From radar to motors, electrical engineers design, implement, maintain, and improve all the electronics everyone uses everyday. “Most EEs love to talk about technology,” mentioned one, “and that is a wonderful thing.” Many engineers enter the profession for the intellectual stimulation and are generally driven people who aim to strike a balance between competition and mutual support. Over 85 percent of the EEs we surveyed cited interaction with their peers as the most positive aspect of the profession.
Daily activities include studying technical manuals, articles, and other publications; designing, testing, and assembling devices; and writing reports and keeping track of various assignments. Computer skills are a must. Over 40 percent of the time is spent attending meetings, working on strategic planning, and tracking projects. The amount of interpersonal communication can be disconcerting to many project-oriented engineers; over 15 percent of newly hired EEs take in-house management organization or writing skills courses. Contact between professionals and clients is infrequent. This sense of “project vs. product” isolation actually seems to be valuable.
Beyond designing and creating new circuits for televisions, VCRs, slot machines, or stereo equipment, engineers with creative instincts usually flock to more esoteric, unproved areas such as cutting-edge medical technology and HDTV. Specialization is important and happens quickly, with engineers moving into such areas as quantum electronics, acoustics, signal processing, and ferroelectrics. EEs must have patience; the average span of time from the design of a product to placement on a shelf is two years.
An undergraduate degree in electrical engineering will suffice for most entry-level positions, such as tester and data collector, but an M.S. or Ph.D. will be necessary for those who intend to progress further. Coursework includes physics, chemistry, some biology, heavy mathematics and statistics. The defense industry provides a large portion of the job market for aspiring electrical engineers, so passing a security check may be required. The aviation industry provides another sizable segment of jobs. Candidates should be familiar with production, testing, and assembly of electronics components, the general methods and means of power transference, and, if possible, computer electronic modeling. Aspiring EEs who want to work for large corporations should be willing to follow already established procedures and protocols. Some of the most exciting and revolutionary innovations come out of smaller companies.
Those who choose to become electrical engineers usually do so for life. The fewer than 5 percent who leave mostly become physicists, electricians, aviation engineers, or computer scientists. A number of former electrical engineers head to Wall Street, where intellectual acuity can be rewarded on a higher salary scale.