Technology Job Profile: Simulation Engineer
The engineers who work on simulated models and environments are getting a nice profile in a NY Times article. The news is that there is a growing need for creating simulations to help avoid risky endeavors for businesses and major catastrophes for the government and military--anything that has a large price tag and could involve life and death decisions.
From the article:
"The fundamental nature of modeling and simulation is to represent something that's in the world out there in a way that you can manipulate and think about without risk and at low cost," said Bill Waite, chairman of the Aegis Technologies Group, a Huntsville, Ala., company that creates simulations for various military and civilian applications.
"It almost doesn't matter what kind of world you care about; you can use simulations," Mr. Waite explained. "If you're a defense agency, you want to create a simulation that will allow a missile that gets built to fly up to an enemy something-or-other and detonate. The same tools and same set of skills are used in the pharmaceutical industry to figure out how the little beads in a Bufferin are going to get from your stomach to your brain."
The article focuses on the kind of modeling and simulation that is used to help practice real-world scenarios rather than, say, the application of simulation in gaming products--which has been obviously influenced by the kind of work used here. Seeing the variables and complications before they arise is worth the initial investment. There is money to be saved, as well as, potentially, lives--think military applications--and so the savings can be very real.
In the article, Waite estimates that there are about 400,000 individuals involved in this kind of modeling and simulation (it's not clear if this tracked elsewhere).
But this isn't strict engineering or programming. A spectrum of teaming and communication skills is needed to succeed in these gigs--and real-world experience with whatever is being simulated so as to capture as much reality as possible.
From the article on skills:
Those skills include a facility with technology but mainly an aptitude for "conceptualizing the world," he said. Developing a simulation requires enough native intelligence to view a problem abstractly, research the issues and tease out the myriad key elements. Then they must be incorporated into a model in which they are poked, prodded and tweaked to reach useful solutions.
Modeling and simulation aren't new, as the article aptly points out. Think NASA. The space program would never have existed were it not for efforts in simulation, modeling and artificial intelligence.
That a trend is being noticed is suggested by the number of colleges and universities offering simulation degrees these days, including at least seven different U.S. schools.
It's also worth noting that the average salary in this field in one company is $85,000.