Engineering: Definition, History and Career Options

Engineering is the application of mathematical and scientific methods to solve human problems. This field employs the use of two natural resources- materials and energy for the innovation, design, construction, maintenance, or developing structures, machines, apparatus, systems, or manufacturing processes, either used in combination or singly to achieve its designed function.


The term Engineering was derived from the Latin root, Ingenium, which means “to create” and Inginaire (c. 1250), meaning “to contrive, devise”.

Definition of Engineering

This field is defined by American Engineers’ Council for Professional Development (ECPD, now known as Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology ABET) as

“The creative application of scientific principles to design or develop structures, machines, apparatus, or manufacturing processes, or works utilising them singly or in combination; or to construct or operate the same with full cognizance of their design; or to forecast their behaviour under specific operating conditions; all as respects an intended function, economics of operation and safety to life and property”.

Scientists know, discover, and postulate engineers on the other hand apply these discoveries, putting them to action by testing and developing new products. This field is primarily based on physics, chemistry, and mathematics, with attachments to other branches of science. They apply theorems as practical solutions to real problems.

Engineers employ several processes while trying to develop solutions. During the process, they consider several factors ranging from specifying the functional requirements precisely, the design, testing parts, integration components to produce the final design and overall effectiveness, cost, reliability, and safety of the product.

Computers are used to produce and determine the functionality of models- to simulate and test how a structure, system, or machine works, also to generate specifications for different parts, to monitor the quality of products, and to control the efficiency of processes using nanotechnology. Engineers also work in testing, production, or maintenance. They test manufactured products, supervise production in factories, evaluate a failed component and determine the cause of such failure. Engineers are also able to estimate and calculate the time and cost of completing a project. Engineering cuts across all the fields in science from cell membranes to construction and prosthetics to improving engine and transport efficiencies and developing renewable energy resources.

History of engineering

Engineering is a discipline that dates as far back as anyone can remember- lever, pulley invention. In the 14th century, ‘engineer’ meant someone who operates and constructs military engines like catapults and other ‘siege engines.’ It has however transcended past the military meaning as it is being applied to the development of civilian structures like bridges and buildings thus the introduction of Civil Engineering, to distinguish the Military Engineering field. Although the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers still attach the old meanings in the present-day military engineering corps.

Ancient structures have attested to the application of both civil and military engineering and the skills of these ancient engineers.  Some of these structures include:

The first recognized civil engineer was known by the name Imhotep. An official of Pharaoh, who probably designed and built the Step Pyramid (Pyramid of Djoser) at Ṣaqqārah, Egypt, dated around 2550-2611 BC.

After Imhotep, the Egyptian, Persian, Greek, and Romans carried civil engineering to remarkable heights based on empirical methods aided by arithmetic, geometry.

Engineering developed through different era’s-

  • Ancient era 
  • Middle Ages           
  • European Renaissance   
  • Modern era

Engineering and Technology development over the years has been contributed to by all human races birth different engineering disciplines each varying in different centuries.

Full article text: History of engineering

Career and Types

The application engineering process cuts across different areas. A type of engineering depends on the area an engineer operates. These different areas make up different engineering specialities. Some engineering fields overlap, a technique or knowledge from another area of engineering is applied to achieve desirable results, for example, a civil engineer may also need an understanding of structural engineering or marine engineer understanding material or mechanical engineering  They are called interdisciplinary engineering and include manufacturing acoustic, corrosion, aerospace, automotive, computer, textiles, geological, materials and nuclear engineering, etc.

Listed below are the types of engineering, their respective career paths

1. Aerospace Engineering

Aerospace Engineering is the combination of mechanical and electrical engineering that is concerned with the study of the design, development, testing, and production of air and spacecraft, satellites, and missiles including all parts and components. It covers vehicle aerodynamics, efficiencies, electrical control, and navigation systems.

Aerospace Engineers create and test prototypes, develop new aviation technology, space exploration, and design defence systems. They are responsible for probing faulty engines, other system components, and developing repair patterns, designing improved air conditioning or fuel systems for aircraft or ground-based systems for operations like flight control, calculating the type and weight of material to go into a component, constructing and operating aircraft, aerospace vehicles, and propulsion systems. They are also involved in researching, developing, and testing new materials, engines, body shapes, and improved structures for the speed and strength of aircraft.

Aerospace engineering specialities include guidance, structural design, navigation and control, instrumentation and communication, and production methods. Aerospace engineers may also choose to specialise in a particular type of aerospace product, like helicopters, commercial aircraft, spacecraft, military fighter jets or missiles, and rockets, then may proceed to become experts in celestial mechanics, aerodynamics, propulsion, thermodynamics, acoustics, or guidance and control systems.

This engineering field into two: Aerospace Engineers (responsible for planning thorough maintenance programs in aircraft, exercising strict safety and environmental controls) and Aeronautical/ Astronautical Engineering (this deals with flight vehicles such as space crafts, aeroplanes, and helicopters). Download free engineering books here

Career Opportunities include job opportunities in research and development of new material, work for commercial airline companies, aerospace manufacturers, government defence departments, and defence forces

The three main areas of work in the aerospace industry are

  • Design And Manufacture
  • Research And Development
  •  Airworthiness Operations.

2. Agricultural Engineering

Agricultural engineering deals with the application of engineering technology and science to agriculture for the efficient use of biological resources.

Agricultural engineers design, test and maintain agricultural processes machinery, sensors, equipment, facilities, and structures, used for crop storage and crop production. It covers the process of aquaculture to land farming and pollution and environmental issues. It can also be referred to as biological engineering.

Agricultural Engineers create solutions for agricultural-related problems from power generation to drought management. They look for ways to improve agricultural products processing through the use of machinery añd environmental management like soil and water conservation. Agricultural engineers develop biofuels, plan better animal environments, and provide alternative food processing styles and ensure that government regulations are met.

Agricultural engineering specialities may include structural and environmental engineering, power systems and machinery design, and food and bioprocess engineering.

Career opportunities for Agricultural Engineers include Research, consulting firms, work in government departments in such areas as water supply, agriculture, forestry, soil conservation, and environmental protection agencies, or manufacturers, developers, maintaining, sale and distributors of agricultural machines (irrigation equipment), employed in corporate farms, intensive animal industries, and food processing plants.

3. Mechanical Engineering

This is one of the broadest traditional engineering fields. Mechanical engineers build mechanical and thermal sensing devices. It is the study of the application of force, energy, and motion in machinery.

Mechanical engineers aim to use these elements in combination with other resources to design, manufacture, inspect and maintain the status of the parts of machinery and equipment ranging from electrical batteries, gas turbines to farm machinery,  developing mechanical solutions that satisfy human society.

Mechanical engineering also deals with the management of control systems and instruments for measuring the performance of machinery. Mechanical engineers can determine the cause of a fault in a mechanical device and proffer solutions, they can also analyse a project, determine the mechanical device to be used then design and test machines to suit the project. Mechanical engineers also design tools that other engineers need for their work.

Career opportunities for a mechanical engineer include working in manufacturing or agriculture production, maintenance, or technical sales, administrators, or managers.

4. Electrical Engineering

Electrical Engineering involves the designing, testing, constructing, supervising, and developing electrical and electronic devices, components, machines, and systems. This equipment ranges from the smallest microchips to electrical generation systems. They include electromagnetic devices, broadcast devices, computer systems, and telecommunications. Electrical Engineering is applied in machinery controls, lighting, and wiring in buildings; radar and navigation systems (GPS); communications systems(phone, portable music players); and power generation, control, and transmission devices used by electric utilities.

Electrical and electronics engineers design and test a range of electrical systems,  and work closely with computers. They specialise in electrical equipment manufacturing, power systems manufacturing, control systems, communication, and processing devices.

Career opportunities for electrical engineers include research, manufacturing, telecommunications industries, and others. The application of electrical and electronics engineering is broad therefore most disciplines employ these engineers-from working with circuits, making computers and other electronics used to build fibre-optic networks or vision sensors for phones, electrical engineering is needed

5. Civil Engineering

This may be referred to as the oldest field in engineering, created as mentioned above to differentiate the then military engineering field. Civil engineering concerns itself with the construction, design, and maintenance of civil infrastructures like dams, roads, sweet systems, skyscrapers, railways, bridges, tunnels, and towers. Civil engineers design and test undertake public and private buildings, solving infrastructure needs.

Civil Engineers are involved in every step of building a large infrastructure from choosing material, project height, design, the amount and strength of materials to be used for a project, and a project’s location. This is to ensure that structures built are safe, economical, and best suited for an environment in cases such as earthquakes and hurricanes, and other natural calamities, they must consider many factors in the design process like construction costs, the expected lifetime of a project, government regulations, and potential environmental hazards. They are responsible for the physical infrastructure of our modern society, the design and construction of all our transport systems, the design, and management of our gas and water supply, sewerage systems, harbours, airports, and railways.

Career opportunities in civil engineering include; specialising as chief civil engineers, construction engineers, municipal engineers, structural engineers, transport engineers, or water resources distribution engineers, construction engineers, and geotechnical engineering. Some civil engineers may also work in consulting firms, research, be teachers, occupy supervisory or administrative positions in firms.

Here are some historic civil Engineering projects compiled by the American society of civil engineers

6. Chemical Engineering

This field of engineering applies the knowledge of physics, chemistry, biology, and engineering principles to bring about chemical processes involving the design of equipment, systems, for refining raw materials for mixing, compounding, and processing chemicals for a variety of products. They employ laboratory chemical processes on a commercial and industrial scale to create and improve products. Chemical Engineering focuses on the change of raw materials to useful and commercial end products, research of raw materials and their properties, design, and development of equipment, and the evaluation of operating processes.

Chemical engineers solve problems that affect the use or production of chemicals, food, fuels, biologicals, and drugs. They use the combination of sciences and engineering laws for the research and development of materials. It is also applied in fields like energy storage, nanotechnology, and computing. Chemical engineers design machinery and processes for large-scale manufacturing, treat chemical by-products, plan and test methods of manufacturing products and supervise production.

Chemical engineering also focuses on the safe extraction of some raw materials without harming the environment example, new types of fuels that do not harm the environment, raw materials which can then be refined and manufactured to produce such things as food, petrol, plastics, paints, paper, ceramics, minerals, and metals and solve societal problems. Also ensuring that manufacturing processes are safe for workers and products are safe for consumers.

Chemical engineering specialties include

  • Combustion Engineers
  • Smelting Engineers
  • Petroleum Engineers
  • Environmental Engineers
  • Principal Chemical Engineers
  • Water Treatment Engineers
  • Food Engineering
  • Mineral Engineering.

Chemical engineers may be specialising in a particular chemical process, such as oxidation or polymerization, fields like nanomaterials, or the manufacture of specific products.

Career opportunities include working in offices, research laboratories, and a variety of manufacturing industries (like food, clothing, paper, energy, electronics, plastics, ceramics, pharmaceuticals, metals, and glass industries.) other than chemical manufacturing, in healthcare, biotechnology, environmental protection and the reclamation or clean-up of contaminated sites, chemical plants, and petroleum refineries, organic industrial chemicals, and mining industries.

7. Computer Engineering

Computer engineering encompasses computer design, hardware, systems, networks, and software. This is an interdisciplinary engineering field that combines the knowledge of electrical engineering and computer science, design and software engineering.

Computer engineers design, develop, test develop and improve hardware and software of computer systems. They may either specialise in hardware or software. Hardware engineers oversee the manufacture and installation of computer hardware like computer chips, circuit boards, computer systems, keyboards, routers, and printers. They are involved in the analysis, research design, testing and maintenance of computer models.  Software engineers are involved with the functionality of computer systems by developing computer programs. The use of computers has been widely adopted and are applied in phones, cars, aeronautics, trains, TV and radio stations.

Most electronic design is based on the use of computer-aided simulation.

Career opportunities for computer Engineers include Freelancing, government agencies, working with computer manufacturing and service companies, and information systems divisions in firms.

8. Nuclear Engineering

Nuclear engineering deals with the research design, manufacture, operation, and testing of instruments, equipment, systems, and processes used to produce and control nuclear energy and radiation.

Nuclear engineers also operate nuclear plants (reactors and nuclear particle accelerators) to generate power and monitor the storage of nuclear waste to protect people from potentially harmful situations. This involves a whole nuclear fuel cycle— from the production, handling, storage, use of nuclear fuel and the safe disposal of nuclear waste.

Career opportunities for Nuclear engineers include specialisation in the development of nuclear power sources for the government (naval vessels or spacecraft) work in industrial and medical services involving the use of radioactive materials

9. Industrial Engineering

Industrial Engineering is an interdisciplinary engineering field that uses specialised knowledge and skill from mathematics, physics, physiological, and social sciences in combination with the principles of engineering to analyse, design, specify, predict and evaluate the results to be obtained from a system and measure achievement. Industrial Engineering focuses on the design, improvement, and installation of integrated systems hiding human resources, materials, equipment, and finance.

Industrial engineers utilise all the factors of production to a increased productivity through the management of people, methods of business organisation, and technology.

Industrial engineers manage all the resources of production using information systems and mathematical models. They design and develop control systems using financial planning and cost analysis, human resources, production planning systems that give rise to quality products.

Career opportunities include Administrative and management roles in industries.

10. Environmental Engineering

Environmental engineering is a field of engineering involved with the prevention, removal, and elimination of sources of pollution that affect the environment. It employs the use of biology and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems, determine pollution sources, measure pollution levels, and use these solutions to clean up polluted areas in compliance with government regulations.

Environmental engineers control water and air pollution,  management, and recycle waste disposal. They carry out hazardous-waste management studies, advise their treatment and containment, and develop regulations to prevent mishaps. They also design water supply and industrial wastewater treatment systems.

Environmental engineers are concerned with local and worldwide environmental issues. They carry out research aimed to find solutions to environmental problems like global warming, ozone depletion, acid rain and emissions from engines. Also, determine the environmental impact of proposed construction projects and protection of wildlife.

Career Opportunities include working as consultants, government agencies, wildlife protection centres.

Other Engineering disciplines include:

  • Automotive Engineering
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Data Engineering
  • Drafting and Design Engineering.
  • Building Services
  • Food Engineering
  • Petroleum & Petrochemical Engineering
  • PharmaceuticalEquipment Engineering
  • Hydraulics (Water) Engineering
  • Structural Engineering
  • Transport Engineering
  • Coastal and Ocean Engineering
  • Materials Engineering
  • Minerals and Metallurgical Engineering
  • Mining Engineering
  • Resource Engineering
  • Risk Engineering
  • Geotechnical Engineering
  • Software Engineering


Smith, R. J. (2021, March 25). engineering. Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Wikipedia, History of Engineering

TWI, What is Engineering

BC campus press books, What is Engineering? Definition, introduction and a brief history

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