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What do Engineers do? 

We have all heard of engineering before and you likely know of an engineering company and what they do or produce. But what exactly does an engineer do?

What is meant when something is engineered well?

When you think of an architect as someone who designs and draws buildings, you can visualize someone with drawing tools. A doctor, you can visualize someone with the stethoscope with the white doctors coat.

When you think of an engineer you might imagine someone with a construction hat perhaps, but this only represents a portion of engineers, with many not working on construction sites and not dressing in HiVis (High Visibility) gear at all. In fact this iconic looks is typically the same as any construction worker.

There's obviously nothing wrong with this look except when someone wants to know what an engineer looks like or what is it that they do it may be hard to imagine and therefore explain to someone else.

So to begin answering this question we can consider the definitions that you can easily find online. Which are basically correct, but are sometimes confined to specific disciplines and as the technology changes, so does the engineers and what engineers do on a day to day basis.

But beyond the facade and the specifics of different industries there's a few underlying things that all engineers generally do.

So in a nutshell, here's what an engineer does:

Engineers analyse, problem solve, design, build, plan and communicate technological solutions.

Now, engineers have 2 broad verticals you can categorize, first they span across many fields/discipline and second they span across different industries.

One engineer of one discipline may work across different industries and similarly one industry may have several disciplinary types of engineering relevant to solving its technological problems.

This leads to a whole spectrum between the types of engineers working in the micro detail of hands on building things all the way up to the more macro detail working with high concepts, architectures or abstractions. White collar to blue collar in a sense.

What does this mean?

For example, a civil Engineer could work in the construction industry, the roads industry, the water industry or the power industry. Depending on the industry, the civil engineer could be doing completely different day to day work.

And this extends to subcategories of a civil engineer. Consider a mechanical engineer, they may be in the car industry or they could be in power generation or they could be in aerospace industry.

Lastly, for good measure, take a software engineer, they could work in various IT based industries, but they could also be in aerospace, or power generation.

When you think of a Software engineer you could think of someone who works in an office who never touches any physical things, perhaps in the banking industry. They can build software, but they can't build an engine or wire a circuit -- But not necessarily. This changes once you change the industry.

Some software engineers in a power generation industry setting might be working closer with PLC's and DCS's which are essentially computers and systems that perform automation controls. In this scenario a software engineer is more likely to be exposed to at least basic electrical wiring and dealing closer with equipment.

The argument I'm laying out here is that the reason it can be hard to visualize what an engineer does exactly, or what it means for something to be "engineered" can be challenging to define.

So now let me take you back to this definition:

Engineers analyse, problem solve, design, build, plan and communicate technological solutions.

What does it look like for someone to be analysing? And don't other professions in other industries also analyse. An accountant might analyse, a lawyer and a doctor. So it's not as simple to take any of those actions in the engineering definition and if you do that action therefore you are "engineering" something.

And it's also not easy enough to say, well you need to be analysing the problem AND have a specific engineering degree. This may qualify your work as engineering work, but that doesn't make it engineering per se.

So what's one way we can get an idea of what it is to engineer?

Well one answer, and this is the one that Engineering IRL is going to approach is to get everyday engineers to share their story and some details about their work and what they do. Through the stories over time we should then start to see emerge the essence of engineering.

You can see this in our Engineers in the real world section. We have a gallery of engineers and you can be a part of this too, for more details follow this link.

And finally knowing that engineers wear many different hats you have the very hands on, more labor intensive all the way through to the more conceptual, you can find engineers as boots on the ground physically executing or alternatively working on a computer in an office type environment. You can also find them consulting, managing stakeholders, leading, presenting, pitching, business development.

Gone are the days you can think of a construction worker, an architect, electrician or mechanic visual to capture what an engineer looks like in the wild.

So this is what I hope to address at Engineering IRL.

To build upon the basis that Engineers analyse, problem solve, design, build, plan and communicate technological solutions.

For now this is the most satisfying definition. And that's why our logo is based on this premise. To engineer is a combination of the industries and disciplines solving small and societal problems or making improvements with and around the current technology.

For completeness, here's another description of what engineers do:

Engineers apply the principles of science and mathematics to develop economical solutions to technical problems. Their work is the link between scientific discoveries and the commercial applications that meet societal and consumer needs. Many engineers develop new products.

This is also a great stating point to build upon defining an engineer and what they do, but in my experience and what I've seen, science or mathematics per se may not be what an engineer is using to solve a problem, it could be a pattern or process, the solution could be a purely engineering solution or a system, set of data, idea, philosophy, industry experience and not really based upon a scientific discovery or mathematics.

What do you think?

Which should be the starting point for us?

Join as a member and let us know through social or the website also don't miss out when our engineer career benchmark tool goes live!

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