Really good question – I bet there are lots of people reading this and thinking the same thing. I don’t think I was entirely sure until I did my first work placement! Different engineering jobs can be very different – so I’m going to generalise a lot!
Basically it’s an engineer’s job to design things that will actually be made. So an electronic engineer who designs a mobile phone will probably be told what the phone needs to do, and they then design all the electronics that go inside the phone to make that happen. Once the design is complete it’s then manufactured and sent to the shops.
Similarly a civil engineer might be designing a bridge, they’d work out how they can construct the bridge and what materials are needed to make the bridge strong enough. Once the engineer has completed their design the bridge could then be made.
It’s slightly different from someone who simply designs how they would like something to look or what it should be capable of doing, an engineer designs how it will actually work. I hope that helps a little bit!
Well, in general an engineer works with machines, systems or structures. Or as I tend to think of it, we build think and make things work!
As a Radio frequency engineer, I work to design and build systems for allowing machines to speak to one another, or make measurements at a distance. I might have to look at all aspects of a job, from what is in place at the beginning, the requirements or the job, what space I have to solve the problem and how much money I can spend, the best way to use what I know to find a solution. Then I have to do a physical design of what I’m going to build, using a computer, or pen and paper if it’s a very simple design. After all that’s done, I get to go into the lab with soldering iron, drills, bits and pieces and build the thing I’ve designed!
As an example, today i was working on a presentation that I have to give on Friday, worked on writing a paper over my current project that’s due tomorrow, i went by the workshop to check on a part they are building for me to make sure they knew what i wanted, also spend about 30 minutes cleaning my lab, another 30 minutes helping another engineer look at a new lab we’re going to move some of our things in (when i say lab i mean essentially a room that’s temperautre controlled to be exactly 20degrees C, that we do our work in). And every day is different, we do lots of stuff! Tue and Wednesday of this week i’m taking an all day course on measurement uncertainty (lots of maths…).