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Engineers: The Real Movers and Shakers
Whether they're developing communications tools, computers, or medical devices, engineers are everywhere. Here are some of the best known specialties:
Satellites, aircraft, and more... The aerospace industry offers opportunities for the engineer who wants to think big. Be prepared for long product-development cycles, and even longer product life cycles. This industry is heavily impacted by the economy and government contracts, so it definitely goes through high and low periods, and is not expected to experience much growth in the coming decade.
From prosthetics to bionics, from medical implants to MRI scanners, to telemedicine and life-saving emergency devices... biotechnology is all about improving the health of humanity. Work in this quickly growing field often requires a specialty in another field of engineering plus some additional amount of medical training.
Good circuits make good systems. Without circuits, none of our modern devices would be possible. Engineers who design, test and apply circuits help make everything else work the way it should, and provide the core new technologies for many upcoming innovations.
From broadcast television to Wi-Fi networks to cellular communications and more, engineers in the communications field keep the world (and our devices) connected. It's a highly competitive field comprised of several different industries, and not all of them are going to survive. Things are changing so quickly, good engineers are always in demand.
Computer Hardware and Software Engineering
Forget the PC. The next wave of computing devices and software will put the power of the computer in our hands... and in our cars, our TVs, our pens, our bodies, and everywhere else. Then there are the changes coming from Internet 2.0, social networking, business systems and more. There are no shortages of growth opportunities in the fields of computer science, technology and software.
Electrical / Electronics Engineering
One of the core career paths of engineering, electrical or electronics engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacture of all forms of electrical equipment. Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, "electrical engineers" traditionally focus on the generation and supply of power, while "electronics engineers" focus more on the application side.
Go green. Everything from solar power to pollution control, recycling and waste disposal, and even new forms of fabrication can fall under this broad heading. As the world's businesses become more environmentally responsible, and as they try to clean up some of their prior messes, demand for engineers in this field is growing rapidly. Environmental engineers also develop the systems that keep society alive, like water treatment facilities and waste management. Extra education in biology and chemistry can come in handy.
Everything from a single chip to an entire vehicle needs to be manufactured, but this goes way beyond simple manufacturing (which, to be honest, isn't all that simple) to include packaging, shipping and coordination of other critical systems. Requires an understanding of programming, efficiency, and materials, and can include software, robotics, fabrication, and more.
Copper and steel just don't cut it any more. Today's and tomorrow's devices demand a better class of materials that are lighter, more durable, easy to fabricate, biodegradable, or have a host of other qualities. Work in this field creates high-tech ceramics, carbon nanotubes, polymers, fiber optics, and more.
Another of the core career paths for engineers, mechanical engineering is one of the largest and broadest engineering disciplines. Employing the principles of energy, materials, and mechanics to design and manufacture devices of all types, mechanical engineers create the processes and systems that drive technology and industry. You can't get much more essential than that.
Power Engineering & Nuclear Engineering
What will power tomorrow's devices, or tomorrow's societies? Smaller batteries, solar cells, hydrogen, ambient energy harvesters, more efficient petroleum products, safe nuclear power... It's anybody's guess, and anybody's game. The nuclear side of this field also delves into nuclear energy and radiation for medical and communications purposes.
Product Safety Engineering
Will a device work the way it's supposed to, and do it safely? Design professionals and design engineers address safety engineering for equipment and devices used in the scientific, engineering, industrial, commercial and residential arenas. This field is a great place for people who like to put technology through the ringer.
Robotics & Automation
Robotics and automation involve designing and implementing intelligent machines that can do work too dirty, too dangerous, too precise, or too tiresome for humans. Intelligent machines have applications in medicine, defense and law enforcement, exploration, service industries, manufacturing and assembly, and entertainment, not to mention vacuuming our floors.
Vehicular Technology & Intelligent Transportation
From four-passenger cars to airplanes to massive shipping vessels... This field involves every level of technology in vehicles, including communications services, electrotechnology, traction power, and more. Intelligent transportation systems tie it all together, creating synergized systems which make transportation easier, faster, and more automated.
John R. Platt is a freelance writer and marketing consultant who often writes about technology, entrepreneurship, and the environment.
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