Five engineering jobs you might never have heard of

Engineering isn’t just about building bridges or making cars. It’s a huge and varied sector that touches pretty much every industry you might ever want to work in: from apps to zoology. Here’s our selection of 5 engineering jobs that you might never heard of – but which could give you a lucrative and fulfilling career.

1. Virtual reality engineer

The future for virtual reality isn’t just restricted to gaming anymore, but applying the technology to solve real-world problems. All sorts of industries are exploring virtual reality: from the military who use it to act out battle scenarios in a non-combat environment; to sport where it’s used as a training aid by athletes to improve their performance; and construction where it’s used to replicate whole buildings to test their structure and identify any flaws in the design.

As an engineer in this sector, you’d usually work on either developing the software – creating virtual reality programmes through 3D modelling and coding that address a particular need (e.g. training a team in how to build a reactor – like our Reactor Builder game) or building the hardware– making the physical technology behind it –work better to improve the user’s virtual reality experience.

What should I study?
You’ll likely need a degree in computer science (to go into the software side) or electronic engineering (to specialise in the hardware) as a foundation. Newcastle University also offers degree and postgraduate courses in specifically game engineering.

Find out more
See examples of virtual reality in our 360° nuclear reactor tour or Pretty Curious careers films. You can find out what a day in the life of a virtual reality engineer is like or learn more about virtual reality from the Virtual Reality Society.

2. Fashion engineer

Admittedly the job title might not actually exist yet, but there is a growing crossover between fashion and engineering with the rise of smart materials, 3D printed technologies and high-tech wearables. It’s a new and emerging field, but there are lots of opportunities and niche areas you could explore further if you enjoy science and maths subjects, as well as art and design.

Engineering is behind such innovations as embedded technology in clothing – remember Nicole Scherzinger’s Twitter dress? – and 3D printed garments – like this first fully 3D printed gown, modelled by Dita Von Teese. Then there’s the use of engineering to bring the theatrical element to fashion shows and events – like the work Pavlina does as a light designer in this video. Plus: there’s creating materials with embedded technology to meet a specific need – such as those designed for withstanding the pressures of space.

What should I study?
A degree in materials science and engineering or computer science would give you an understanding of how materials work and insight into modern technologies. There are also specialised courses available – for instance, Manchester University offers a degree in materials science and engineering with textile technology.

Find out more
Jenny Griffiths is a computer scientist, founder & CEO of fashion app SNAP Fashion. Find out about her job in this film or read an an interview with Chief Creative Director of CuteCircuit, Francesca Rosella, designers of that Twitter dress.

3. Prosthetics engineer

Imagine doing a job like that of TV Super Vet, Noel Fitzpatrick… only for humans. Prosthetic engineering is a strand of biomedical engineering – the application of engineering to human biology and healthcare – and it involves creating artificial body parts that are as good as the real thing, or even better. It’s an area of engineering that will become more important as people start to live longer, alongside other biomedical engineering disciplines – such as tissue engineering (creating artificial organs) and genetic engineering (manipulating genetic material).

Prosthetic engineering – like other areas of biomedical engineering – draws on lots of emerging areas, such as robotics, sensor technology and artificial intelligence, so you could be working at the cutting edge of science. There are also a range of employers: from the NHS and healthcare companies, to specialist start-ups.

What should I study?
There are general undergraduate and postgraduate courses available in biomedical engineering and bioengineering, as well as some specialist courses. For instance, Imperial College London offers courses in human and biological robotics.

Find out more
The Royal Society of Biology explains what bioengineering is and the Institution of Engineering and Technology also has lots of useful information on how to pursue a career in biomedical engineering. You might also be interested to know UK Robotics Week takes place from 25 - 29 June – find out what’s on near you.

4. Machine learning engineer

If you’re fascinated by artificial intelligence (AI) and enjoy coding or electronics, a career as a machine learning engineer could be right up your street. Machine learning engineers have the job of developing machines or software programmes that exhibit human intelligence. So this might involve programming code to create a hit single (Spotify has hired an AI scientist) or recommend a new TV series based on viewing habits. Machine learning engineers typically work in teams alongside data scientists and software or systems engineers – and can work across all industries. Job roles are at start-ups and established brands looking to use AI for a competitive edge.

What to study
There are specialist AI degree courses available, which combine engineering with other disciplines, such as science and psychology. Or study a subject such as software engineering, computer science and mathematics, which incorporate modules on AI.

Find out more
This guide from the University of Edinburgh explains more about informatics – the field of study which involves AI. Or, read this interview with a University of Southampton graduate of electronics engineering and AI, about his careers prospects.

5. Rollercoaster engineer

Anyone terrified of heights or hanging upside down need not apply for this role... But if you’re a thrill seeker who’s fascinated by the mechanics of roller coaster rides: what’s the perfect drop height? How does where you sit on the ride affect the experience? Or how do you choose where to position the loop-the-loops? Then the job of a rollercoaster engineer could be for you…

Of course there are lots of different roles involved in engineering a rollercoaster. Those designing the rides need to have an understanding of how things move and work together, to ensure the ride operates and is safe to use. But there’s also an artistry and theatricality involved, and an understanding of human psychology – what thrills us – helps too. Then there’s the building of rollercoasters, which draws on structural engineering skills. While the trend for new rides to incorporate virtual reality opens the sector to computer software engineers too.

What to study
A degree in electrical, structural or mechanical engineering provides a good foundation. Be aware it’s a niche and very competitive line of work, but the skills you get from this type of engineering course open the door to many jobs in other sectors too.

Find out more
Watch this BBC Bitesize clip with a rollercoaster engineer based in LA or this Tomorrow’s Engineers interview with Thorpe Park’s Electrical Area Manager.

To learn more about different jobs in engineering, salaries in this sector and the skills required, visit our careers hub.

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