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Pursuing a course of study in college and watching the market you are about to enter fall apart because of the ongoing recession can be very disheartening. In the field of electrical engineering there are a few things you can do as a student to improve your chances of landing a good job in your field.
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What’s A Student To Do?
Make Yourself More Valuable
Depending on what year you are in you will have more or less time to bolster your position for employment. The basic plan of attack is to garner a broad background with strengths in as many areas as possible. For an electrical engineer today that definitely means coming out of college with the ability to program, either at the embedded level with C or its derivatives, or at a higher level with Visual C++, Visual Basic, Java, Java-script, Perl, PHP and experience with LabVIEW®, Windows, Linux or MAC OS can also be a big plus. (Oh, and don’t forget the mainstays of the office: Word, Excel, Access – these will be tools you will use everyday.)
This background will make you more than twice as useful in an engineering office. A hardware engineer that can write code can work at multiple levels in the department; designing hardware at one time and other times writing software to manipulate, test, collect data or just make the system function.
Almost every piece of electronic hardware today has some aspect of software associated with it, whether it is in the development of the product, testing or the actual operation of it, software will undoubtedly play a role in getting the product into the marketplace. When a hardware engineer understands the software at a level deeper than just a product-user, it can help the development of the product by providing feedback to the software engineers when the code doesn’t work as desired. This saves development time and can help optimize the product for the end-user.
What Industries to Learn About:
There are many jobs available today in the power transmission industry, as well as the building and facility design sector. These fields are very different from those of digital/analog circuitry and embedded design. FPGA’s, ASIC’s, DSP’s and microcontrollers exist in a different dimension from the world of high-power transmission lines, substation design, lighting, security, power distribution and communication design for office buildings.
Yes, the very basics of electrical theory apply, but the applications require different mindsets. One can at least get a feel for these specialties by taking a course or two; that is if time and scheduling permits. You may not be an expert in the field but you will at least have something on your transcript that shows you are acquainted with the technology.
The same argument applies to the energy sector. Learn how solar, wind, and other alternate energy systems work. There will be many new jobs coming related to this area of engineering and it will involve power transmission and building/facility design as well as the electronics for control, testing and monitoring these energy systems.
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There is also the vast area of work in research, such as: developing new battery, communication, energy and bio-electronic technologies, to name a few. What does this mean? Don’t skip the physics, chemistry and other sciences. Chemistry and physics are the foundation of everything engineering is about. The stronger your background is in these areas, the better your chances are to find employment in a research environment. You will be better able to design equipment to assist in the research programs if you understand just what the research is about, not to mention that actively participating in the research process is an added bonus, which can be very exciting and rewarding in its own right.
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By this point I hope you’ve got the idea that to be marketable in a down economy requires that you have as broad a base of experience as possible. Do as much hands-on research, independent study, and project design that you can while in college—that is your “work experience” for a prospective new employer. If you’ve learned a programming language or two, make sure you are fluent in it and use it as much as possible to keep your skills honed. It’s like most things in life—if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it!
Lastly. Once you land your dream job do not stop your quest for learning new things, and do not get too comfortable with your present employment situation. If you have learned anything by living through this recession, you should have learned that no job is guaranteed for life and people—including engineers—are expendable. You owe it to yourself to stay as marketable as possible. If your employer offers tuition assistance to take courses, take advantage of it. If not, do it on your own if possible, or do a course through an online program or attend seminars on new technology to stay current of the latest developments. Challenge yourself! It’s your career, take care of it and it will take care of you.