Students working on a project in the student design centre.

Build, design, fix, create, code, invent…

Does that sound like you? You might be a future engineer! Engineers work with science and math, with computers and concrete, with robots and nanomedicine. It's an exciting, diverse field with lots of opportunity to make an impact on industries, communities, and individual lives.

That is truer now more than ever. There are so many new inventions, technologies, products, and ideas being explored that the engineers of tomorrow – like you – will be working with materials, starting companies, and developing products that we can't imagine.

Let's take a look at what engineering and engineering careers might look like in the future.


Contents


A Google mini beside a cell phone.

Talk about a revolution

We're at the beginning of Industrial Revolution 4.0, where a mass of new technologies are going to change everything! (We mean everything!)

Here's a quick list of the upcoming technology that's going to transform the way we live, work, and play. See the end of this article for descriptions of each.

  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Biotechnology
  • Blockchain
  • Robotics
  • Drones and autonomous vehicles
  • Energy
  • Geoengineering
  • Internet of things
  • Neurotechnology
  • Sensors
  • Advanced computing
  • Additive manufacturing / 3D printing
  • Virtual and augmented reality
 

Future of work

Let's break a few of these areas down and see what your future in engineering might look like.

An x-ray of a hand.

Biotechnology

Biotechnology uses living organisms or biological material – like plant or animal cells, molecules and tissue – to make products such as pharmaceuticals, nutritional supplements, environmentally friendly chemicals, and biofuels. It can be applied in all sorts of industries including healthcare, agriculture, and the energy sector.

As an engineer, you'll help treat illness and enhance healthcare with innovations like new methods of cancer detection, artificial kidney dialysis, or biosensors for medical research.

The biotechnology industry employs over 30,000 people in Canada, and expects to grow by 23% in the next two years alone! Globally, it will be worth over $775 billion (USD) by 2024.

Medical and healthcare applications hold particular promise. As an engineer, you'll help treat illness and enhance healthcare with innovations like new methods of cancer detection, artificial kidney dialysis, or biosensors for medical research.

Careers in biotech

Your engineering career may lead to a career in a start-up, government, private companies, or clinical laboratories. You might invent something, like bio-ink to help faster 3D printing of kidney tissue. Or, you may have a career as a genetic counsellor, a biomedical engineer developing treatment for Alzheimer's, or helping amputees regain mobility with high-tech prosthetics.

An environmentally sustainable building.

Sustainability

Engineers can make a big impact on the planet, and on our communities. As our infrastructure ages, buildings, roads, and bridges will need to be reinforced or retrofitted. And, 35% of Canada's wastewater systems, 29% of Canada's potable water systems and 23% of storm water systems need an overhaul.

Retrofitting provides an opportunity to make systems safer and cities "smart" by adding AI, sensors, and networks. Or even to redevelop structures with novel materials. Careers for engineering grads working to sustain our communities will include platform developer, autonomous driving specialist, or integration engineer.

Clean, renewable, and efficient energy sources and materials are needed and engineers will be at the forefront.

Geo-engineering

Engineers also play a key role in protecting our environment by creating clean technology and moving toward sustainable living. Large-scale geo-engineering projects have the potential to transform the planet by solving big environmental problems. For example, the Great Green Wall of Africa, an 8,000 km plant wall on the edge of the Sahara, is intended to stop the desert from growing larger.

Global energy consumption will increase 30% by 2040 resulting in a 34% rise in global energy-related CO2 emissions by 2040 (versus 2012).

Clean, renewable, and efficient energy sources and materials are needed and engineers will be at the forefront. If you're passionate about the environment, you might find a career developing a substitute for fossil fuels, or design net-zero buildings.

 

A Google home mini.

The Internet of things (IoT)

As more and more sensors are developed and connected to networks, we'll have the ability to collect data from places and things on land, in the air, water, and space.

By 2020, there will be over 20 billion connected products, and that means huge amounts of data – 2.5 quintillion bytes per day! There's going to be a world-wide demand for data engineers to set up and manage data networks, collection, and storage. Expect plenty of career opportunities in data analysis, too.

The opportunities are limitless

You might be involved in making sensors for everything from human skin to empty parking spaces. Or employed as a design engineer creating "smart" products for businesses, homes, or cars. Or maybe you'll develop wearables; holographic glasses, anyone?

A robot head.

Rise of the machines

Artificial intelligence (AI) is one piece of a puzzle that will see machines helping people, doing dangerous or repetitive jobs, and informing smart decision making.

AI is based on computer-coded instructions that allow machines and robots to learn, then execute tasks or make decisions. The applications seem to be limitless with up to 133 million new jobs being created by 2022!

A demand for engineers

Engineering grads will be needed in all sectors from government to finance. You'll design and develop the software, hardware, and interfaces powering AI-based products and services like guide self-driving semi-trailer trucks, food quality inspection devices, surveillance drones, or robots that locate and destroy land mines.

 

As an engineering grad, you'll learn about traditional engineering – like developing structures or creating electric system – and work with new, exciting technologies. What you're passionate about will determine your focus and where your career takes you.


Programs of study

 

I can link my success in life to the skills and perspective I gained in my time at Waterloo. The next generation of thinkers, leaders and doers will come from Waterloo.

Chamath Palihapitiya – Electrical Engineering graduate, former Facebook senior manager, CEO of Social Capital

A robotic hand.

Transformative tech: quick definitions

  • Artificial intelligence (AI): Learning algorithms that help computers make decisions, and perform human-like tasks (e.g., visual).
  • Biotechnology: Using biological matter or living organisms to make products for use in medicine, food production, and more.
  • Blockchain: Distributed, electronic ledger that uses encrypted software algorithms to confirm transactions.
  • Robotics: Electro-mechanical and/or biological robots paired with AI, sensors, and advanced computing will be used automate difficult tasks, and assist humans.
  • Drones and autonomous vehicles: Autonomous or remote controlled machines that can navigate with little or no human control.
  • Energy: Energy capture, storage, and transmission like battery technologies, intelligent virtual grids, organic solar cells, spray-on solar, and liquid biofuels.
  • Geoengineering: Manipulating natural systems to affect the Earth, or a specific place. For instance: shift rainfall patterns, or create artificial sunshine.
  • Internet of things: A network of objects (land, air, water, space) which can collect and exchange data with each other and with computers.
  • Neurotechnology: Using chemicals or other technology to influence the human brain, enhance brain function, or interact with the world in new ways.
  • Sensors: Physical, chemical, and biological sensors that collect data from the environment, machines, or buildings.
  • Advanced computing: New technology like quantum computers and DNA-based, solid-state hard drives which promise fast, large-scale computing power.
  • Additive manufacturing: Creating three-dimensional objects based on printing layers of materials. Also called 3D printing.
  • Virtual and augmented reality: Computers will simulate a 3D space over a the physical world (AR) or create a complete environment (VR).
 

What's next