Design News is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Cool jobs in engineering

Cool jobs in engineering

Work should be fun, not drudgery. You should wake up every day feeling like you're going to play, not going to work. And all the better if you can use your engineering skills and experience to actually do some good-to advance technology to the next level and improve quality of life for others. A great sense of satisfaction can come from that.

Jobs that give that kind of satisfaction exist. On the following pages, we've profiled a few engineers who love what they do and think they have the coolest job in the world.

Perhaps you think you have the coolest jobs too. Tell us about it and we'll share your experiences with others.

Racing engineer

Name: Mike Coughlan.

Title: Technical director.

Company: Arrows Grand Prix, Leafield, Oxfordshire, UK.

Business: Formula One motor racing.

Engineering degree: Honors degree in mechanical engineering, 1985, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex, UK.

Responsibilities: Technical direction of Team Arrows

Tools used: CATIA, MSC.Nastran, MSC.Patran, Fluent, several other design and analysis software packages, a wind tunnel, and a multitude of rigs (for testing stiffness, hydraulics, electronics, etc.).

Engineering principles used: Aerodynamic efficiency, which equals lift over drag; efficiency of strength to weight; efficiency of stiffness to weight.

Typical work day: Works every weekend. Includes travel to all the Grand Prix races (every other weekend), with time at the test track in between. Weekdays are usually 8:30am to 10 pm, Saturdays 9:30am to 5pm, and Sundays 10am to 2 pm.

Advice: Be practical.

Quote: "It's very easy to design structures and shapes that are impossible to make. So you need to know what's practical. In F1 as in all racing, you have limited resources, either in money or in time. And F1 is all about efficiency. Efficiency of aerodynamics, efficiency of stiffness, efficiency of weight. You're looking for the maximum return in lap time for money spent. I've always wanted to do this type of work. I see myself as very lucky to be in this job. It's hard work, but I miss it when I go on holiday. When I left university I had a plan, I knew what I wanted to do, and all my choices moved forward to what I do today. I suppose in the real world there are only 20 people who do what I do-I'm not saying only 20 are capable of it, but there just aren't many opportunities. When I began, you didn't have to have a degree to do high-level motor racing design, but I think it's essential today. Once you're in, you have to work hard because there are many people who would like to do it and are willing to work as hard as you."


Name: James F. Antaki.

Title: Director of Artificial Heart Research.

Company: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Dept. of Surgery, Pittsburgh, PA.

Business: Transfer of technology between academia and the clinical environment.

Engineering degree: BS, mechanical engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Ph.D. mechanical engineering, University of Pittsburgh.

Responsibilities: Direct basic and applied research towards improving the safety and effectiveness of mechanical circulatory support. Develop improved design tools for blood-contacting medical devices. Advise and instruct graduate and undergraduate students.

Tools used: SolidWorks, I-DEAS, Rampant, Fluent, TascFlow.

Engineering principles used: Everything from thermodynamics to Newtonian mechanics.

Typical work day: Total confusion punctuated by moments of paralyzing panic. Research and reading; prototyping; experimentation and testing; analyzing data; writing; meeting with physicians, research, and design teams; teaching/advising graduate students; administration.

Advice: Dream, work hard, get lucky, have faith. Be an excellent classical engineer, plus be knowledgeable and conversant in various disciplines of medicine.

Quote: "Partially by conscious choice, and to a great extent by sheer providence, I have ambled on to my current job. The most fulfilling vocations allow you to serve others. And for a technically inclined person with a proclivity for engineering, there may be no better occupation than one of bioengineer. As a senior in college during an era when jobs in defense were plentiful, I was seeking a career with quite the opposite theme. At the time, the term "bioengineer" barely existed, and although I did not know the name, it was inevitable that I be led into this field where I can fulfill my scientific curiosity, invent, and intellectualize to my heart's content while striving to do some good for others. I am twice blessed in this job: Once by the opportunity to play with the most recent fascinating technologies, seeking the intellectual stimulation of scientific research, and then again by the privilege of applying my efforts towards timely, clinically relevant problems that affect real people.

Space engineer

Name: Doug Stanley.

Title: Space Launch Initiative Program Manager.

Company: Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, VA.

Business: Builder of launch and space systems.

Engineering degree: BS, Math, Baylor University; MS, astronautical engineering; George Washington University; studying for Ph.D. in systems engineering, George Washington University.

Responsibilities: Program manager for project to replace Space Shuttle with reusable launch vehicle.

Tools used: SDRC's I-DEAS Master Series, and Hypersizer panel sizer to do final analysis and sizing.

Engineering principles used: Chaos Theory.

Typical work day: Manages a team of engineers by walking around, checking up on people, and seeing what's going on. Often meets with the customer (primarily NASA) and briefs congressional and White House staffers. Acts as a go-between to keep the load off his engineering staff. "I put my hand in design aspects a lot more than a typical manager because that is my background."

Advice: Learn how to think, communicate, and have a larger view of the world.

Quote: "I have an opportunity that only comes around once every 25 years-to see what the next generation of space transportation is going to look like. It's quite a challenge to meet goals such as taking things into space for $1,000 a pound with orders of magnitude improvement in reliability and safety-putting the technologies in place and, particularly, designing the systems, which is the fun part. Designing a reusable launch vehicle is the most complex, multidiscipline design optimization problem you can imagine. For example, propellant tanks start out at -423F degrees and are connected to parts of the vehicle that get up to 3,000F degrees! It's a lot of fun and you are working on something that is high profile and can have a lot of benefit to the country."

Special-effects engineer

Name: Brian Poole.

Title: Hydraulic engineer.

Company: Universal Studios, Orlando, FL.

Business: Entertainment.

Engineering degree: BSME, University of Central Florida, 1996.

Responsibilities: Provide support in troubleshooting and redesign of mechanical, hydraulic and pneumatic systems and components. Execute engineering assignments involving technical analysis, design, and implementation and documentation. Complete engineering assignments within budget constraints and according to a planned schedule.

Tools used: Hewlett Packard 48GX, personal computer, accelerometer, AutoCad, MathCad.

Engineering principle used: F=ma

Typical workday: Design and technical analysis, troubleshooting, reports and documentation, planning and proposals, and meetings.

Advice: Be at the right place at the right time with the appropriate background and ambition to help solve the wide array of problems that arise.

Quote: "The most useful principle I learned in school was the elegance of simplicity. What makes this job so great is people. Every day, the people at Universal Orlando make the park a fun place to work. UO equipment and rides are on the cutting edge of all phases of technology, allowing me to constantly expand my knowledge in areas of materials, lubricants, welding processes, control systems, hydraulics, pneumatics, structural designs, and mechanical equipment, just to mention a few. Since our equipment and rides are fabricated from all over the world, I have the opportunity to work with talented engineers from across the globe, using different production standards with foreign components to solve dynamic and complex engineering problems. The most important and satisfying part of my job is seeing happy guests enjoy our rides. It is very rewarding knowing that we have helped to provide this once-in-a-lifetime experience for our guests.

Brake engineer

Name: Toby Lichtensteiger.

Title: Product engineer.

Company: Hayes Brake, LLC, Mequon, WI.

Business: Design and manufacture hydraulic and mechanical disc brake components and systems.

Engineering degree: BS, mechanical engineering, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

Responsibilities: Product design and project management.

Tools used: Pro/Engineer CAD, Spring Designer, Microsoft Project.

Engineering principles used: Pressure= force/area, Torque=forcexdistance

Typical work day: Meetings and design reviews with customers, suppliers, engineering, manufacturing, purchasing, quality control, and sales, creating CAD models, detail drawings, tolerance stacks, FMEA, work with technicians on lab and field testing and reports, customer visits, supplier visits, production issues.

Advice: Good tests and a good report are essential.

Quote: "I have always enjoyed riding and working on snowmobiles and motorcycles. When I started at Hayes, I was given the opportunity to work in the test lab for the first two months. During that time I worked on and test rode the new Harley-Davidson brake system. After that I began working with the engineering group for Polaris snowmobile products. I started out designing test fixtures and doing engineering change requests and eventually became part of a project team. One of the major products that I worked on was the new handlebar master cylinder for the Polaris Gen II snowmobiles. It's pretty exciting to see one of the products you worked on out in the field, and in brochures and magazines. One of the things that makes it especially interesting here at Hayes is that we get to take a product from ideas at the customer through concepts, prototypes, testing, and into production. It gives you a real sense of ownership."

Contract engineer

Name: Mark Freeman.

Title: Director, Electrical Engineering.

Company: Stratos Product Development, LLC, Seattle, WA.

Business: Contract Product Design & Engineering.

Engineering degree: MSEE, Colorado State; BSEE, University of Washington.

Responsibilities: Hardware design, project management, group management.

Tools used: ECAD design entry, analog and digital simulation, digital synthesis.

Engineering principles used: F=ma, First Law of Thermodynamics.

Typical work day: Coordinate tasks and designers. Brainstorm system architecture. Meet with principals of a start-up company about their world-beating idea.

Advice: Be well-rounded. Cultivate curiosity about the world outside of yours, not just technology. Be flexible. Put yourself in situations that take you just outside your comfort zone-this will make you feel alive and you will grow in the process.

Quote: "Working in the design services industry is not for everyone. If you can live with change and uncertainty (each new project brings new people and new unknowns, the next project may not be anywhere to be seen), and if you can work with the occasional difficult client (the customer is always right), then this kind of work has many rewards. When you work with large, quality companies, you learn about their product development processes. Over time, their methods may be synthesized into your own development process, one that works for you and your type of work. You finish with the pride and satisfaction of helping to create products for name-brand companies. Small, start-up companies expose you to the most creative and driven individuals in the industry (plus the odd certified nut case). These are the most challenging clients. Schedules are impossible, requirements change daily (or hourly), and egos are red-lined. In most cases, whether you are working on projects for large or small companies, you learn technologies and skills, and gain the experience that will help you land that next great contract. Somewhere out there.

Medical engineer

Name: Amy S. Pomaybo.

Title: Senior engineer.

Company: Medrad, Indianola, PA.

Business: Developer, manufacturer, and marketer of equipment and disposable products that enhance the clarity of medical images of the human body. Products include vascular injection systems and Magnetic Resonance (MR) products.

Engineering degree: BS, MS, Mechanical Engineering and MBA, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.

Responsibilities: Works in the Advanced Development Engineering Group. Work focuses on the earliest stages of new product design. Identify innovations for existing products/markets, and innovations to create/enter new products/markets.

Tools used: Mathcad, LabView, Pro/Engineer, Ansys, MS Excel.

Engineering principles used: Fluid dynamics, fluid-flow equations (Bernoulli, Darcy Equations).

Typical work day: Research and reading, prototyping, experimentation and testing, analyzing data, writing reports, interfacing with other functional groups.

Advice: Get as much education and training as you can. Identify the unique value that you can bring to a company or group and use it to your advantage.

Quote: "The most useful tool you can have is your own ability for investigative thinking and problem solving. The thing about my job I like the most is the diversity and flexibility that I have. I get to work on a wide range of projects and use a variety of engineering skills. Each day is different. And the projects are very challenging. And ultimately, being in the medical device industry we can help improve the quality of health care. So there's a sense of personal satisfaction with that."

Sports engineer

Name: Tom Westenburg.

Title: Principal engineer.

Company: U.S. Olympic Committee, Colorado Springs, CO.

Engineering degree: BS, Electrical Engineering School.

Responsibilities: Complete system design of training equipment used by U.S. Olympic athletes.

Tools used: Tektronix 744A oscilloscope; Accell software for electronic computer-aided design.

Engineering principles used: F=ma, Ohm's Law.

Typical day: There is no typical day. Spends time talking to coaches to determine their needs for training equipment and equipment to measure athletes' progress. Then does design of the equipment and works with the athletes on use of the system.

Advice: Get experience in industry and learn as much as you can. Get a good grounding in your technology, then try applying your knowledge in something different.

Quote: "The variety makes my job great. On any given day, I can be designing with strain gages, cooling embedded controls, doing data-acquisition design, or laying out circuit boards. We do everything from start to finish, and I am always learning something. Everything is on us, and we can take the credit or the blame. It's great when an athlete says you helped him or her win the gold. Engineers designing consumer products have done a very good job making sophisticated products inexpensive and easy to use. The layman does not understand how many person hours and dollars went into that design. It's sometimes frustrating to work with nontechnical management that doesn't understand the need for capital equipment or why a project may take longer than they think it should. But, working with people from a variety of backgrounds makes this job interesting. I learn a lot on my projects, and the weirder the project the more I learn."

Toy engineer

Name: Isaak Volynsky.

Title: Director, corporate new technology Company: Mattel Inc., El Segundo, CA.

Business: Toys.

Engineering degrees: Degrees in mechanical and manufacturing engineering.

Responsibilities: Evaluate new technologies that can produce creative, high-quality toys at a low cost.

Tools used: Pencil, drafting paper, a good model shop, and more than 25 years experience in design and manufacturing.

Engineering principles used: Design for manufacturing and assembly.

Advice: Don't limit yourself to the technologies used in your industry, and get some hands-on manufacturing experience.

Quote: "You may not need a network of friends to find off the shelf technologies, but they can help you find technologies that are still under the table." Reaching onto the shelves of his office, Volynsky pulls down toy after toy showing advanced technology's fun side: Complex electronics become digital cameras and microscopes for children. High-tech polymers make dolls more lifelike. Toys trimmed with aerospace films add shimmering optical effects. Volynsky finds these technologies in a couple of ways. Homegrown innovation helps, and Volynsky constantly challenges Mattel's suppliers to develop new technology that will meet the toy giant's needs. He also relies on "creative adaptation" of technologies used by other industries. To do that, Volynsky taps into an informal network-or "technology mafia" as he calls it-of his counterparts in large consumer products, aerospace, and medical.

Hot job prospects
Here are some of the hot leads for cool jobs at some of the largest employers of engineers in the U.S.:


Embedded-software engineers

$43,000 to 51,000 for no experience


ME, E/E, Aerospace, Manufacturing



ME, E/E, Industrial, Computer, Civil, Chemical

$50,000 for no experience

General Motors

E/E, Software, Computer science

Will not disclose


E/E, ME, Software



E/E, digital and analog systems designers


NCR Corp.

Technical consulting, data warehousing, software engineers



IT, Aerospace

$50,000 for entry Level; $65,000 after 5 years

(301) 897-6308
Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.