What is an Engineer, anyway?

“You’re good at math and science, you should be an engineer!” followed by “Engineers make lots of money!” If this is something you’ve heard, you might wonder what an engineer is.

An engineer is someone who wants to know how and why things work. Curiosity is the primary foundation of engineering but just being curious doesn’t make you an engineer. An engineer is a person who designs and builds things to solve specific problems, and there are many types of engineers, the engineering majors at UConn include:

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Civil Engineering
  • Computer Science & Computer Science and Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Computer Engineering
  • Engineering Physics
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Materials Science and Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Management and Engineering for Manufacturing

There are also many practicing engineers with academic backgrounds in

  • Mathematics
  • Physics, Chemistry, Biology
  • Geography/GIS
  • and more

Engineering really focuses on 3 important questions:

  1. What is the problem that needs to be solved?
  2. Who has the problem that needs to be solved?
  3. Why is this problem important to solve?

The first engineers are recognized as those who created the first cities of Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) in 3000 B.C. who helped establish building materials and design a city to protect its inhabitants from attack by neighboring populations. In the 1600’s and 1700’s, modern engineering was first developed when Isaac Newton’s research in mathematics and physics was picked up by engineers and put to practical use.

Today, if we look at a building like the Student Recreation Facility on the Storrs campus, we can learn that Civil, Structural, and Environmental Engineers designed the building, Mechanical and Electrical Engineers designed the systems within the building. Much of the equipment inside was designed by Computer Engineers, Electrical Engineers, Materials Engineers, and those with Computer Science background. Devices like defibrillators are likely designed by Biomedical Engineers and Chemical Engineers are largely responsible for the fire extinguishers and many aspects of the swimming pool. Each one of these elements has its own problem that needed to be solved.

Engineering as an academic discipline is very rigorous, and when it comes to jobs, most entry-level jobs include a period of time during which the engineer works under a more experienced engineer. Many types of engineers must be licensed and the licensing process may take one or two years.

An engineer’s job at its most basic level is problem solving. Each engineer just specializes in solving certain kinds of problems. If you think there are too many types of engineers to keep track of, just imagine how many more types of engineers there will be in the next 10 or 50 years as new technologies and problems emerge!

By Eran Peterson
Eran Peterson Assistant Director, Career Coaching and Counseling Eran Peterson