I studied mechanical engineering and get both bechalor and master degree when I came to Australia, even though I always have a strong interest in software engineering since I was young. Why? Because when I was young my dad always told me back in 1980s in China, if know how to drive, you'll easily earn yourself and your family a decent life. But the good life won't last as now everyone know how to drive. So when it comes to me to pick my career path, I pictured that every one should know programming in the new era and decided to let software engineering go because I don't want to pursue a 21 centry driving degree. (LOL)
But later in Australia I faced a big mining and manufacturing industry collapse in 2013, there's no job for mechanical engineers. I became an IT techincian temporarily. While doing that, I found being a software engineering is very attractive and decided to properly study on it. And after couples of years, I'm glad I made that decision that every second I work as a software engineer makes me happy.
What is the difference between mechanical engineering and software engineering? I usually go with an example - let's say I want a 2 meter wide table. In ME world, or say in reallity, I'll never ever get an exactly 2 meter wide table. Instead I'll probably get a 2.1 meter table, or 2.01 meter table. It depends on how much money I paid, the more I paid the more accurate it is. It'll be fine if I only need the table for dining, an extra 0.1 meter or extra $100 doesn't make any difference to me. But if I'm trying to put 10,000 table together to make it an aircraft carrier or space station, I'll start to worry about managing the balance of this inaccuracy and cost. And this is the point of Mechanical Engineering, we always want to balance the cost and the inaccurate nature of the reallity. But it's a completely different story in Software Engineering world. In most cases, if a program produces result B given the input A, we can always expect it to do so. Thus we can make a scallable solution by very simple blocks of codes, to serve millions of people just like serving one. It's math and logic behind the scene, and every fault have a reason behind, so I actually have way better sense of control over that.
So, I found that a good rule of thumb is to start by considering what you enjoy doing. For example, what do you do in your free time and what classes do you enjoy the most (not necessarily the same as the classes you do well in). And then think about the things that you really do not like to do, since every job has its down side. If you don’t like to read a lot of non-fiction, then being a lawyer probably isn’t for you. For engineering, you should like figuring out problems, working on computers, and understanding math; and not mind a lot of detailed repetitive work and bearing the responsibility if your part of the design doesn’t work. Good luck.
1. Civil Engineering: design of roads, bridges, stormwater systems, structures, traffic management systems, construction, project management
2. Industrial Engineering: systems improvement, project management, ergonomic design, process optimization, system design
3. Mechanical Engineering: fluid dynamics, robots, machines, testing, combustion machines, gas machines, thermodynamics, electronic machines
4. Computer Science: coding, artificial intelligence, software testing and design, product testing, automation, bot design
5. Bioengineering: product design for healthcare products, medicine, agriculture, manufacturing
6. Chemical Engineering: chemical plants, nuclear power plants, design of chemical manufacturing processes, food science, production of chemicals used in food, drugs, fuel, etc.
7. Computer Engineering: design of electrical boards, product design, coding, software and hardware integration, systems testing
You are correct that there are many different engineering streams, e.g. Electrical & Electronic engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Industrial / Manufacturing Engineering, Computer Engineering, etc.
All of the streams have their own domain knowledge and specialization.
Below are my suggestions :
1. Find out more details on different engineering workstreams
2. Attend information sessions hosted by the engineering faculty of the college. Speak to the professors.
3. Speak to someone who are working in these engineering streams
4. Seek guidance from your mentor, school career counsellor, your parents, etc.
Hope this helps! Good Luck!
David C’s Answer
If money is the primary thing you are interested in regardless of what field of engineering it is, then Petroleum and Computer Science Engineering paid the most in 2022 in the USA. There are excellent schools to choose from once to narrow down to the field of engineering that interests you.
A word of caution would be not to allow money to be the main reason for your choice. If you end up not liking the career choice you've made, you may then come to regret it and go into something else not related to your schooling meaning the cost of the schooling will be mostly lost. Many have fallen into that area. So, choose wisely on various reasons such as interest, long term commitment, continued need for that skill or career in the future, and money, (in that order).
Some of the questions I answered about manufacturing and mechanical engineering were:
1. What is it like to be an engineer?
2. What are the best and worst parts of the job?
3. What is the typical annual salary?
4. What steps do students need to take if they want to become an engineer?
5. How does what students are learning now relate to this type of career?
6. What does a typical day look like?
7. What are some of the "perks" of being an engineer?
Your engineering studies give you some insight into the assignments that you may encounter in a real job, but the problems and examples are simplified in scope so that you can learn a specific methodolgy to solve a problem. You get a chance to decide which disciplines you like or do better,. but sometimes we have to deal with things we don't like, so don't overlook that aspect in your studies.
If you get a chance for an internship, that will help you figure things out. In addition, try to find some people currently working in your field(s) and find out what they like and dislike. Read some trade magazines to see what is going on in industry relative to your major. Find out about the companies where you think you'd like to work. What products do they make? Ask yourself: how would I make a difference in that company? If you interview for a job in that company, they will probably ask you the same question. Good luck, Vincent!
It is often very difficult to determine what you want to do for a career at your age. My background is very diverse, I have owned small companies, been in the military and have worked for Verizon now for 27 years as an engineer and now a manager. My first recommendation is to not lock yourself into any one thing quite yet, but instead move in a direction you think you are interested, which will allow you to grow. For instance, I took college prep classes in High School even though at the time I was not planning on attending college. The classes opened doors that I later walked through. You should find ways of improving your individual circumstance, even if you are not sure you will use the skills you are currently learning. It gives you a base, or foundation on which to build. If you have interests that will allow you to build a career, then it would be good to follow your passion. One of the best ways to succeed is to love what you are doing. I have found that the more doors I can open either through education or experience, I have had opportunities to build my career.
I hope this helps and know that everyone at some point was just where you are now. You will do fine, just keep moving forward and eventually you will get where you want to be.