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What does a Civil Engineer do?

Mary McMahon
Updated: May 17, 2024

A civil engineer practices civil engineering, the branch of engineering which focuses on the design, construction, and maintenance of public works. These professionals may be employed by municipalities or by private firms which have landed contracts to build such public works. The qualifications to become a civil engineer vary by nation, but generally the position requires at least a four year degree, and in some cases formal certification will be needed as well before someone can advertise as a civil engineer.

Civil engineering is one of the oldest and most extensive branches of engineering. It focuses on aspects of public works like transportation, water treatment, government buildings, public facilities such as airports and train stations, and other large scale projects which benefit the public. A civil engineer must be able to design safe structures which meet standard codes in the regions that they are being built in. These structures must be designed with maintenance, efficiency, and other economic concerns in mind as well to ensure that they will endure through years of use.

In terms of transportation, civil engineers build bridges, tunnels, freeway interchanges, and other structures which are designed to facilitate the smooth, even flow of traffic while allowing for expansion and higher use rates. Water treatment includes sewage plants, delivery systems for fresh water, dams, and other facilities which handle both fresh and waste water, while government buildings run the gamut from police stations to city halls. A civil engineer might also work on projects like a city power plant or a major office building.

Pay for civil engineers tend to be reasonably high, considering that these professionals are highly trained and very skilled. Jobs in public service may not command as much pay, but they may come with benefits and prominent positions in the community, while private contractors can woo civil engineers with very attractive benefits and compensation packages. The position can also be dangerous, depending on how much time a civil engineer spends in the field, but it can also be very exciting, especially in regions which are integrating cutting edge technology and design techniques into their public works.

People who are interested in a career in civil engineering should plan on taking large amounts of math and science in high school, and they should pursue degrees in civil engineering in college. For advanced positions and additional knowledge, graduate school is strongly recommended.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon347092 — On Sep 03, 2013

My name is Venkat. I am a civil engineering student. I just entered my third year of my graduation, but I have no knowledge of anything perfectly, but only the desire to become a professional civil engineer and I want to become an entrepreneur.

What should I do? I just hardheartedly entered the field of study, so please kindly suggest to me the ways to become a civil engineer.

What are the ways to keep myself motivated in my studies? How can I prepare myself for this career? What are the skills I need to become a professional civil engineer?

By smsbazaar — On Aug 21, 2013

I am a civil engineering student in my last year. I just want to get to know about some of the ideas related to final year civil engineering projects, if any. I need new, fresh ideas.

By anon329179 — On Apr 08, 2013

I'm a young, short woman who studied civil engineering (carpentry) at a college, so my question is does one's height matter? Or is all that matters is the ability to do what needs to be done?

By anon316219 — On Jan 28, 2013

I am a newly qualified civil engineer. I am working as a site engineer in a tower. We are building a 36-floor tower. I have only two months experience. Please give me suggestions about which kinds of activities are important for me to achieve and learn what I need to know yo become a good engineer.

By anon287201 — On Aug 24, 2012

Can a civil engineer become an interior designer?

By anon273571 — On Jun 07, 2012

I'm very curious about this. Must a civil engineer be good at drawing, because I'm not good in that I have no talent in drawing or anything related in arts. But I'd still like to take a CE course. What to do?

By anon267612 — On May 10, 2012

How do you become a civil engineer?

By anon260711 — On Apr 12, 2012

What is the purpose of learning logic for civil engineering students?

By anon258780 — On Apr 03, 2012

Can a civil engineer get a job in a steel plant? If yes, then what kinds of work will they do? Please give me suggestions.

By anon242767 — On Jan 24, 2012

I'm very curious about this. Must a civil engineer be good at drawing, because I'm not good in that I have no talent in drawing or anything related in arts. But I'd still like to take a CE course.

By anon241232 — On Jan 18, 2012

I'm marga, currently studying civil engineering. My sister told me to work on construction materials, or should I say hardware, to know the kinds of materials that are used in constructing a building. I'd like to ask if working on hardware can help me? Thank you in advance.

By anon187818 — On Jun 18, 2011

What is the differrence between a Civil Engineer and a Civil Designer?

By anon163576 — On Mar 28, 2011

What are the basic things concerning civil engineering?

By anon150943 — On Feb 09, 2011

A civil engineer are professionals design to solve problems specifically on site matters. A seasoned civil engineer on site works knows how to deal with various problems occurring on site works.The most important thing if you are a civil engineer is to acquire good judgment in every field that you are doing. They say experience is the best teacher. use this tool to sharpen up your knowledge and that makes you a good engineer. Just like me.

By anon135021 — On Dec 16, 2010

I am a 2009 pass out graduate in civil engineering.

I hold up good grade of marks but no focus about the civil job nature. What should I step on to stream up in my career?

By anon134593 — On Dec 15, 2010

what should a fresher civil engineer do after completion of degree?

By anon118215 — On Oct 13, 2010

i graduated from school and i joined civil engineering. so, how much i study need to become a good engineer? and extra studies please.

By anon113800 — On Sep 26, 2010

I'm an Aussie girl in Victoria and I'm only in year 8 but I'm planning on taking on subjects that allow me to be a civil engineer; what subjects do I need to do to become a civil engineer? And how high does my enter score have to be at the end of year 12 to be able to continue on to a civil engineering degree in university? Please reply!

Thanks, ~Ella

By anon111802 — On Sep 18, 2010

If you were interested in taking up civil engineering, would graphics/technical drawing be essential to take up in high school?

By anon106485 — On Aug 25, 2010

what all courses have to be done after b.tech?

By anon105086 — On Aug 19, 2010

The nature of a civil engineers job varies dramatically, depending on what specialisation or career path you take. Out of high school the most important skills I found you had to have were a good sense of logic and medium to advanced mathematical ability.

In general, unless you live in a country with no workplace health and safety laws, there is very little danger when you are out on-site inspecting works. In most developed countries, the most dangerous activities, such as being put down deep narrow shaft aren't acceptable practice any more.

If outdoors is what you like and want to spend more time there than in the office (it's generally a 60:40 to 70:30 split), there is a branch of civil engineering called construction engineering. Typically this will involve you working for a contractor for the purpose of making sure the job is completely safely, on time, on budget and in a way that least impacts the project's surroundings.

Hope this helps some.

My advice to a civil engineer entering college is don't shut your mind off to other streams. Many other civil engineers I know entered the course to become a certain kind of engineer, but they found other disciplines more appealing for various reasons.

By anon92150 — On Jun 26, 2010

1) What is the nature of your job?

2) What major products or services does your company offer?

3) How does the knowledge of chemistry help in your job?

By anon90097 — On Jun 14, 2010

it would be good to enhance the article with future expectations, statistical info and maybe reportage by civil engineers themselves.

It is indeed a dangerous job, especially constructing engineering means risk of being hurt by several accidents during the procedure. Anyway, this profession flourishes mostly in developed countries, where the civil engineer can evolve into an artist, putting the inside to the outside, because there, civilisation is more acceptable.

By anon86851 — On May 26, 2010

does a civil engineer have to work outdoors a lot?

By anon77664 — On Apr 15, 2010

civil engineers do draw details, and structural plans but there is a software to help some engineers to draw even if they couldn't draw in a freehand.

By anon77663 — On Apr 15, 2010

In my personal opinion you don't have to be very good in drawing to become a civil engineer. the most important thing that a civil should have a analytical mind. and I believe not all civil engineers do have this kind of thinking when they are born to this world. it takes practice solving problems and thinking of some easy way to find a better solution a problem.

By anon70759 — On Mar 16, 2010

is engineering graphics and design part of civil engineering? if yes what do they draw?

By anon68913 — On Mar 05, 2010

if I'm going to study civil engineering in college, my grades are okay, but one thing i don't have is to draw. do i have to be good in drawing? that's the only problem for me, but i am good in math,english and science.

By anon68309 — On Mar 02, 2010

i just want to ask a question. I'm fresh out of high school and i want to take up civil engineering courses in college. what is the qualification of a student? thank you! hope one of you will answer. i'm a girl.

By anon52030 — On Nov 10, 2009

A fresher engineer should have done internships during their junior and senior years. This will help you gain basic knowledge and understanding of how to put what we have learn in our textbooks to work in the environment that we will be subjected to.

By anon51753 — On Nov 09, 2009

This job is so dangerous that I lost one of my legs.

By anon33064 — On May 31, 2009

please tell us what's dangerous about this job.

By ashfaqkhan — On Jan 29, 2009

1)what should a fresher civil engineer do after completion of degree?

2)what basic knowledge should he have?

3)How do companies treat a fresher civil engineer?

4)How do companies train a civil engineer?

5)what type of company should an engineer join for work?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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