An engineer is a professional practitioner of engineering, concerned with applying scientific knowledge, mathematics, and ingenuity to develop solutions for technical, societal and commercial problems. Engineers design materials, structures, and systems while considering the limitations imposed by practicality, regulation, safety, and cost. The word engineer is derived from the Latin roots ingeniare (“to contrive, devise”) and ingenium (“cleverness”).
The work of engineers forms the link between scientific discoveries and their subsequent applications to human needs and quality of life.
This word has a specific and larger meaning in French Higher Education. See subsection.
Engineers develop new technological solutions. During the engineering design process, the responsibilities of the engineer may include defining problems, conducting and narrowing research, analyzing criteria, finding and analyzing solutions, and making decisions. Much of an engineer’s time is spent on researching, locating, applying, and transferring information. Indeed, research suggests engineers spend 56% of their time engaged in various information behaviours, including 14% actively searching for information.
Engineers must weigh different design choices on their merits and choose the solution that best matches the requirements. Their crucial and unique task is to identify, understand, and interpret the constraints on a design in order to produce a successful result.
Engineers conferring on prototype design, 1954
Engineers apply techniques of engineering analysis in testing, production, or maintenance. Analytical engineers may supervise production in factories and elsewhere, determine the causes of a process failure, and test output to maintain quality. They also estimate the time and cost required to complete projects. Supervisory engineers are responsible for major components or entire projects. Engineering analysis involves the application of scientific analytic principles and processes to reveal the properties and state of the system, device or mechanism under study. Engineering analysis proceeds by separating the engineering design into the mechanisms of operation or failure, analyzing or estimating each component of the operation or failure mechanism in isolation, and re-combining the components. They may analyze risk.
Many engineers use computers to produce and analyze designs, to simulate and test how a machine, structure, or system operates, to generate specifications for parts, to monitor the quality of products, and to control the efficiency of processes.
Specialization and management
Most engineers specialize in one or more engineering disciplines. Numerous specialties are recognized by professional societies, and each of the major branches of engineering has numerous subdivisions. Civil engineering, for example, includes structural and transportation engineering, and materials engineering includes ceramic, metallurgical, and polymer engineering. Engineers also may specialize in one industry, such as motor vehicles, or in one type of technology, such as turbines or semiconductor materials.
Several recent studies have investigated how engineers spend their time; that is, the work tasks they perform and how their time is distributed among these. Research suggests that there are several key themes present in engineers’ work: technical work (i.e., the application of science to product development); (2) social work (i.e., interactive communication between people); (3) computer-based work; (4) information behaviours. Amongst other more detailed findings, a recent work sampling study found that engineers spend 62.92% of their time engaged in technical work, 40.37% in social work, and 49.66% in computer-based work. Furthermore, there was considerable overlap between these different types of work, with engineers spending 24.96% of their time engaged in technical and social work, 37.97% in technical and non-social, 15.42% in non-technical and social, and 21.66% in non-technical and non-social.
In many countries, engineering tasks such as the design of bridges, electric power plants, industrial equipment, machine design and chemical plants, must be approved by a licensed professional engineer. Most commonly titled Professional Engineer is a license to practice and is indicated with the use of post-nominal letters; PE or P.Eng. These are common in North America, as is European Engineer (Eur Ing) in Europe. The practice of engineering in the UK is not a regulated profession but the control of the titles of Chartered Engineer (CEng) and Incorporated Engineer (IEng) is regulated. These titles are protected by law and are subject to strict requirements defined by the Engineering Council UK. The title CEng is in use in much of the Commonwealth.
Differences among countries
The perception and definition of engineer varies across countries and continents. British school children in the 1950s were brought up with stirring tales of ‘the Victorian Engineers’, chief amongst whom were the Brunels, the Stephensons, Telford and their contemporaries. In the UK, “engineering” was more recently perceived as an industry sector consisting of employers and employees loosely termed “engineers” who included the semi-skilled trades. However, the 21st-century view, especially amongst the more educated members of society, is to reserve the term Engineer to describe a university-educated practitioner of ingenuity represented by the Chartered (or Incorporated) Engineer. However, a large proportion of the UK public still sees Engineers as semi skilled tradespeople with a high school education.
In companies and other organizations, there is sometimes a tendency to undervalue people with advanced technological and scientific skills compared to celebrities, fashion practitioners, entertainers and managers. In his book The Mythical Man-Month, Fred Brooks Jr says that managers think of senior people as “too valuable” for technical tasks, and that management jobs carry higher prestige. He tells how some laboratories, such as Bell Labs, abolish all job titles to overcome this problem: a professional employee is a “member of the technical staff.” IBM maintain a dual ladder of advancement; the corresponding managerial and engineering / scientific rungs are equivalent. Brooks recommends that structures need to be changed; the boss must give a great deal of attention to keeping his managers and his technical people as interchangeable as their talents allow.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor (2006). “Engineers”. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition. Retrieved 2006-09-21.
National Society of Professional Engineers (2006). “Frequently Asked Questions About Engineering”. Archived from the original on 2006-05-22. Retrieved 2006-09-21. Science is knowledge based on observed facts and tested truths arranged in an orderly system that can be validated and communicated to other people. Engineering is the creative application of scientific principles used to plan, build, direct, guide, manage, or work on systems to maintain and improve our daily lives.
Oxford Concise Dictionary, 1995
“engineer”. Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford University Press. 22 October 2011