Engineering careers • Myths debunked

You may have heard that engineering is a man’s world. Furthermore, you may have heard that the world of engineering is full of men who have all the technical skills in the world, but no social skills to match. In many people’s minds, an engineering career is a constant love affair between a man and his machines.

Wait a second, though! Is it really all about nuts and bolts, spanners and screwdrivers? Definitely not. And do women actually work in engineering? Of course they do!

Forget anything you’ve heard previously! Before you make the decision to get into engineering, you should firstly discover what it’s really all about.

Why is engineering so important?

It’s all about solving problems using specialist technical and practical skills. It’s all about maths, science, research, prototypes, design, maintenance and production.

Every industry and every area of society depends on the precise and efficient work of engineers. These guys provide technological solutions to the problems, issues and ideas that affect every area of our lives. They design, manufacture and maintain almost everything people and industries use, from computers, spacecraft and boats to corkscrews, buildings and chemical reactors. Technological advances would never happen without engineers. Consequently, the people who work in this sector are massively important in developing the future of our society.

Why are there so many different branches of engineering?

There are so many different areas of engineering to work in; however, most engineers choose to specialise in just one, such as chemical, automotive or robotics. Careers in engineering are constantly evolving and new processes and technologies are being developed all the time. This allows engineers to stay on the ball and react to new problems and challenges in their chosen field.

Engineering careers are constantly varied in terms of their job responsibilities, but also in their working locations. As an engineer you could be working in an office, in a laboratory, on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean, in a factory, or even in outer space.

Each engineering discipline requires professionals with very specific skill-sets. However, each and every area of this sector is as complex as the next. Consequently, all engineers need to have strong mathematical skills, logic and the ability to rise to intellectual and practical challenges. If you’ve got what it takes, you might be the right candidate for an engineering apprenticeship.

A massive variety of industries need professional engineers. Some of the most popular include:

  • Defence
  • Space
  • Energy
  • Transport
  • Environmental
  • Medical and pharmaceutical
  • Construction
  • Marine
  • Food and drink.

Many engineers have a variety of technical skills; however, many choose to specialise in a specific type of technical function, such as:

  • Design
  • Research and prototype development
  • Production
  • Installation and maintenance
  • Safety and quality assurance.

Moreover, as discussed above, most engineers tend to select one expert area of engineering and develop their career in that one niche area.

What sectors of engineering build things?

Ever wondered why your paper airplane, or homemade bottle rocket, plummets to the ground after only a matter of seconds, whilst real aircraft and space craft can stay up there for hours, days and even years on end? That’s because your effort was designed in seconds and constructed into one clumsy mess, whereas actual aircraft are designed, built and maintained by some of the most talented engineers in the world.

This complex area of engineering can be deconstructed into various different areas: aeronautical engineers who deal with aircraft which fly within our atmosphere; astronautical engineers who deal with spacecraft which operate outside of the earth’s atmosphere; and avionics engineers who deal with all the electronic and electrical parts of aircraft and space craft (e.g. navigation systems).

Automotive engineering is a similarly complex branch of engineering, but is obviously concerned with the design and production of cars, motorbikes, buses, trucks and your cousin’s funny little moped. Automotive engineers actually have their fingers in all kinds of engineering pies, with their jobs involving a combo of mechanical, electrical, electronic and software engineering.

Civil engineers are all about the built environment. They are responsible for providing engineering expertise on buildings, dams, bridges, stadiums and all kinds of major construction projects. These guys tend to need a bit of ‘structure’ in their lives, get it? (N.B. we sincerely apologise for the quality of this joke!).

What is the difference between chemical engineering and biotechnology engineering?

Two other highly specialist areas of engineering, which require a slightly different scientific background, are chemical engineering and biotechnology engineering. Chemical engineering involves employing chemical and biological scientific techniques to transform raw materials into functional products and substances. Meanwhile, biotechnology engineering combines biological science with engineering principles to create a variety of products like medicines, biodegradable plastics and biofuels.

Mechanical engineering is one of the oldest, broadest and most popular engineering disciplines. It involves the design, production and maintenance of mechanical systems, machines, tools and apparatus that use heat and mechanical power to operate (such as pistons, engines cooling apparatus and vehicles etc.).

What is industrial engineering?

Industrial engineering is one of the most complex branches of engineering. It may surprise you to know that these careers are not just about engineering within industrial environments (e.g. factories). In fact, it is a much more business-focused discipline, which influences all kinds of different organisations and their processes, systems and operations.

Industrial engineers combine expert mathematical skills with logic and strategic skills. They also develop a broad range of expertise and knowledge in money, people, mathematical principles, psychology, physical sciences, social sciences, equipment, and resources to provide business and management solutions in a quantifiable way. Sounds complex, doesn’t it? Basically, these guys use a mixture of technical, scientific and analytical skills to solve problems and make significant changes to businesses.

What is electrical engineering?

We don’t mean to ‘shock’ you, but electrical and electronic engineers do exactly what they say they do (N.B. apologies once more for that shocking joke). They’re all about the electric bits. Importantly, electrical engineers are the guys who deal with large-scale electrical systems, like electric generators, engines and pylons, whilst electronics engineers are all about small scale electronic systems like circuits, motherboards and nanoelectronics.

What fields of engineering can I pursue with an I.T. degree?

Various engineering careers are available in the I.T. and telecommunications sector. They broadly fit into two areas:

  • Software engineers
  • Hardware and infrastructure engineers.

Hardware and infrastructure engineers work with the physical parts of computers, networks and telecommunications apparatus. They deal with network cables, motherboards, desktop units and computer peripherals, whereas software engineers work with the intangible computer programmes that make computers or telecoms systems function effectively. They deal with operating systems, programmes, applications, websites, databases, computer games and so much more.

Perhaps one of the most exciting areas of this sector is within automation, simulation and robotics engineering. Simulation engineers use computer programmes and computer simulation technologies to model engineering projects in a virtual environment. They can therefore test, evaluate and anticipate potential problems for complex pieces of equipment in inaccessible environments (e.g. the surface of Mars). This allows essential changes to be made to complex machinery and equipment before a project is carried out.

Automation engineers require a mixed knowledge of hardware and software techniques to design, produce and maintain equipment and machinery, which reduces the need for human work. Robotics engineers, meanwhile, are concerned with the design, production, application and maintenance of complex robots.

We know this is a lot to digest, but hopefully you will now see how varied and exciting a job in engineering can be! Perhaps if Homer Simpson’s job had been as interesting as any of the above he would have laid off the donuts…

What can I do with a mechanical engineering degree?

Befuddled by your career options? This clever little tool helps you find out exactly what you can do with your mechanical engineering degree.


You might imagine your future as a technical maestro researching, designing, developing and building cutting-edge mechanical products, devices, vehicles and machines. But hold your horses, there’s a whole range of sectors clamouring for your skills. Click on the links below to explore them further:

  • Banking, Finance & Accountancy
  • Property, Architecture & Construction
  • Energy & Utilities
  • Engineering
  • IT & Technology
  • Law
  • Management Consulting & Business
  • Manufacturing & Production
  • Medicine & Medical Sciences
  • Public Sector & Defence
  • Science
  • Teaching & Education
  • Transport & Logistics


A mechanical engineering degree (and all those projects and placements) will give a heady mixture of technical skills, coupled with (hopefully) a head for business and management. Here are some of the skills your mechanical degree might help you to develop:

Advanced I.T. Skills

Microsoft office? Child’s play! You’ve got highly developed I.T. skills that’d run rings around the average schmuck.

Analytical Skills

You’re better than Shearer and Hansen put together. You’re even better than Gary Neville. Fortunately, your top-notch analytical skills also extend beyond the world of football punditry.

Attention to Detail

You can spot a needle in a haystack. Sometimes you can even spot a specific needle in a massive stack of needles. You’re just that sharp.

Commercial Awareness

You know the business world like the back of your hand. You can look at situations from a commercial perspective and use your business know-how to influence success.

Communication (Oral)

All mouth, no trousers? Nope, but you can speak to people in a calm, concise and engaging manner.

Communication (Written)

You may not be a romantic poet, but you can write in a professional, succinct and appealing fashion.

Computer-Aided Design

Forget pen and paper, you’ve got highly desirable computer-aided design skills.


You have the ability to come up with creative and innovative ideas. You’re so far outside the box you can’t even see the box. The box is merely a dot on the horizon.

Data Handling

You can compile, organise and analyse data. Qualitative data? Quantitative data? It doesn’t matter. You’ve got it nailed.


You don’t need somebody holding your hand the entire time. You can work on your own, use your initiative and keep yourself motivated.


You’re a shepherd, not a sheep. You can lead from the front and take charge when decisions need to be made.


You ain’t no fool! Your approach to problem solving is characterised by reason and rationality.


Forget 2 + 2 = 4, you’ve got the numeracy skills to give Carol Vorderman a run for her money.

Problem Solving

You’re a bit like Jimmy McNulty in The Wire. You might swear a lot, but you can solve problems quickly and logically without too much head-scratching.


Like a pig sniffing for truffles, you have the ability to get your head down and find exactly what you’re looking for: useful information.


You’re not an angry loner. Far from it! You have the ability to work effectively as part of a team.

Time Management

You may not have ‘Bernard’s Watch’, but you can manage your time effectively and meet deadlines without any last minute stress.


If you haven’t quite “engineered” (sorry) the perfect solution to your career dilemma, have a look at these different job profiles for inspiration:

  • Adult Education Lecturer
  • Aeronautical Engineer
  • Airline Pilot
  • Armed Forces Technical Officer
  • Astronautical Engineer
  • Automotive Engineer
  • Banker
  • Biomedical Engineer
  • Broadcast Engineer
  • Building Services Engineer
  • Chartered Certified Accountant
  • Chartered Loss Adjuster
  • Chartered Management Accountant
  • Colour Technologist
  • Commodity Broker
  • Communications Engineer
  • Control & Instrumentation Engineer
  • Corporate Investment Banker
  • Corporate Treasurer
  • Database Administrator
  • Drilling Engineer
  • Electrical Engineer
  • Energy Engineer
  • Environmental Engineer
  • Financial Advisor
  • Financial Risk Analyst
  • Financial Trader
  • Health & Safety Advisor
  • Health & Safety Inspector
  • Industrial/Product Designer
  • Information System Manager
  • Investment Analyst
  • Investment Fund Manager
  • IT Consultant
  • IT Sales Professional
  • Maintenance Engineer
  • Management Consultant
  • Manufacturing Engineer
  • Manufacturing Systems Engineer
  • Marine Engineer
  • Materials Engineer
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • Merchant Navy Officer
  • Mining Engineer
  • Mudlogger
  • Naval Architect
  • Network Engineer
  • Operational Investment Banker
  • Patent Attorney
  • Patent Examiner
  • Pensions Advisor
  • Petroleum Engineer
  • Product/Process Development Scientist
  • Production Manager
  • Quality Manager
  • Research Scientist (Physical Sciences)
  • Risk Manager
  • Science Writer
  • Scientific Sales Consultant
  • Simulations Engineer
  • System Analyst
  • Technical Brewer
  • Technical Sales Engineer
  • Telecommunications Engineer
  • Transport Planner
  • Waste Management Officer
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