineering Pros and Cons
Electrical engineering also has many benefits, with a few downsides. Again, the pay for electrical engineers is definitely attractive. Also, electrical engineering is a fairly flexible job. There are various industries that you could apply your skill in. Unlike software engineering, you may get to use your hands more and get out of the office every once in awhile.
That’s not to say that you won’t spend time at a computer though, electrical engineers use programs to design and map out systems and equipment. Also, a con of electrical engineering is the inherent danger involved with working with electricity. Obviously there are plenty of safety measures in place, but electric shock is still a risk of the job.
Mechanical Engineering Pros and Cons
Many of the pros of being a software engineer can be applied to the mechanical engineering career. You work in a comfortable office much of the day, though you may 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 when it comes to engineering jobs. That’s not to say the pay is meager, in fact it’s quite good, but there’s a noticeable difference between the average pay of software engineers and mechanical engineers. Another con is the stress associated with the job, but this is often the case with just about any engineering career.
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 in this blog. Again, the pay is great when compared to most jobs, but as far as engineering careers go, it’s on the lower end of the spectrum. As always, the stress associated with engineering jobs is a factor here.
How to Become a Software Engineer
Surprisingly, despite having the highest average salary, becoming a software engineer doesn’t have quite as big of a barrier to entry as the other careers in this blog. That’s not to say that becoming a software engineer is easy, but it’s the only engineering career where you don’t necessarily need a bachelor’s degree. If your self-taught skills are strong enough, you can have a career in software engineering. With useful resources such as coding bootcamps available, you can expedite your path to becoming a software engineer.
How to Become an Electrical Engineer
Electrical engineers need to have a bachelor’s degree, at the very least. Also, although it’s not required, master’s degrees are often encouraged. Though, you could seek a job that offers to pay for your post-graduate schooling in order to save money. After four years of job experience, it’s a good idea to get an engineering license.
How to Become a Mechanical Engineer
A mechanical engineer also needs a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree is often encouraged. A mechanical engineer must get a license in the state they want to work in.
How to Become an Industrial Engineer
An industrial engineer need’s a bachelor’s degree and preferably a master’s degree as well. Although a license isn’t required, it is recommended. Licenses in electrical, mechanical, and industrial engineering are typically a good way to advance your career, so getting them as soon as possible is often the best course of action.
Software Engineering Programs at Career Karma
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