Over the last decade, the popularity of STEM careers (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) has grown, and with good reason. In 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that while the annual median wage for non-STEM careers was $40,120, the annual median wage for STEM careers was $95,420.
But majoring in a STEM subject like science or engineering is just the beginning. Within each category, there are multiple career paths you can pursue. For example, if you major in engineering, you can choose from a wide variety of specialties like biomedical engineering, software engineering, medical engineering, or nuclear engineering.
What Is Engineering?
Engineering is the use of science and math to solve problems. Engineers apply the scientific method to creatively solve problems. What kinds of problems? You name it! Engineers try to:
- Figure out how to make an engine more efficient
- Find ways to make batteries last longer
- Mitigate the effects of climate change
- Make buildings more earthquake or hurricane resistant
- Find and repair security issues in software
- Design traffic patterns to maximize traffic flow and minimize traffic jams
The list is endless!
And while that means there are many jobs for engineering majors across all engineering disciplines, we’re going to focus on jobs for engineers in the physical world (like structural engineers) and those who work in the cloud (like software engineers).
Top Jobs for Engineering Majors (Physical)
Some of the top jobs for engineering majors are in specialties you might not expect, like logistics. Below is a table of five possible careers for engineering majors, along with their median annual pay and 10-year job growth prediction from the BLS.
|Job Title||Salary||Predicted Growth|
|Environmental engineer||$96,820||4% (as fast as average)|
|Supply chain engineering (logistician)||$77,030||28% (much faster than average)|
|Civil engineer||$88,050||7% (as fast as average)|
|Chemical engineer||$105,550||14% (much faster than average)|
|Aerospace engineer||$122,270||6% (as fast as average)|
And what are the specifics of each of these jobs for engineering majors?
1. Environmental Engineer
Environmental engineers use their skills to improve the world by tackling environmental problems. They may try to improve how we recycle things, find ways to make drinking water safer, or work to improve long-term sustainability. Environmental engineers may also:
- Design air pollution or water reclamation facilities
- Inspect facilities to ensure they comply with local environmental laws
- Conduct hazardous waste studies and recommend ways to clean it up
An entry-level or junior environmental engineer often engages in a lot of fieldwork, like collecting groundwater or air samples. But they can also work in an office as part of a larger team, conducting experiments, analyzing data, and presenting their findings.
Globally Responsible Engineering
Experience what it's like to be an engineer in this free course from Engineers Without Borders. Learn more about global responsibility and sustainability in engineering.
Avg. Time: 5-6 hours
Skills you’ll build: Critical thinking, communication, problem solving, logical thinking, creative writing
2. Supply Chain Engineer
Supply chain engineers, also called logisticians, are responsible for getting something from point A to point B as efficiently and inexpensively as possible. That “something” can be anything from raw materials and parts to food and cars. They do this by analyzing the entire supply chain from start to finish.
This requires a deep understanding of how supply chains work in general and the company’s specific needs. The supply chain engineer has to ensure:
- The company has the right amount of product in the right place at the right time
- Existing facilities are in the right location, and new ones are filling the appropriate gaps
- The supply chain is properly maintained, so the company is profitable
Supply chain engineers also negotiate with suppliers to get the best possible price and stay keenly aware of historical demand to forecast future demand.
Explore Supply Chain
Discover what it's like to work in supply chain engineering in this free course from GE. Work with engineering data and contribute to the manufacturing process.
Avg. Time: 2-3 hours
Skills you’ll build: Critical thinking, problem solving, data interpretation, accountability
3. Civil Engineer
Civil engineers design, plan, and supervise the design and construction of buildings and other infrastructure projects, like bridges. They are generally responsible for the project from start to finish and perform tasks such as:
- Analyzing plans, maps, and surveys
- Understanding and including zoning rules in site selection
- Interpreting soil reports to ensure the site can safely hold the structure
- Managing the construction, repair, and maintenance of structures
Civil engineers can work for the government or private companies. While most civil engineers work on the design side of the industry, some civil engineers pursue a career in forensic engineering. In this role, they use their skills to determine why a structure failed.
Make It Future Focused
See what it's like to be a civil engineer in this free program from John Holland. Learn what it takes to work on rail, building, and infrastructure projects.
Avg. Time: 5-6 hours
Skills you’ll build: Reading structural drawings, calculating structural materials, attention to detail, forecasting, scheduling
4. Chemical Engineer
Chemical engineers do more than mix things up in a lab. They use their chemistry, physics, and engineering skills to design the equipment and processes for manufacturing a wide range of products. Chemical engineers also ensure the manufacturing process and end products are safe for consumers and the environment. Additional tasks for chemical engineers include:
- Establishing safety procedures for working with potentially harmful chemicals
- Testing, monitoring, troubleshooting, and improving the manufacturing process
- Ensuring all equipment complies with safety or environmental regulations
Chemical engineers may specialize in a type of process (like creating stronger bonds for fibers or adhesives), while others may collaborate with other specialties (like pharmaceuticals).
Experience what it's like to work in chemical engineering in this free course from Spectris. Contribute to electric vehicle sustainability by improving performance.
Avg. Time: 3-5 hours
Skills you’ll build: Sustainable technology, technical research, presenting, calculations, modeling, critical thinking
5. Aerospace Engineer
Aerospace engineers create different technologies for the aviation, space, and defense sectors. They might design aircraft like helicopters or airplanes but could also design drones, spacecraft, satellites, or rockets. Some things an aerospace engineer does include:
- Assessing project proposals to see if they are possible to build and safe to use
- Create and execute the process for evaluating the quality and maintenance of the end product
- Troubleshoot and solve malfunctions
There are two aerospace engineering specialties. The first is aeronautical engineering. These engineers focus on aircraft, designing propulsion systems, and improving aircraft performance. The second is astronautical engineers, who focus on spacecraft.
Try your hand at aerospace engineering in this free program from GE. Compare and select the energy source for a concept engine. Then demonstrate the effects of bypass and compression ratio.
Avg. Time: 2-3 hours
Skills you’ll build: Data analysis, decision making, engineering judgement, communication
Top Jobs for Engineering Majors (Software)
Software engineering is a popular field and with good reason. From mapping directions and scheduling reminders to virtual meetings and grocery lists, ensuring the software that helps manage our digital lives works properly is critical.
The BLS lumps all software engineers into one group, and that group (software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers) is projected to have 25% job growth between 2021 and 2031. The BLS also notes that in 2022, the mean annual pay for software developers was $132,930.
Here are five popular software engineering job titles and the estimated salary for someone with zero to one year of experience from Glassdoor.
|Job Title||Estimated Salary|
|Video game engineer||$91,836|
|Quality assurance (QA) engineer||$72,351|
6. Front-End Engineer
A front-end engineer works at the intersection of software engineering and user experience. They generally work on the “front” of a software system or what a user sees and interacts with. Front-end engineers ensure the software “looks pretty,” meaning it’s user-friendly and intuitive. They also make sure the software runs properly. Other front-end engineering tasks include:
- Working with other software engineers to ensure all parts of the system work together
- Consulting with the security engineers to uncover and fix any weaknesses
- Optimizing a website so it loads and functions quickly
Front-end engineers may also pick out the colors and fonts used on a website, ensuring the software works on all types of devices and operating systems, and creating mock-ups for stakeholders to approve.
Front-End Software Engineering
Experience what it's like working as a front-end engineer in this free course from Skyscanner. Use the company's React library to build a basic app.
Avg. Time: 1-1.5 hours
7. Back-End Engineer
While a front-end engineer ensures a website or software product looks good and functions well, the back-end engineer makes sure everything works the way it’s meant to. Back-end engineers also:
- Create and execute plans for updating the system
- Write, troubleshoot, and debug code
- Build and maintain databases
- Optimize system performance
A back-end engineer is different from a back-end developer, though some companies use the terms interchangeably. The developer writes code to solve specific problems, while the engineer takes a “big picture” approach, ensuring all parts of the system function harmoniously.
Give back-end engineering a try in this free course from Lyft. Clean-up and refactor a messy system, write unit tests, and add new functionalites.
Avg. Time: 4-5 hours
Skills you’ll build: Software architecture, Python, UML, refactoring, unit testing, TDD
8. Video Game Engineer
Gaming engineers create and develop video games. While they may have an idea of what the game should look like, most gaming engineers don’t work alone. They usually work with a team of illustrators, writers, and other developers to bring the game to life. Other video game engineer duties are:
- Writing the code to ensure the game runs on different devices
- Designing a game prototype for testing
- Fixing bugs and troubleshooting other gameplay errors
- Defining how a character looks, feels, and moves
Gaming engineers might also contribute to the storyline, character, or plot development for the game.
Experience what it's like working as a game developer on The Sims in this free course from Electronic Arts. Write a proposal for a game play experience, improve an inventory system, and create a character.
Avg. Time: 4-6 hours
Skills you’ll build: Feature proposal, object-oriented design, class design, code analysis, data structure, game engine technology.
9. Security Engineer
One of the flaws of living in a digital world is that the systems that maintain our information are an attractive target for thieves and hackers. That’s where security engineers come in. They make sure our digital information stays safe and secure. It’s an ongoing and constantly evolving job that includes:
- Creating and implementing security systems to keep digital information safe
- Conducting security assessments to find and fix flaws
- Responding to active and potential threats
- Planning and executing security upgrades
Security engineers need advanced technical and programming skills, as they are often tasked with building security systems from scratch.
Learn what it's like to work in cybersecurity in this free course from JPMorgan Chase. You'll analyze a fraud dataset, implement security fundamentals on a website, and build an email classifier.
Avg. Time: 5 hours
Skills you’ll build: Data analysis, application security hygiene, email security fundamentals, text-based ML models, access control
10. Quality Assurance Engineer
A quality assurance (QA) engineer ensures a software product runs as intended. And when it doesn’t, it’s up to them to identify why. QA engineers don’t write the code to fix the bug. Instead, they create and execute the testing process to uncover flaws before the product reaches end users. However, QA engineers may write the code to run any automated testing. Other tasks are:
- Identifying and analyzing problems in the program
- Working with programmers and developers to coordinate testing
- Tracking errors and performance metrics
QA engineers also work closely with other teams to better understand how the product should function. So while working with other engineers is an integral part of the role, QA engineers also work with marketers and designers to get a feel for what users should experience.
Advanced Manufacturing – Quality Control
Explore what it's like to work in quality control. Learn when inspection is accurate (and when it isn't) and how to create a 2-D drawing.
Avg. Time: 2 hours
Skills you’ll build: Attention to detail, AutoCAD, ComputerAided design
Skills for Engineering Jobs
As you might expect, engineers rely on their hard skills a lot. Engineers often use their technical skills (like coding), analytical skills (data collection and analysis), and logical thinking to get their work done.
But engineers also use many of their soft skills every day. They may:
- Use their public speaking skills to present their findings
- Collaborate with internal and external stakeholders
- Decide what research the team conducts and how to design experiments
- Solve problems and challenges they encounter with creative thinking
Full Steam Ahead
For those who choose an engineering major, there are plenty of jobs that line up with your interests and can satisfy your scientific curiosity!
Ready to get started developing the skills you need to succeed as an engineer? Enroll in one of Forage’s free engineering and software engineering job simulations.
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