Scientists strive to better understand the “rules” of nature; engineers on the other hand, apply these rules to solve problems found in society. Engineers can opt to work on the design, development, production, testing or failure analysis of products and systems. Many high level executives and board members got their initial training as engineers. Electrical and electronic engineers represent the largest of the engineering fields.
Most electrical engineering jobs require or strongly prefer candidates with a degree in electrical engineering or a related field. Check out the programs below which offer free information:
Electronic engineering was once a subset of the larger electrical engineering field. It focused on semiconductor (transistor) based design and development. Due to the predominance of electronic devices in the world today, there is no longer any recognized difference between the two positions.
Electrical engineering positions can be broken into two large areas, electrical power generation/transmission and its application. Power generation can range in size from enormous hydroelectric power plants to miniature batteries for implanted medical devices. The application of this power can lead an engineer to work on such things as aircraft carriers, satellites, computers, communication networks, and semiconductor materials less than the width of a human hair.
In each of these two larger areas, electrical engineers can further specialize in one of the following aspects:
- Research: These positions are usually specialized in nature and are quite similar to scientists in overall responsibilities. In many corporations the head of the research department is referred to as chief scientist.
- Design and development: In the United States these are thought to be the pinnacle of the industrial electrical engineering positions available. This engineer will often translate a written product description into a set of electrical drawings capable of performing the functions defined in the product description. This is considered the most creative of electrical engineering positions.
- Production and manufacturing: These engineers provide the important bridge between engineering drawings (schematics) and physical products/systems. Engineers with this focus might be asked to develop additional documentation and procedures to produce millions of consumer products in a single month or detailed plans to build a power generation plant that will be years in the making.
- Testing: Electrical devices have gone from hobby stage to a point where they are trusted to protect and preserve human lives. This could not have happened without a significant emphasis on the testing of electronic circuits and devices. Test engineers have made this a reality.
Training and Education Requirements
The generally accepted minimal educational requirement for an electrical/electronic engineering position is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) stamp of approval is what the majority of employers look for when evaluating an engineering candidate’s education. A bachelor of science in electrical engineering (BSEE) is organized as a four year program, but many students find themselves taking as much as five years to complete the requirements.
Another alternative in this same field is an electrical engineering technician (EET) degree. Choosing this route offers a shorter time and monetary commitment, however this option has fewer employment opportunities and lower starting salaries.
A master’s degree (MSEE) is a requirement for a smaller subset of the employment opportunities. This generally requires another two to three year educational commitment. To become a full professor at an ABET university or enter the upper levels of research in industry necessitates a doctorate degree (PhD EE). PhD EE programs add as much as two more years beyond the MSEE to one’s studies.
Salary and Wages
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the 2009 average starting salary for electrical engineers with a BSEE was $60,125. There can be a significant range in these salaries based upon geographic locations. Typically positions located in what is referred to as the Silicon Valley (southern San Francisco Bay Area of California) offer the highest pay. The BLS also reports that MSEE graduates can expect approximately another $10,000 per year and PhD EE’s an additional $10,000 beyond this.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
For engineers currently in the profession, salaries can range from $52,000 up to $130,000. Certain industries such as product manufacturing typically offer salaries on the lower end of the spectrum. Semiconductor and consumer product design generate higher salaries.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
All fifty states offer a professional licensing certification. There are two steps to this process. The first stage is a labeled engineering in training (EIT). The testing for this step can begin upon graduation from an ABET university. An EIT must work a specified amount of time in the field. This work will need to be documented by a licensed engineer. The candidate can then take the test to become a professional engineer (PE). Such licensing is only really necessary for electrical engineers who are focusing on the power generation/transmission industry.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) had its beginnings in the 1880s and now represents one of the world’s largest professional associations. The IEEE estimates that it has almost 400,000 members in over 160 countries. The documentation and research produced by the IEEE often forms the backbone of MSEE and PhD EE programs. Annual membership fees for the IEEE are covered by some employers.
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