Engineering is the process of applying science to the solution of problems. Whilst the scientist explores the processes by which the world operates, the engineer uses that knowledge to solve problems, transforming science into technology.
An engineer is typically required to understand at least the science relevant to his field (but generally far more), to know the correct techniques for applying that science and to have the technical skills to design and implement physical solutions using it. Engineers can also engage in research - mostly developing and evolving techniques of application - but many will spend all or most of their careers using known methods to design task specific products.
In general an engineering career will require a university degree - or equivalent training - to at least Bachelor's degree level, plus in many cases a technical apprenticeship and in most cases ongoing professional development once theoretically qualified. Most engineering careers will also require membership of a relevant professional body such as an engineering institute.
Many English language sources misuse the title "engineer" to mean anyone with a technical role - including mechanics and equipment operators without any design or development roles, although this will tend to irritate actual engineers. By contrast some jurisdictions (notably Germany) consider Engineer a legally protected title and offer legal penalties for non-qualified use.
Notable branches of engineering include:
- Chemical Engineering - with sub-specialities ranging from water and sanitation through to industrial food production. Thankfully most chemical engineers specialise aggressively. Includes biochemical engineering.
- Civil Engineering - construction of pretty much any man-made structure not covered by any other speciality.
- Mining Engineering - seen by some as a sub-school of Civil Engineering, but specialised in digging holes of various kinds.
- Mechanical Engineering - constructing machines; anything from vehicles to modern weapons. Again, usually quite highly specialised.
- Electrical Engineering - specialising in the creation of electrical systems, with a range of sub schools covering everything from high voltage distribution grid to microelectronics.
- Military Engineering - a hybrid school, often using aspects of other fields to facilitate control of the battlefield. This is the school to which the siege engineer belongs.
More arguable cases include:
- Genetic Engineering - currently in its infancy. Any "engineering" that is taking place is still very much at the technique development phase.
- Software Engineering - loses out in the "applied Science" aspect, although the "using known techniques to resolve problems" aspect is very much fulfilled.
- Social Engineering - causes problems rather than solving them.
In reality, medicine is also a branch of engineering … but you will rarely, if ever, get a medic to accept this without a great deal of arguing.
In the pre-modern period, engineering skills are likely to be distributed in a variety of places (with the added wrinkle of being divorced from most of what we would understand as science), mostly amongst guilds such as the masons and millers(/millwrights), but occasionally in the hands of academics (and therefore, at least in the middle ages) churchmen such as those that designed and built the great cathedrals. Whilst most such people would not have undertaken anything resembling genuine research, they were certainly capable of innovating new solutions to complex problems.
Game and Story Use
- Most "mad scientists" actually seem to be engineers.
- In fact, plot relevant "scientists" in general usually seem to be engineers.
- Engineering skills may be extremely useful in a low (or no) magic campaign.
- PCs engaged in some grand project (or working for someone who is) may well need to find, retrieve and protect an engineer.