What is an Electrical Engineer?
Table of Contents
- What is an Electrical Engineer?
- What does an Electrical Engineer do?
- How to become an Electrical Engineer
- What is the workplace of an Electrical Engineer like?
- What is the difference between an electrical engineer and a computer engineer?
- Where can an electrical engineer work?
- Can an electrical engineer become a good programmer?
- What is some good advice for electrical engineering students?
- Further Reading
- Similar Careers
An electrical engineer is someone who designs and develops new electrical equipment, solves problems and tests equipment. They work with all kinds of electronic devices, from the smallest pocket devices to large supercomputers.
Electrical engineering deals with electricity, electro-magnetism and electronics. It also covers power, control systems, telecommunications and signal processing. These engineers are usually concerned with large-scale electrical systems such as motor control and power transmission, as well as utilizing electricity to transmit energy. Electrical engineers may work on a diverse range of technologies, from the design of household appliances, lighting and wiring of buildings, telecommunication systems, electrical power stations and satellite communications. They may plan their designs using computer-aided software or they may also sketch ideas by hand.
How to Become an Electrical Engineer
What does an Electrical Engineer do?
Electrical engineers work on a variety of projects, such as computers, robots, cell phones, cards, radars, navigation systems, wiring and lighting in buildings and other kinds of electrical systems.
Electrical engineers start out a project by defining what a new electronics should be able to do. They will then design the circuits and parts of the electronics using a computer. They will create a prototype and test the product to improve it. Most products do not work initially or have some bugs that need to be fixed. The electrical engineer needs to figure out the problem and make the product work.
There are many sub-disciplines of electrical engineering. Some electrical engineers specialize exclusively in one sub-discipline, while others specialize in a combination of sub-disciplines. The most popular sub-disciplines are:
- deals with electronic circuits such as resistors, capacitors, inductors, transistors and diodes
- deals with design and micro-fabrication of tiny electronic circuit components
Signal Processing Engineer
- deals with signals, such as analog or digital signals
- deals with electricity and design of related electrical devices such as transformers, generators, motors and power electronics
- deals with design of controllers that cause systems to behave in a certain way, using micro-controllers, programmable logic controllers, digital signal processors and electrical circuits
- deals with transmission of information via a cable or optical fiber
- deals with the design of measuring devices for pressure, flow and temperature. This involves a deep understanding of physics
- deals with the design of computers and computer hardware
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How to become an Electrical Engineer
A university degree in electrical engineering is required for most all electrical engineering jobs. A degree usually lasts four or five years and is designated as a bachelor of technology, bachelor of engineering, bachelor of science or bachelor of applied science.
Electrical engineering students need to have units in physics, mathematics, computers and project management. Aside from regular colleges and universities, there are also electrical engineering degree programs online which allow students to study while working.
Electrical engineering courses are a mix of design and lab work. Students are taught to design and develop different solutions to a variety of real life situations. Typically, a curriculum will include the following:
- Computers and technology, such as microprocessors and computer hardware
- Robotics, such as robotic arms and artificial intelligence
- Power systems, such as generators, power grids and how to make energy more efficient
- Communication systems, such as radio, TV, telecommunications and other wireless and laser transmissions
- Integrated circuits and solid state devices, such as electronic games, navigation systems and home appliances
Electrical engineers need to be logical, detail-oriented and need to work well in a team setting. They must also be creative and be able to think outside of the box. They must be able to communicate their ideas to their team. They need to understand engineering in general before specializing in electrical engineering in particular.
Although not required, there are also professional certifications that can help job hunters stand out from their competition. Government and federal contractors require licenses, with different procedures and requirements depending on the state. Applicants must pass an exam to receive their license, as well as have a minimum number of years of job experience. For fresh graduates, there are also pre-licensure certifications.
What is the workplace of an Electrical Engineer like?
Electrical engineers usually work in a lab, an office, a mine or in industrial plants. An electrical engineer usually can pursue a technical career in any industry. They usually supervise computer programmers, electricians, scientists and other engineers. A typical work week is composed of 40 hours although there might be some overtime to meet deadlines.
An electrical engineer also spends a lot of time doing project management, such as meeting with clients, determining budgets and preparing project schedules. Engineering projects usually require written documentation, so strong writing and communication skills are important.
Both electrical engineers and computer engineers are involved in developing and enhancing nearly every aspect of our lives, and are in demand by a wide range of industries. Electrical and computer engineering are very close, and are built around the same core subjects. Each major represents an area of study, and these areas overlap - there is no finite end of electrical engineering and start of computer engineering, or vice-versa. Electrical engineering students have required courses, such as power systems and energy conversion, semiconductor devices and circuits, and electromagnetic fields and waves. Computer engineering students have required courses in software systems and software engineering, digital system design, and microprocessor interfacing.
An electrical engineer can work in a variety of engineering industries: Aerospace, Automotive, Chemical, Construction, Defence, Electronics, Consumer Goods, Marine, Materials & Metals, Oil & Gas, Pharmaceuticals, Power Generation, Rail, Telecoms, and Utilities. Electrical engineers can work for corporations, non-profit organizations, or government agencies. They can also become managers, patent attorneys, professors, or work in the financial sector.
Electrical engineers are exposed to computer programming early on, as they need to take introductory programming coursework as part of their electrical engineering curriculum. An electrical engineer has the choice of avoiding all but the introductory programming courses if learning how to code is not something that is of interest. But some students decide to double major in electrical engineering and computer engineering, as many of the courses are the same. If programming is pursued, one of the biggest advantages an electrical engineer has is his/her hardware background, which gives the engineer a clear understanding of what the computer is capable of doing.
Here are a few obvious but essential pieces of advice to help electrical engineering students make the best of their years in university:
Go to class and do your homework. If you're not a morning person, try not to load up all of your classes for the first part of the day. It'll be harder for you to get to class, and missing class is just not an option. Not doing your homework is a surefire way to fail; if anything, you should do more problems than what the professor assigns.
Work with your professors. Use the professor's office hours to get any help you need and to work through any problems you may be having. This will show the professor that you are interested in the class and willing to put in the effort to learn.
Choose your friends wisely. If your friends or study mates are happy with getting C's and D's, then that's what you will end up thinking is acceptable, and what you'll end up getting as well. The opposite is true, if you hang around with people that aim for A's and B's, then that's what you'll be aiming for and getting.
Learn how to code. You'll become far more valuable to a future employer. You'll also power through equation-heavy assignments by being able to create some powerful tools to help you crunch numbers.
Make sure you do an internship. It is safe to say that most employers look for some work experience when hiring a new engineer. It is also a great way to make connections in the industry that may come in handy in the future.
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