When you ask someone to tell you what an engineer does, the variety of answers that comes back is a testament to the diversity of the field. While the concept has existed since the dawn of time, the roles and responsibilities of an engineer have changed drastically over time. What once was piling stone walls is not using technology to determine environmental efficiency. With a new decade upon us, perhaps it is time to re-examine the role of an engineer and the changes this field has experienced.
No matter what sector of engineering you are a part of, the technology advances must rank as some of the largest changes in your job. Gone are the days of drafting tools and carbon-copy blueprints. Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and online drafting tools have made the art of designing plans and sharing them easier and more accurate. The advancements in technology go beyond drawing and planning, the tools themselves are becoming more technologically advanced. Software is available for more accurate calculations. There are cordless tools and new tools that allow engineers to find studs, leaks or perform repairs faster. While knowledge and a gut instinct are still at the core of engineering and systems maintenance, technology has helped fill the gaps previously created by human error. The technology is now even more mobile making the job of a building engineer easier. They can carry plans, maintenance requests, personnel files and schematics all on a laptop or tablet or phone.
Engineers are known for their problem-solving skills, but the role has certainly grown since the days of carrying plans and sitting at tables for hours drawing by hand. Engineers, especially in the commercial real estate sector, are beginning to play more and more roles. In the past, an engineer might be responsible for one part of a larger system. Now with all sectors becoming more globalized, engineers are becoming responsible for developing entire systems or models and seeing their implementation.
The landscape of engineering is also a shifting sand. First, in what an engineer looks like. A field that once only including men is now seeing an influx of racial and gender diversity in new ways. Women are being encouraged to pursue the field in an unprecedented way. The scope is also changing in that the field is more interdisciplinary that ever. Different specialties are working together towards modern solutions to fix people’s problems. Building engineers work with designers who work with civil engineers who work with electrical engineers. The field is now less isolated and less focused on the nuts and bolts of science and math that its predecessors. Engineers are not only responsible for the ideation of a system but also the running of the system and the assurance that the design meets all codes and expectations. It has also become a 24-hour job especially in the CRE industry. Engineers are expected to be available to diagnose and treat the building at all hours of the day.
Where engineers have made huge strides is in environmental considerations. With WELL and LEED building standards becoming more sought after, it is not surprising that engineers are beginning to incorporate more environmentally conscious elements into their work. From lighting to HVAC to cleaning, engineers have found several new ways to integrate changes in all parts of a property aimed at lowering the building’s environmental impact. Engineers are creating designs that are positively impacting the world of building design and maintenance. Whereas environmental concerns were not always the top priority, developers are beginning to make it top of their list.
While the job may change, engineers continue to be problem solvers and innovators. Over the next decade, it will be fascinating to see which new tool. Idea or responsibility engineers decide to sear next.