Maybe you've developed an aptitude for taking things apart and putting them back together. Maybe you're good at figuring out how things work. Maybe you have a talent for math and the physical sciences, and you've decided that engineering is a pretty good way to make a living. Whatever the reason, you're probably reading this article because you've decided to take the first steps toward becoming a consulting design engineer.
A consulting design engineer is an engineering professional hired to help design new systems. It might be a new fire suppression system for an aging building, a wiring schematic for a new supermarket, a machine for a factory, or any of a wide variety of technologies. A consulting design engineer is usually brought on board by a contracting firm or municipality when an engineering job needs to be done.
Becoming a consulting design engineer isn't too different from becoming a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer, or joining any one of the fascinating sub-disciplines of the engineering trade. The major difference is the classes you take as a student and the jobs you take on in anticipation of your career as a consultant.
Here's a quick rundown of the path you'll take to become a consulting design engineer.
Focus on the basics. If you're still in high school, now is the time to zero in on the elective classes that'll help you master the scientific concepts and develop the fundamental skills it takes to become a consulting design engineer. Take all the advanced math and physics classes you can, and maybe a bit of chemistry as well. Art classes can help as well, particularly drawing. Spending time in shop classes will also help immensely; if your school district has a vocational-technical school, this might be a great resource in helping to prepare for your career.
Choose your college wisely. Compile an extensive list of colleges and universities with commanding engineering programs. Visit as many campuses as you can, making appointments with professors and checking out facilities at each one. The path to becoming a consulting design engineer is made or lost in college, so this is a decision you'll want to take very, very seriously. If you can't get into one of your top schools, it might be worth waiting a year and trying again. You can use the time in between to take classes at a local community college, or trying for an internship in a local engineering firm (this can also be done through a community college office). In the United States, the top engineering schools are MIT, Stanford, UC-Berkeley and Cal Tech, though there's a broad range of excellent engineering schools that are less competitive, such as Penn State and University of Wisconsin-Madison. In Canada, try for the University of Waterloo, the University of Toronto, or McGill University.
Be an Intern. Being in college doesn't mean you can't get valuable work experience. Every college and university has an internship office or a career counseling office. Visit yours to find out about local engineering firms you can learn valuable trade skills at. If you're lucky, you can find an internship that'll get you brought onto staff as soon as you graduate.
Work, Work, Work. Becoming a consultant doesn't happen overnight. All consultants have one thing in common: They've worked in their chosen fields long enough to have a strong command of their trade. You'll need to work at an engineering firm for several years before you can strike out on your own as a consultant. But don't worry -- the work will be rewarding. There's no such thing as busy work for an engineer.