Cirque du soleil


For many newly qualified engineers, freelance work is a way to get a foot in the door and gain first-hand industry experience before accepting a full-time position. Not only do freelance projects enable engineers to test the waters, they can also help them to determine the types of work that play to their strengths and start building a portfolio. More experienced engineers can also use freelance work to branch out into new territory and potentially shift the direction of their career.


While freelance projects often fall into traditional engineering areas such as architecture, civil engineering, CAD and manufacturing, they can also throw up more surprising opportunities. Taking on a truly unique job can not only be interesting, it can also make a real mark on your CV and open up doors that you never would have expected. This was certainly the case with these five engineers, who all used unconventional freelance jobs as stepladders to career success.


Ted Southern - From the Catwalk to the Cosmos


Ted Southern started his career designing the distinctive 'angel wings' that have become a staple of the Victoria's Secret fashion line. A technical wear specialist and graduate of the Pratt Institute for Design, the Brooklyn-based artist combined engineering expertise with a keen eye for aesthetics to craft the stunning wearable wings that models could safely and comfortably carry on the runway. His career has since reached intergalactic heights, as he is currently the CEO of Final Frontier Design, a company that designs space suits for NASA.


Mike Coughlan - Formula One Racing Engineer


According to Mike Coughlan, technical director and racing engineer for Formula One motor racing, only about twenty people in the world do what he does professionally. After graduating with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Brunel University in the UK, he has been able to apply his passion for efficient design and aerodynamics into a career that involves travelling the world to reduce drag and improve efficiency in Formula One vehicles.


Danny Benedettelli - LEGO Designer


For many LEGO enthusiasts, the opportunity to turn their passion into a full-time job might seem like a pipe dream. But there are actually several full-time and freelance engineers who work for the company, designing various structures at the LEGOLAND theme parks and in stores. Danny Benedettelli is a freelance LEGO designer who provides detailed building instructions for original models. Since 2011, he has completed more than 130 designs for Bricks4Kidz, a franchise that uses LEGO models to teach children the principles of engineering and architecture.


Tom Westenburg - Olympic Sports Engineer turned Automotive Innovator


Specialising in precision electronics and practical instrumentation, Tom Westenburg from Colorado Springs designed training equipment for the US Olympics Committee. He spent a lot of time working directly with coaches and athletes to determine their equipment needs and to measure athlete's progress, ensuring products were regularly improved and made more efficient. He has since put his electrical engineering experience to good use working on electronics for hybrid and electric cars as part of the Linear Technology Corp.


Various - Las Vegas Entertainment Engineer


If you’ve ever wondered who is behind the latest and greatest technology at Las Vegas casinos and shows, chances are it’s an entertainment engineer. In fact, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, offers a degree specializing in entertainment engineering and design. Students take courses in multimedia design and the design of live entertainment before pursuing freelance and full-time jobs in the Las Vegas entertainment industry. Graduates from this program have the opportunity to work as engineers and designers for major names in entertainment and hospitality, including Cirque de Soleil and Wynn Las Vegas.


What's the most interesting or unusual job on your CV? Have you ever taken a freelance role that opened unexpected doors that helped shape the rest of your career? Share your stories in the comments section below.