A bachelor’s degree in engineering is among the top degrees for the highest-paying business careers, but choosing this field of study is only the first step in picking a career path. Within the broad field of engineering, you will find many distinct disciplines and subdisciplines, according to the Library of Congress. Which discipline of engineering is the best choice for you depends not only on external factors like job outlook and earning potential but also on internal factors like your own personality traits, strengths and areas of interest.
Personality Traits Needed Across All Areas of Engineering
All engineering disciplines are part of this overarching field of using scientific and technological knowledge to design real, functional solutions to problems. It makes sense that some of the skills and qualities that are most important for engineers are consistent across disciplines.
Successful engineering requires analysis of data, modeling and prototype performance and existing solutions, so strong analytical and critical-thinking skills are necessary in just about every area of engineering. Agricultural engineers, for example, use these skills to understand the needs of agricultural processes that consist of farmworkers, livestock, crops, machinery and the natural environment. Nuclear engineers use these same skills to understand what design elements are needed in a facility or piece of equipment that produces or uses nuclear technology.
Because engineers come up with innovative and novel solutions, some degree of creativity and ingenuity is needed to work in this field. Engineers must be able to think creatively in terms of concept and design but also to come up with resourceful ways to make those ideas into a fully-functional reality. Math is another crucial part of engineering, both as a study and as a career field. Engineers use high-level math daily in designing machines, vehicles, vessels and processes.
Communication skills are surprisingly important in engineering. The best engineers listen to the people whose problems they’re trying to solve and communicate clearly, orally and in writing, to colleagues and clients about needs and ideas.
A Fondness for Disassembling and Rebuilding
Are you the kind of person who enjoys taking things apart just to put them back together? This sort of tinkering is a classic personality trait of engineers. Mechanical engineers, who design machines and mechanical processes of all kinds, are particularly prone to this pastime of wanting to take things apart to figure out how they work and then put them back together – or turn the pieces into something else entirely. Other disciplines of engineering that complement this personality trait include the biomedical engineers who develop devices and processes used in healthcare and the electrical and electronics engineers who develop electrical and electronic systems and their components.
This personality trait is most relevant for engineers who do hands-on work building systems and devices. However, other engineers use these principles to virtually take apart and rebuild computerized models of infrastructure plans or software applications.
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Computer technology is necessary for all areas of engineering, especially as engineers increasingly use computer-based modeling to test and troubleshoot design ideas in more cost-effective ways. However, if you really enjoy working with computers, computer software engineering or computer hardware engineering could be the perfect choice for you. Software engineers develop the operations systems and applications computers and devices like smartphones run, while hardware engineers are the ones who create the physical components of devices and computer networks.
Knowledge of some amount of coding, the use of data analysis software and the use of computer-aided design and modeling software is valuable for just about any type of engineer.
If you’re going to work on big projects, like buildings, bridges, aircraft, transportation networks, industrial facilities and environmental systems, then you need to stay organized, pay close attention to detail and make sound, well-informed decisions. Civil engineers, who develop structures and infrastructures, have a lot to keep track of: design plans, construction costs and materials, safety measures and progress on the jobsite. Aerospace engineers must plan all of the details of aircraft design and construction as well as experiments to test all components to make sure they work safely and effectively. The same goes for industrial engineers, environmental engineers and transportation engineers.
The skills to manage projects and teams are essential in every area of engineering, but if you take pride in your personality as a natural leader, you might want to work toward an engineering manager position. Nurturing your leadership skills through studies in engineering management or technology management can help you move from merely leading a team or taking ownership of a project to working in a lucrative senior-level role like Chief Engineer or Director of Engineering.
You should know, though, that your job function in this career is more closely aligned with management than with actual engineering work. Your main priority is to oversee and coordinate the technical and engineering activities of the engineers you supervise, doing high-level work and determining the staffing, equipment, budgeting and training needs for a project.
Whether you want to be the boss or prefer to remain in a hands-on engineering role, too, comes down to your personality. Don’t just think of your career progression in terms of prestige and pay, but also in terms of how you want to spend your workdays.