What Does an Electrical Engineer Do?
thought about being an electrical engineer?
Ever wonder just what you would be doing as an electrical engineer? An electrical engineer today has an enormous
selection of career paths to choose from.
Here are but a few examples:
Large scale projects
Power generation, transmission and distribution –
Design equipment like generators, transformers, high power switches and
protection devices that connect to the power grid. This includes the green energy sources like solar, wind,
geothermal and tidal.
Facility/Building power system design – Work with
architects and contractors to design the power, lighting and communication
distribution systems and networks in buildings. You may even have the opportunity to incorporate green energy
generation systems in the design.
Medium scale projects
Commercial products and appliances – Electronics are
found in everything from your blender to your toothbrush, from cell phones to
video games. Working in this field will
challenge you to be very efficient in your designs from a power, cost and size
standpoint. And don’t forget the
Scientific instrumentation – Work in this area can take
you around the world and beyond. In
many cases you will be pushing the envelope of the technology to provide that
next bit of information needed to study a particular problem or phenomenon. Your designs will need to be very precise
and accurate as well as meet size, power and most likely cost constraints.
Aviation and Aerospace – From large-scale power and
communication systems to very small, precise circuits for control and
monitoring the growing complexity of the aviation/aerospace industry.
Military – Large-scale to micro-scale applications with
very rigorous environmental and durability constraints.
Small scale projects
Semiconductor design – You will be designing the
components that other electrical engineers will use to design all of the above. You will be pushing the technology to the
limits to create faster processors, larger memories, lower power devices and
higher levels of integration to make everything we use smaller, lighter and
with more features.
Nanotechnology – Take it a level smaller and design new
components that will work in all areas of industry. From self assembling circuits to nano-machines that will help
cure diseases to paper thin solar cells and clothing that won’t get dirty. The opportunities are endless!
This just scratches the surface of opportunities
awaiting an electrical engineer.
How to Become an Electrical Engineer
But, how do you get there? First, you must have a curiosity of how
and why things work. That curiosity will drive you through the
many courses you will need to take to achieve your goal; each one
more clues and insights as to how the world works around us. And then…
You will need math in all of its flavors: algebra,
trigonometry, geometry, differential equations and calculus—but don’t let that
scare you. Math is a subject anyone can
master; it just depends on how much effort you want to put into learning
it. The more you practice it, the
better you will be at it, just like riding a bike or playing the guitar. That great background in math is going to
help you with…
The chemistry and physics you will take. These two courses will give you insights
into how the universe works and will open up your opportunities for a variety
of careers. Do not underestimate how
important these will be, especially if you have any interest in working as an
engineer in the scientific community.
To design a circuit to do a specific task is fine but to understand why
and how this task is to be done will allow you to collaborate with the
scientists and to design a circuit that meets or exceeds their needs.
One other key requirement is software. Everything today has a microcontroller
inside (remember that toothbrush?) and it needs software to run properly. As an electrical engineer you will be
designing hardware (integrated circuits, resistors, op-amps, capacitors, etc.)
and if you can write the software, create the programs to make that hardware
function, you are twice as valuable!
When you are in college don’t limit yourself to the
hardcore courses. Allow yourself to
explore other areas of interest. Do you
like geology? Take a course. How about biology? Take Bio101 and
expand your scientific background; you never know
when that bit of knowledge will lead you to a wonderful new career
path. That’s what’s great about electrical
engineering; everything uses electronics, so you may be able to combine
love for electronics with a passion for some other science or
technology. Also, don’t shun literature and the arts. You will need
to write and present reports
and papers. Hone your writing skills
while in college. It is very disturbing
to read a report by a qualified engineer that is fraught with
spelling mistakes—it takes away from the engineer’s professionalism and
into question his/her ability to represent your company. The more well
rounded you are the easier it
will be for you to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
Also, you will be meeting lots of different
people all around the world, so the more variety you have in your
the easier it will be to interact professionally as well as socially
So, in a nutshell:
If you’re in high school, take as much science and math as you can. Seize any opportunity to work along with a
professional, even if it’s to visit his/her place of work for a day. Once you’re off to college keep up with the
math and science and broaden your background as much as you can—it will pay for
itself time and again once you’re in the real world. Last but not least—have fun!
The adventure of getting to become an engineer is only a fraction of the
fun you’re going to have once you’re doing it as a profession.
I hope I’ve given you an idea of what electrical
engineering can be about and how to get on the right path. In part two I will try to give you a quick
look into what one would do on a typical design project.
Read the Rest in the Series