Engineering is such a diverse field and there are very few aspects of life that it doesn’t influence to some degree. After all, engineering is about designing products, structures, and systems and keeping everything working, and those are principles that apply to almost everything you do in your life.
You travel to work in a car designed by engineers, powered by fuel obtained through engineering processes, on roads designed and constructed by engineers. Your work building and the water, heating, air-conditioning, and waste systems within it were all designed by engineers, and the computers, phones, and other technical equipment you use to carry out your job all depend on engineering insight and expertise.
Engineering is a very broad term, covering a range of roles and functions that are often only tenuously linked by core engineering principles. The development of digital technologies was spearheaded by scientists and engineers and has led to some entirely new branches of engineering that have now become some of the largest and most influential. Digital technologies and engineering are now inextricably linked, each feeding and growing off the other to their mutual benefit.
New branches of engineering
Digital technology is at the forefront of several vital engineering roles in the modern era.
- Software engineering is one of the key new areas that didn’t exist before the rise of digital technology. All the software that runs every computerized system on earth has to be designed, tested, and developed before it can be used, and that’s where software engineers come in. Programming specialists concentrate on computer operating systems and their maintenance and improvement, whereas application specialists focus on the individual, specialist software that consumers add in to their systems.
- Electronics engineering is likewise a relatively new branch of the industry that didn’t exist before digital technologies were developed. Electronics are a fundamental component of all the electrical devices our homes, jobs, and infrastructures rely on, from traffic lights to washing machines; your car’s engine management systems to your smartphone; from issuing your library books and scanning your shopping to the guidance systems in military aircraft.
A revolution in traditional engineering
It’s not just the new branches of engineering that showcase the importance of digital technology. No area of the industry is immune from the influence of tech, and all engineers use digital systems and computers to assist them in their work.
The design process is one of the areas in which technology has revolutionized engineering. In times gone by, engineers would design a piece of machinery on paper using the best available knowledge about what was likely to work from the evidence of previous records and experience.
The design process depends in large part on mathematical and scientific concepts that are already well-defined, with a dash of inspiration from the engineer. Once the blueprints were completed, a prototype would be built and tested, and improvements made manually using the feedback and results received from the tests plus the gathering of qualitative data.
This could be a painstaking and laborious process, but digital design tools are making the entire process considerably quicker. Now engineers can use computer software to electronically model their designs and make alterations to them. It’s possible to tweak designs in many different ways and calculate the effects in a fraction of the time and with complete accuracy, making the whole process more comprehensive and cost-effective.
Practical ways in which tech aids engineering
It’s not just the process of engineering itself that’s been affected by digital technology. Many of the practical functions and allied activities required by engineers are improved by the use of tech.
Engineers frequently need to communicate with people at some distance from where they’re located, which would have involved the time, effort and expense of traveling prior to digital technology. Now it’s possible to communicate with anyone, anywhere to discuss a project.
For instance, you could set up a video conference with colleagues all over the world to discuss setting up a new project or check the progress of an existing job. It’s still necessary to travel in certain instances, for example, to view a project for yourself at key stages, but tech definitely cuts down on the necessity for travel.
An engineer responsible for the operation of the control and monitoring systems on an oil rig would have had to fly out to the rig and manually check the machinery. Now, the systems produce self-diagnostic data that can be sent to the engineer’s laptop, negating the need to travel out to the rig.
Education and training
Engineers need a good standard of education, plus specialist training and qualifications to enter the profession, which would traditionally have involved getting good grades at high school, achieving a bachelor’s degree in a STEM subject, and studying for a specialist master’s degree in engineering.
That would have meant enrolling for a full-time student position at a college offering engineering qualifications and devoting several years to studying full time, and earning very little money, if anything, throughout the process.
Now, suitably committed and apt candidates from anywhere in the world can enrol to study online, meaning they can work at the same time and still earn a living if they wish. For instance, you could complete the online civil engineering masters degree by Michigan Tech over two years studying at home, and achieve a high class qualification that opens up many new opportunities.
The neat thing about digital technology is that it’s all designed by engineers too, so one branch of the profession is helping the work of another branch in a mutually profitable cycle of growth and development. The need for engineers in the future is set to grow, and it’s likely that society will become increasingly dependent on the work of engineers of all kinds. There could well be yet more new branches of engineering to come, based on the current strides forward in electronics, software and artificial intelligence.
You may well have been taking engineering for granted up to now, but it’s the foundation of your life and the driver for a brighter future.