An electrical engineer will develop, design, manage, and test electrical equipment and systems. This may include electric motors, power generation equipment, and smartphones.
This is a very simple description of what an electrical engineer does. If you decide to go into this career path, you will become an innovator and a designer. It’s commonly the electrical engineer’s job to keep things running. Whether it’s the power grid for the nation or microchips found in devices, this career has plenty of unique options to offer.
Understanding what an electrical engineer does is likely the first step towards this career path. Of course, you will also want to know how to become one. Let’s look closer at what an electrical engineer does and the steps you will need to take to become one.
What do Electrical Engineers do, Exactly?
An incredibly broad field, electrical engineers work on just about any system that requires electricity. This may include electric motors, navigation systems, power generators, microchips, and so much more.
This career choice might mean you will be working on large electrical equipment or very small devices. It depends on the industry you go into. Thousands of companies hire electrical engineers. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics states that electrical engineers do the following:
- Design new ways of using electricity to improve products
- Develop manufacturing, installation, and construction standards
- Direct the installation, testing, and manufacturing of electrical equipment
- Ensure projects are completed on budget and on time
- Manage the production of electrical projects
This is a bit of a standard job description for electrical engineers. However, the actual job you end up with can vary quite a bit. In addition, electrical engineers are used throughout many different industries. So it’s a career that comes with a lot of variety.
Types of Electrical Engineers
As an electrical engineer, you will likely take on one of several different types of jobs. There are a few options, including:
- Computer engineer – While it may not seem like a computer engineer is an electrical engineer; it fits as a sub-discipline. You can even get a dual degree in both areas. As a computer engineer, you will likely work to design, research, develop, and test computer components and systems.
- Control Engineer – This type of field is likely something you were taught when you attended school to become an electrical engineer. It has a focus on the automatic control theory and designing controllers for electrical systems.
- Electronic Engineer – This is the most common type of sub-discipline. You will likely work with telecommunications equipment but may also work with aerospace guidance or propulsion equipment as an electronic engineer. If you want to work with smaller parts, this is the right field for you.
- Instrumentation Engineer – Another subfield of the electrical engineer field, an instrumentation engineer will work with the design of measuring devices for temperatures, pressure, and flow. It’s common to work with MEMS technology, intelligent sensors, and smart transducers in this field.
- Microelectronics Engineer – Another subfield, you can work with very small electronic designs and components with this position. You will use specialized equipment and unique techniques to repair and create components.
- Power Engineer – Working with power systems is the job of a power engineer. This type of engineer will work with the generation, distribution, transmission, and utilization of electric power. In addition, you will likely work with electrical equipment, such as generators, power electronics, motors, and transformers.
- Signal Processing Engineer – This type of electrical engineer will analyze and alter digital signals. The goal will be to make these signals more reliable and accurate. In addition, you might be responsible for managing, developing, and updating digital signals in this position.
- Telecommunications Engineer – Working with computer engineering and electrical engineering is a big part of the telecommunication engineer job. You will work on circuit design, telecommunication equipment, and high-speed data transmission services.
These sub-disciplines are all great areas to go into as an electrical engineer. When you specialize, you can increase your earnings and become more in-demand in the job market.
Education Requirements to Become an Electrical Engineer
You will need at least a bachelor’s degree to become an electrical engineer. However, it’s common for the highest-paid electrical engineers to obtain a master’s degree in engineering, computing, applied science, or engineering technology.
Along with your degree, you will likely want to get your Professional Engineer license at some point. It’s not required for an entry-level job but can help you provide services to the public. You can also supervise other engineers with this license.
If you decide to become licensed, you must pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam and the Professional Engineering exam. After graduating, you can sit for the Fundamentals of Engineering exam immediately. The Professional Engineering exam requires some experience, however.
Common Skills for an Electrical Engineer
If you want to become an electrical engineer, you can develop many of the skills you need through the right schooling. However, some of the skills you should have before entering this career include:
- Active Learning – As an engineer of any type, you will often be learning.
- Analysis – Electrical engineers need to have good analysis skills. You will likely assess electrical products, applications, and components.
- Communication – You will need to communicate clearly with clients and colleagues. Good speaking and writing skills are a must, along with good listening skills.
- Critical Thinking – Since you need to test and develop electrical products, you need good critical thinking skills.
- Problem-solving – You will need to identify and solve problems regularly as an electrical engineer.
Along with these skills, it’s helpful to gain computer and programming skills. For example, if you can code in C, Python, or other coding languages, it can be very helpful for analyzing data.
Frequently Asked Questions About Electrical Engineers
How much can you make as an electrical engineer?
As an electrical engineer, the average salary is about $100K per year. However, the salary can range from about $65K to about $160K. Your salary will be determined by the company that hires you, your location, and your experience level.
The highest-paid electrical engineers are typically found in research and development. For example, they might work with navigational, electromedical, or measuring equipment manufacturing.
What type of companies commonly hire electrical engineers?
Many different companies hire electrical engineers. In addition, a variety of industries use this type of engineer, including:
- Engineering Services
- Federal Government
- Materials & Metals
- Oil & Gas
- And more!
Several industries hire electrical engineers for many different types of jobs.
What type of schedule will an electrical engineer work?
Most electrical engineers will work full-time hours. It’s a typical 9-to-5 schedule for most. Depending on the position, you may work some overtime, too.
What type of software products do electrical engineers commonly use?
Most electrical engineers will use several software programs, such as MATLAB and Simulink. It’s common to use AutoCAD for circuit drawing, as well. You will likely use Microsoft Excel or another spreadsheet program.
Is this career field growing?
Yes. Electrical engineering is growing at about the average rate of all occupations. Moreover, it’s expected to grow by about 5% over the next decade. So while it’s not growing as rapidly as some of the other occupations, it’s still growing and offers a high-demand career option.
What can I do to prepare for an electrical engineer career?
Of course, the best thing you can do is fulfill your education requirements. During high school, make sure you take AP classes in math and physics whenever possible. Keep up your GPA and score high on the SAT or ACT. Using a good SAT or ACT prep course can help.
With a high GPA and good test scores, you can get into a better college program. Once in college, look for internship opportunities. With an internship, you can gain valuable experience.
Is a career as an electrical engineer dangerous?
It will depend on the type of career you go into. Working with any live electrical system comes with specific risks. However, most of the work you will do will be at a desk. Most electrical engineers will minimize the risks when working with electrical systems by following safety procedures.
What are the most common electrical engineering jobs?
It’s common to work as an electrical engineering designer or as a principal electrical engineering technical lead. However, if you go into electronics engineering, you will likely work as an electronics engineering technician.
What type of tools will electrical engineers use?
There are several types of tools you might use as an electrical engineer. Some of the tools you might work with include:
- Current meters
- Frequency calibrators and simulators
- Scanning probe microscopes
- Semiconductor process systems
- Tube furnaces
- Voltage meters
You may use some of these tools daily. Others you might only use occasionally.
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