The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) defines engineering as "that profession in which knowledge of the mathematical and natural sciences gained by study, experience, and practice is applied with judgment to develop ways to utilize, economically, the materials and forces of nature for the benefit of mankind." An engineer's goal is to solve a problem or design a new product according to specifications to meet a predetermined set of needs or requirements. For example, electrical engineers working for a company that designs an electronic consumer product may perform tests on the electrical components of that product to ensure they meet safety standards and perform according to goals. They may also be asked to recommend new designs or materials for products under development. A civil engineer may be asked to design a new bridge, road, or overpass that will remain structurally sound for many years.

While the engineering industry consists of many types of engineers, in general, engineers will be concerned with one or more of the following five areas: research, development, application, management, and maintenance. Which areas an engineer will focus on depends on the goals or needs of the organization the engineer works for. Engineers work for commercial businesses, governmental organizations, and academic and research institutions. Each of these types of organizations has its own mission for which the engineer must also be focused. For example, a city government may ask its civil engineers to test materials for a proposed design for a bridge or overpass that will be built.

Engineers' contributions to society and the economy are far-reaching. From Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids to the early cities in Greece, humankind has been engineering solutions to problems and for improving our daily lives for centuries. In fact, civilization's development is often measured according to these engineering accomplishments. The first cities of Mesopotamia in 3000 B.C. created the first recognized engineers, to help establish building materials and create a city that would protect its people from attack by its neighboring populations. While there were no formal processes in place, these early engineers learned by their mistakes and began developing the processes that would become used in the future.

However, it was in the 17th and 18th centuries that modern engineering as it is known today was first developed, when Isaac Newton's groundbreaking research in mathematics and physics was quickly picked up by engineers and put to practical use. The early United States government also recognized the need for formal engineers and engineering processes to ensure the safety of public buildings, roads, and other structures. One of the earliest educational programs developed in the United States were schools of engineering at colleges such as Harvard, Yale, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. World War I and World War II had a profound effect on engineering as a profession, creating the need for more types of engineers and more areas of specialization. In the 21st century, new types of engineers that have become important include computer and software engineers, and environmental engineers.

When it comes to jobs in the industry, most engineering entry-level jobs include a type of apprenticeship or period of time during which the engineer works under the supervision of a more experienced engineer. Since many types of engineers must be licensed, this is often a requirement of becoming a fully licensed engineer. The period of time is usually one to two years. After becoming fully licensed the engineer can work for a company, a government agency, an academic institution, or as a consultant. Engineers can become supervisors, managers, and executives of engineering firms.

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