What Does a Mechanical Engineer Do?

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December 14, 2020

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Mechanical engineers work in many fields, including automotive research, heating and cooling systems design, electric generator inspection, and robotics development. As such, mechanical engineers must have a broad set of skills and knowledge.

Learn more about mechanical engineering career paths and degree requirements. Discover the Best Online Master's in Mechanical Engineering Programs.

What Skills Are Required for Mechanical Engineering?

Communication

Mechanical engineers must know how to communicate effectively with diverse audiences. To inform design efforts, engineers often need to speak directly with clients to understand their needs. They may also collaborate with architects, computer scientists, and other experts to address specific challenges.

Mathematics

Math lies at the heart of engineering. To develop the skills needed to design, analyze, and troubleshoot complex mechanical systems, engineering students typically must complete substantial coursework in calculus, trigonometry, physics, and statistics. They also hone advanced math skills through project-based learning.

Computer Skills

Mechanical engineers use computers in many facets of their work. For example, engineers may use specialized software to run simulations, design machinery, and generate component specifications. While students develop computer competency throughout their curriculum, many choose to take elective classes in areas like electronic circuitry, software engineering, and database management.

Mechanical Skills

Mechanical skills refers to the ability to design and build physical tools, machines, and other devices. An engineer working in the aeronautics industry, for example, must be able to build and repair jet engines. A nuclear engineer may need to maintain and upgrade safety and emergency response systems.

Problem-Solving

In preparation for their work developing solutions to challenges, engineering students learn about mathematical models for analyzing problems and frameworks used to evaluate design choices. They also study forensic engineering, which is the process of identifying the causes of failed designs and implementations.

Interview With a Mechanical Engineer

Thomas Anderson is a licensed mechanical engineer with 10 years of experience. He is proud to be a licensed professional engineer. He enjoys helping other engineers improve and discover their communication skills to obtain the career of their dreams. As the founder of Engineer Your Career, Thomas uses his talent and experience to provide the best possible future for others by mentoring, coaching, and creating content for young engineers.

What are the most rewarding and challenging parts of working as a mechanical engineer?

Engineers answer the question of "how?" How do we get to the moon? How do we cross a river? How do we fly like a bird? We design, create, and innovate using the scientific method.

An engineer works between scientific discoveries and the applications that meet societal and consumer needs. It's not easy. Day to day, project to project — tasks, duties, challenges, and parameters change. Engineering is a constant problem-solving process, with many problems happening at the same time. There's always a problem to solve, and that's why I love it.

What should students look for in a mechanical engineering program?

Your engineering education is very important. It's important to pick a college you enjoy — one that emphasizes good teaching and has an established student engineering program. Be sure to pick an engineering school that is ABET-accredited, is the proper size for you, specializes in areas that you're interested in, and meets your tuition goals.

Also consider the difference between an engineering technology program and a standard engineering curriculum. An engineering technology program can limit your ability to obtain your engineering license down the road.

What types of jobs does a mechanical engineering degree prepare students for?

Mechanical engineering is the application of the principles of engineering, physics, and material science in order to design, analyze, manufacture, and maintain various mechanical systems. It is one of the broadest branches of engineering and can vary widely from job to job.

A mechanical engineering graduate can land a position with NASA, Dick's Sporting Goods, Disney, Ford, or Coca-Cola — you name it. There are many different opportunities out there.

Are certificates and certifications important for aspiring mechanical engineers? If so, which ones can make an individual stand out?

Certificates and certifications are very important to an engineer. Below are the most popular options for mechanical engineers.

One of the most essential credentials an engineer can obtain is the engineer-in-training (EIT) certificate, earned by passing the fundamentals of engineering (FE) exam. The FE exam is the first step in earning your professional engineer (PE) license.

To perform consulting work, work for the government, or stamp/approve critical engineering documents, you will have to first pass the FE and then the PE to become a registered, licensed engineer. Each state has its own licensing requirements in order to protect the safety, health, welfare, and property of its people.

A project management professional certificate is for those engineers who would like to gain knowledge and certification in project management. It was created by the Project Management Institute — a nonprofit organization whose goal is to advance the profession of project management.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is a popular green building certification developed by a nonprofit organization — the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The USGBC uses a rating system for the design, operation, construction, and maintenance of commercial buildings, homes, and neighborhoods.

The program helps building owners and operators to be environmentally friendly and use resources more responsibly. The USGBC also certifies engineers and other professionals.

Lean Six Sigma is a methodology that relies on a collaborative team effort to improve performance by systematically removing waste and reducing variation. It combines lean manufacturing/lean enterprise and Six Sigma to eliminate eight kinds of waste. Lean Six Sigma not only reduces process defects and waste, but it also provides a framework for overall organizational culture change.

What job search advice can you share for those in your field?

In my conversations with young engineers, one question prevails over the rest: "I've filled out hundreds of online applications and I have only gotten a few responses. How do I land my first engineering job?"

It's too common. Get out and start networking. Talk to professionals, join engineering organizations, volunteer, and go to conferences. It's difficult to land an entry-level job without a network. So get yourself out there and start building a network.

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