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Hitting the fun switch: theme park engineering

Hitting the fun switch: theme park engineering

A lot of what engineers do is hidden away. Few members of the public give much thought to sewer systems, road bridges, power grids and flood barriers, impressive feats though they are. As Councillor Hamann says to Neo in The Matrix Reloaded, “See that machine? It has something to do with recycling our water supply. I have absolutely no idea how it works. But I do understand the reason for it to work.”

But there is one career that sees the users of engineers’ creations shout for joy about them. It involves the application of a wide range of engineering skills to one single purpose: making people whoop with excitement.

There are 450 major amusement parks and similar attractions in the U.S., and they all have to be designed, engineered, developed, maintained and modified by people with the right smarts. An example of the breadth of engineering disciplines involved in this multi-billion dollar industry: The Texas Giant, a humungous roller coaster in Arlington, Texas, was recently upgraded to the tune of $10,000,000. A team of computer engineers created simulations to decide on the optimum design for the new ride, and a team of civil engineers figured out how to steepen the ride whilst adding features to make it even safer than it was before.

Industry leader Disney has armies of engineers involved in energy management, textile plants, distribution centers, cruise lines, water parks and resorts. Their famous band of ‘imagineers’ include lighting engineers, design engineers, structural engineers and electrical engineers. Together, these eggheads keep the make-believe cities and dreamlands of the Disney universe humming along smoothly, and indeed growing and improving (“Disneyland will never be long as there is imagination left in the world," Walt Disney once said.) Other major employers include Universal Studios, the EPCOT Center, Seaworld and Cedar Point.

Where can a budding engineer go to get industry-specific skills to improve their chances of getting onto the ride? Welp, if you don’t know much about what goes into a theme park, you could start by finding out with Udemy’s online course in Theme Park Design, then decide which area grabs your interest and develop your engineering skills accordingly. Alternatively, there’s an imagineering class at that covers Mechanical Engineering for Rides, Ride Control Engineering, Audio and Video, Mechanics and Hydraulics, and more.

A hot tip from a theme park engineer on YouTube: “Most jobs (especially entry-level ones) in this field are temporary, so once you've finished your first position or apprenticeship, reach out to connections at other companies to ask if they know of any projects needing help, or just to pass on your resume. After a while, you may find a long-term or permanent position where you'll work on more than just one project ... The average job in this industry lasts about 18 months, so you'll constantly be moving from project to project.”