Engineers, as practitioners of engineering, are professionals who invent, design, analyze, build, and test machines, systems, structures and materials to fulfill objectives and requirements while considering the limitations imposed by practicality, regulation, safety, and cost. The word engineer (Latin ingeniator) is derived from the Latin words ingeniare ("to create, generate, contrive, devise") and ingenium ("cleverness"). The foundational qualifications of an engineer typically include a four-year bachelor's degree in an engineering discipline, or in some jurisdictions, a master's degree in an engineering discipline plus four to six years of peer-reviewed professional practice (culminating in a project report or thesis) and passage of engineering board examinations.
Engineers develop new technological solutions. During the engineering design process, the responsibilities of the engineer may include defining problems, conducting and narrowing research, analyzing criteria, finding and analyzing solutions, and making decisions. Much of an engineer's time is spent on researching, locating, applying, and transferring information. Indeed, research suggests engineers spend 56% of their time engaged in various information behaviours, including 14% actively searching for information.
Most engineers specialize in one or more engineering disciplines. Numerous specialties are recognized by professional societies, and each of the major branches of engineering has numerous subdivisions. Civil engineering, for example, includes structural and transportation engineering and materials engineering include ceramic, metallurgical, and polymer engineering. Mechanical engineering cuts across just about every discipline since its core essence is applied physics. Engineers also may specialize in one industry, such as motor vehicles, or in one type of technology, such as turbines or semiconductor materials.
Some graduates of engineering programs in North America may be recognized by the iron ring or Engineer's Ring, a ring made of iron or stainless steel that is worn on the little finger of the dominant hand. This tradition began in 1925 in Canada with The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer, where the ring serves as a symbol and reminder of the engineer's obligations to the engineering profession. In 1972, the practice was adopted by several colleges in the United States including members of the Order of the Engineer.
Accreditation is the process by which engineering programs are evaluated by an external body to determine if applicable standards are met. The Washington Accord serves as an international accreditation agreement for academic engineering degrees, recognizing the substantial equivalency in the standards set by many major national engineering bodies. In the United States, post-secondary degree programs in engineering are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.
In Canada, engineering is a self-regulated profession. The profession in each province is governed by its own engineering association. For instance, in the Province of British Columbia an engineering graduate with four or more years of post graduate experience in an engineering-related field and passing exams in ethics and law will need to be registered by the Association for Professional Engineers and Geoscientists (APEGBC) in order to become a Professional Engineer and be granted the professional designation of P.Eng allowing one to practice engineering.
British school children in the 1950s were brought up with stirring tales of "the Victorian Engineers", chief among whom were Brunel, Stephenson, Telford, and their contemporaries. In the UK, "engineering" has more recently been styled as an industry sector consisting of employers and employees loosely termed "engineers" who included semi-skilled trades. However, many industry practitioners prefer to reserve the term "engineer" to describe a university-educated practitioner of ingenuity represented by the Chartered (or Incorporated) Engineer qualifications. However, a large proportion of the UK public still thinks of "engineers" as skilled tradespeople or even semi-skilled tradespeople with a high school education. Also, UK skilled and semi-skilled tradespeople style themselves as "engineers". This has created confusion in the eyes of some members of the public to understand what professional engineers actually do, from fixing car engines, television sets and refrigerators to designing and managing the development of aircraft, spacecraft, power stations, infrastructure, and other complex technological systems.
In companies and other organizations, there is sometimes a tendency to undervalue people with advanced technological and scientific skills compared to celebrities, fashion practitioners, entertainers, and managers. In his book, The Mythical Man-Month, Fred Brooks Jr says that managers think of senior people as "too valuable" for technical tasks and that management jobs carry higher prestige. He tells how some laboratories, such as Bell Labs, abolish all job titles to overcome this problem: a professional employee is a "member of the technical staff." IBM maintain a dual ladder of advancement; the corresponding managerial and engineering or scientific rungs are equivalent. Brooks recommends that structures need to be changed; the boss must give a great deal of attention to keeping his managers and his technical people as interchangeable as their talents allow.