Choosing your career path is a life-altering decision. Once you start the path, any time you invest in learning your trade puts you one step closer to becoming a professional. An especially lucrative career option is in engineering. 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 specialty, as there are many types of engineering. Some of the most popular engineering fields 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
Responsibilities for Each Kind of Engineering
Each of these types of engineering jobs differs 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.
1. Software Engineer Responsibilities
A software engineer spends most of her 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. The daily activities of a computer engineer include various other duties, such as making patches or updates, finding and fixing bugs, and much more.
2. Electrical Engineering Responsibilities
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 or electronics engineers work with computers, cell 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.
3. Mechanical Engineering Responsibilities
A mechanical engineer typically designs and develops physical products. Mechanical engineers tend to be the broadest of the engineering career choices. That is, 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.
4. Industrial Engineering Responsibilities
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.
5. Civil Engineering Responsibilities
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.
6. Aerospace Engineering Responsibilities
As the name implies, aerospace engineering is the field of engineering that deals with flight. That is, aerospace engineers design, develop, and constructs aircraft and spacecraft. More specifically, aerospace engineering can be broken down further into two more specific engineering disciplines: aeronautical engineering, which deals with aircraft that fly within the Earth’s atmosphere, and astronautical engineering, which is concerned with spacecraft that fly beyond our planet’s atmosphere.
7. Chemical Engineering Responsibilities
The work of chemical engineers is primarily devoted to developing manufacturing processes for chemical components. That is, chemical engineering is concerned with manufacturing and using chemicals in fields like pharmaceuticals, energy, and any other realm that involves specialized understanding of chemical elements and chemical processes.
8. Agricultural Engineering Responsibilities
Agricultural engineers are tasked with combining elements of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, and civil engineering in an effort to achieve agricultural–that is, 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.
9. Environmental Engineering Responsibilities
This one is fairly obvious, of course. Environmental engineering involves combining elements of a variety of scientific disciplines to solve environmental problems. The main goals of an environmental engineer are to ensure the ongoing health of humans and the other living organisms in our environment, as well as to increase the health of the overall environment itself.
10. Biomedical Engineering Responsibilities
Biomedical engineering is a complicated field, but to put it simply, 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.
11. Petroleum Engineering Responsibilities
Yep. You guessed it: petroleum engineering is all about oil. Indeed, petroleum engineers are those people who are tasked with producing hydrocarbons (oil and natural gas). Their work involves exploring sources of oil and natural gas, as well as implementing the processes of extraction.
12. Structural Engineering Responsibilities
Generally speaking, structural engineering is a branch of civil engineering. Structural engineers are the civil engineers who create the designs for the, well, structures that underlie larger engineering projects.
13. Nuclear Engineering Responsibilities
Nuclear engineers specialize in the processes, research, and systems surrounding the safe use of nuclear energy. Many nuclear engineers focus on researching and testing innovative uses for nuclear materials in medicine or industrial processes, though most nuclear engineers dedicate their work to power generation.
14. Automotive Engineering Responsibilities
Automotive engineering is, somewhat obviously, the type of engineering that deals with the study, planning, and production of automobiles. Most automotive engineers have a strong background in mechanical 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. 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.
Educational Requirements for Engineering
One way in which most of these engineering jobs are similar are their educational requirements. Most of these jobs require at least an undergraduate engineering degree from a university. 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. While the traditional path to a career as a software engineer has been to get a computer science degree, today 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.
Median Salary for Each of the Types of Engineering
Although salaries between these different types of engineering 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 – $100,690
- Electrical Engineer Salary – $97,970
- Mechanical Engineer Salary – $85,880
- Industrial Engineer Salary – $85,880
- Civil Engineer Salary – $84,770
- Aerospace Engineer Salary – $113,030
- Chemical Engineer Salary – $102,106
- Agricultural Engineer Salary – $74,780
- Environmental Engineer Salary – $86,800
- Biomedical Engineer Salary – $88,040
- Petroleum Engineer Salary – $132,280
- Structural Engineer Salary – $82,845
- Nuclear Engineer Salary – $105,810
- Automotive Engineer Salary – $82,200
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.
Upsides and Downsides to Each Type of Engineering
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
You can apply many of the pros of being a software engineer to a 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 you compare it to most other 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 Start Different Types of Engineering Careers
Finally, let’s take a look at the different paths you can take to pursue a career in each of these types of engineering.
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.
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.
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