Career Development

What Does a Principal Engineer Do?

Find out what a principal engineer does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as a principal engineer.

Principal engineers are responsible for overseeing the work of other engineers and technicians. They commonly provide technical leadership to their team, helping them to develop new skills and knowledge as they complete projects or tackle problems.

Principal engineers may also be tasked with developing new products or services for their company. This might involve creating detailed designs or plans that will be used by other engineers in the future.

Principal Engineer Job Duties

Principal engineers typically have a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Developing new products or improving existing products based on customer feedback or company needs
  • Creating designs, diagrams, charts, models, or other visual representations of ideas or concepts
  • Coordinating with other engineers, designers, manufacturers, suppliers, clients, and subcontractors to ensure that projects are completed according to schedule and within budget parameters
  • Overseeing the construction of new buildings or facilities to ensure that they meet industry standards for safety and efficiency
  • Reviewing plans and making recommendations to senior management regarding design changes
  • Analyzing data to determine cause and effect relationships between variables in order to make improvements to products or processes
  • Reviewing engineering designs and providing feedback to design teams to ensure compliance with company standards and codes for safety and efficiency
  • Conducting research on new technologies or products that have the potential to be commercially viable

Principal Engineer Salary & Outlook

The salary of a principal engineer can vary depending on their level of education, years of experience, and the type of company they work for. They may also earn additional compensation in the form of bonuses or commissions.

  • Median Annual Salary: $145,500 ($69.95/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $225,000 ($108.17/hour)

The employment of principal engineers is expected to grow at an average rate over the next decade.

Employment growth will be driven by the need to design and implement new types of infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and airports, in response to increased demand for transportation services. In addition, the need to maintain and upgrade existing infrastructure will continue to drive demand for these workers.

Related: Principal Engineer Interview Questions and Answers

Principal Engineer Job Requirements

The qualifications required to become a principal engineer vary depending on the position, but may include:

Education: A bachelor’s degree is often a minimum requirement to become a principal engineer. Some companies may prefer a master’s degree in engineering or a related field. Relevant coursework includes calculus, physics, chemistry, biology, computer science and engineering.

Training & Experience: Many of the skills and knowledge that a principal engineer needs are acquired through formal education. However, many of these professionals gain additional training through internships or entry-level engineering positions. Some employers may require that a candidate has at least five years of experience in the industry before they can be promoted to a principal engineer.

Certifications & Licenses: Though you don’t have to be a licensed engineer to become a principal engineer, earning a license can help you stand out when applying for jobs. Depending on the state, you can earn a license by passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam or the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. Both exams are open-book and feature multiple-choice questions.

After passing one of the two exams, you can apply to take the other. Once you pass both, you can apply to have the letters PE after your name.

Principal Engineer Skills

Principals need the following skills in order to be successful:

Technical skills: Principal engineers use their technical skills to solve problems and develop solutions for their projects. They use their technical skills to research and develop new methods and strategies for their projects. They also use their technical skills to communicate with their team members and clients.

Communication skills: Communication skills are essential for any engineer, especially those in leadership roles. You use your communication skills to convey ideas, answer questions and provide feedback to your team. You also use your communication skills to communicate with clients and other stakeholders.

Problem-solving skills: Problem-solving skills are essential for a principal engineer, as they are often the first to notice potential issues and find solutions to them. This can include identifying potential risks and finding ways to mitigate them. It can also include finding solutions to issues that other engineers may not have noticed.

Leadership skills: As a principal engineer, you may be responsible for managing a team of engineers. Leadership skills can help you to motivate your team and help them to grow professionally. You can also use leadership skills to help your team to develop new ideas and solve complex problems.

Project management: As a principal engineer, you may be responsible for overseeing the completion of a project. Project management skills can help you manage a team of engineers and ensure that the project is completed on time and within budget. Project management skills can also help you manage the risks associated with a project.

Principal Engineer Work Environment

Principal engineers typically work in an office environment, although they may occasionally visit worksites to observe a project or to meet with clients. They typically work a regular 40-hour week, although they may occasionally work overtime to meet deadlines or to attend meetings. Principal engineers may experience some stress due to the need to meet deadlines, budget constraints, or client demands. However, they typically have a high degree of control over their work and are able to use their skills and knowledge to solve problems and create innovative solutions.

Principal Engineer Trends

Here are three trends influencing how principal engineers work. Principal engineers will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

The Need for More Technical Talent

The need for more technical talent is a trend that is being felt across all industries. This is because businesses are increasingly realizing the importance of having well-trained and qualified engineers on their teams.

As a principal engineer, you can capitalize on this trend by becoming an expert in your field. This will allow you to provide valuable insight and guidance to your team members, as well as help find and recruit new talent.

More Focus on Cybersecurity

As cybersecurity becomes a more important issue, companies are beginning to focus more on hiring professionals who have experience in this area.

Principal engineers are in high demand in this area, as they are responsible for developing and maintaining security systems for their company. By specializing in cybersecurity, principals can set themselves apart from the competition and ensure that their company is protected against potential threats.

A Greater Emphasis on Innovation

Innovation is becoming increasingly important in business, as companies look for ways to stay ahead of the competition. As a result, principals who are able to think creatively and come up with new ideas will be in high demand.

To be successful in this environment, principals will need to be able to not only come up with new ideas, but also execute them effectively. They will also need to be able to communicate effectively with other members of the team, in order to get buy-in for their ideas.

How to Become a Principal Engineer

A Principal Engineer career path can be a great way to advance your engineering career. As a Principal Engineer, you’ll have more responsibility and lead teams of engineers. You’ll also need to have more experience in the field and be able to demonstrate your ability to solve complex problems.

To become a Principal Engineer, you’ll need to have at least 10 years of experience in the field and be able to show that you can lead teams of engineers. You’ll also need to be able to demonstrate your ability to solve complex problems and come up with innovative solutions.

Advancement Prospects

There are many ways to advance in the field of engineering. One of the best is to get a master’s degree or higher in engineering. With a master’s degree, engineers can apply for positions as engineering managers, which are responsible for overseeing the work of other engineers. They may also become technical specialists, who provide expert advice on engineering projects, or they may become consultants, working on a contract basis for various companies.

Another way to advance in engineering is to become a certified professional engineer. To do this, engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, pass a state examination, and have four years of experience working under the supervision of a licensed engineer. Once they become licensed, engineers can open their own engineering firms or become independent consultants.

Still another way to advance in engineering is to become involved in research and development. Engineers who are interested in this can become research and development managers, responsible for planning and directing research projects. They may also become technical directors, responsible for the technical aspects of a project, or they may become research scientists, conducting their own research and developing new technologies.

Principal Engineer Job Description Example

As a Principal Engineer at [CompanyX], you will be a technical leader of a team of engineers responsible for designing, developing, and delivering features for our products. You will work with other teams in the company to ensure that the products we build meet the needs of our customers. In this role, you will be responsible for mentoring and coaching other engineers on the team, as well as providing technical guidance and leadership. You will also be responsible for ensuring that the products we build are of the highest quality and meet our customer’s needs.

Duties & Responsibilities

  • Serve as the technical lead for a team of engineers, providing mentorship and guidance to help them grow in their careers
  • Work with other teams across the company to ensure that our products are integrated and work well together
  • Understand customer needs and requirements and translate them into technical specifications
  • Design, implement, and maintain the software that makes our products work
  • Write code that is clean, well-organized, and easy to understand
  • Perform code reviews to ensure that our standards are being met
  • Identify and fix bugs in our products
  • Improve the performance of our products
  • Keep up to date on new technology and trends and share your knowledge with the team
  • Help improve our engineering processes and practices
  • Participate in interviews to help us hire the best engineers
  • Serve as a role model for the team, demonstrating our values in everything you do

Required Skills and Qualifications

  • Bachelor’s degree in engineering, computer science, or related discipline
  • 10+ years professional experience as an engineer
  • Proven experience leading a team of engineers
  • Strong working knowledge of software development methodologies (Agile, Waterfall, etc.)
  • Expertise in at least one major programming language (Java, C++, Python, etc.)
  • In-depth understanding of multiple platforms (Linux, Windows, etc.)
  • Solid understanding of databases (MySQL, Oracle, etc.)

Preferred Skills and Qualifications

  • Master’s degree in engineering, computer science, or related discipline
  • 15+ years professional experience as an engineer
  • Experience with cloud computing platforms (AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, etc.)
  • Familiarity with DevOps tools and practices (Chef, Puppet, Ansible, etc.)
  • Contribution to open source projects


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