To become an electrical engineer, one must embrace training, commitment, and a curious spirit. It's a profession that delves into intriguing questions, like how a flat-screen television is energy-efficient or how a Las Vegas casino can use copious amounts of electricity without triggering a meltdown. In this article, we'll explore the essential steps, degree options, potential salaries, and career prospects in electrical engineering.
What Does an Electrical Engineer Do?
Electrical engineers are the problem solvers of the electrical world. They harness the principles of physics, electronics, and electromagnetism to design devices that either run on electricity or generate it. Electrical engineers work on many projects, from pocket-sized gadgets to colossal electrical grids. They prototype, evaluate, and refine systems to ensure optimal functionality. The versatility of electrical engineering is staggering, as these professionals find roles in diverse sectors, including government, transportation, communications, technology, and utilities.
While most electrical engineers operate within office or lab settings, on-site assignments and short-term projects are common.
Also Read: 5 best countries to study engineering
Electrical Engineering In-Depth
Electrical engineers are not confined to mere design and development; they play a pivotal role in every project, from inception to maintenance. They perform feasibility studies and cost analyses, translating ideas into practical solutions. Given their multifaceted responsibilities, electrical engineers often specialize in project management, research and development, or consultancy. Furthermore, the broad scope of industries employing electrical engineers leads to specialization in sub-disciplines, including:
- Signal processing
Depending on their backgrounds and expertise, engineers may develop telecommunication systems, design lighting and wiring for buildings, or craft household appliances. Engineers must stay abreast of current trends and technological advancements to thrive in this dynamic field.
Most electrical engineers hold at least a bachelor's degree, often a master's, from an accredited university accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Pursuing additional certifications or specializations can open doors to more specialized career opportunities.
Electrical Engineer Career Growth and Prospects
The field of electrical engineering is poised for transformation. Job growth from 2012 to 2022 is expected to be slower than average, so choosing an electrical engineering degree program is critical.
Computer Systems Engineer: With the shift towards computer systems design, electrical engineers specializing in this area can expect strong career prospects. They work on developing cutting-edge computer hardware and software systems, playing a crucial role in the tech industry's growth.
Renewable Energy Specialist: As the world seeks sustainable energy solutions, electrical engineers focusing on renewable energy technologies like solar, wind, and hydroelectric power will find promising career opportunities. Their expertise is essential for addressing global energy challenges.
Telecommunications Engineer: Telecommunications engineers are in high demand with the increasing reliance on cellular and GPS technologies. They design and optimize communication networks, ensuring seamless connectivity for businesses and individuals.
Automation and Control Systems Engineer: Industries are increasingly automating their processes, and electrical engineers specializing in automation and control systems are at the forefront of this transformation. They design systems that improve efficiency and productivity in manufacturing and beyond.
Robotics Engineer: Robotics is a rapidly growing field with applications in manufacturing, healthcare, and everyday life. Electrical engineers in robotics design and develop robotic systems, paving the way for innovative automation solutions.
Data Center Infrastructure Engineer: With the expanding digital landscape, data centers are critical for storing and processing vast amounts of information. Electrical engineers in this field focus on designing and maintaining the infrastructure of data centers, ensuring their efficiency and reliability.
Steps to Becoming an Electrical Engineer
Step 1: Earn a bachelor's degree or higher
Entry-level electrical engineering positions typically require a bachelor's degree from an ABET-accredited program. Coursework includes digital systems design, electrical circuit theory, and differential equations. Practical experience gained through laboratory work and field studies is valuable. Cooperative engineering programs provide opportunities for internships, and some students may complete a combined bachelor's and master's program in five years. A master's degree can lead to academic or research and development roles.
Step 2: Take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam
Electrical engineers in the utility field must obtain licensure through the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. To qualify, candidates must hold a degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program and pass the FE exam. Graduates can take the FE exam, and upon passing, they are known as engineers-in-training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs) until they pass the Professional Engineer (PE) exam.
Step 3: Land an entry-level job and gain experience
Advancement in electrical engineering hinges on experience and accomplishments. While not mandatory, a graduate degree can accelerate career growth.
Step 4: Take the Professional Engineer exam
EITs seeking Professional Engineer (PE) licensure must accrue four years of relevant work experience. Some states require ongoing education to maintain engineering licenses, ensuring engineers stay current with industry developments even after becoming PEs.
Choosing the Right Academic Path
Most electrical engineering careers demand at least a bachelor's degree, although associate-level programs are also available. Regardless of the level, a strong foundation in math and science is essential. Coursework becomes more advanced as students progress through their chosen degree program. Specializations like small-scale electronics or large-scale electrical grids offer diverse opportunities. Many colleges offer online electrical engineering degrees, from associate to graduate levels, catering to various needs and career goals.
Electrical Engineer Credentials
Specialized certifications can enhance an electrical engineer's career prospects. These include:
- Energy Efficiency Management Certificate: Focusing on energy efficiency programs.
- Electrostatic Discharge Control Technician: Minimizing electrostatic discharge.
- Associate Systems Engineering Professional: Concentrating on systems engineering.
- Fiber Optics for Traffic System Technician: Installation and maintenance of transportation systems.
Electrical Engineer Salaries
Electrical engineers enjoy competitive compensation for their expertise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for electrical engineers was $91,410 in 2023. Particularly lucrative roles exist in industries such as oil and gas extraction and wireless telecommunications. The top 10% of electrical engineers can command annual earnings exceeding $143,000, while those in the bottom 10% can expect around $60,000 annually.
The highest-paying opportunities are typically found in California, Alaska, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, and Washington.
What is the educational path to becoming an electrical engineer?
Individuals usually need at least a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering or a closely related field to become an electrical engineer. Some may opt for advanced degrees such as a master's or Ph.D. for specialized roles or research positions.
What skills are essential for success as an electrical engineer?
To excel in electrical engineering, individuals should develop key skills and competencies such as strong problem-solving abilities, proficiency in mathematics and physics, a deep understanding of electrical circuit theory, programming skills, and effective communication.
Are there any specialized areas within electrical engineering, and how do I choose a specialization?
Readers can explore the diverse subfields within electrical engineering to discover specialties such as power systems, electronics, telecommunications, control systems, and more.
What kind of job opportunities are available for electrical engineers, and what is the job outlook in this field?
There is wide array of career opportunities for electrical engineers, shedding light on the current and future demand within the industry. It offers valuable insights into the job prospects and growth potential in electrical engineering.