Pursuing a career in electrical engineering can be fulfilling monetarily and intellectually. As an electrical engineer, you have the opportunity to impact the way that the world works. Electrical engineers cover various related disciplines, from power engineering to electronics engineering. This guide dives into electrical engineering careers and outlines what it takes to get started and potential career paths.
Electrical engineers are in demand as the internet of things reaches into all aspects of our lives. If you are interested in electrical engineering, you may want to know how you can pursue this career and what the requirements are. First, it may be helpful to understand what obtaining an electrical engineering degree entails.
Electrical Engineering Degree
To start a career as an electrical engineer, most companies will require at least a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Some colleges offer two-year degrees in electrical engineering. These associate degrees are typically a stepping stone to a four-year degree. An associate’s degree can be an excellent way for students to test the waters and see if they are interested in an electrical engineering career.
Before taking electrical engineering courses, students typically have to take prerequisite courses during their first and second year of college involving basic math and physics. There are many topics that electrical engineering students will learn about during a four-year degree.
Students will learn extensively about electrical theory and how to apply various theories and physics in real-world applications. Thermodynamics, electromagnetism, electrical system modeling, and more are all topics that electrical engineering students can usually take during the last two years of their degree. The courses that are offered will vary from college to college.
Students should have a strong mathematical background to be successful in the field of electrical engineering. Analytical, technical, and problem-solving skills will all be developed while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Some students can undervalue communication skills, but they are key to long-term success in the workplace.
A bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering is typically enough to get started on the electrical engineering career path. Some job roles require a master’s or Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Obtaining a master’s in business administration (MBA) along with an electrical engineering degree can open up doors to management positions that would otherwise be closed to electrical engineers with just a bachelor’s degree.
How To Become an Electrical Engineer
Becoming an electrical engineer is a relatively straightforward, established path. Millions of people have taken the steps necessary to pursue a fruitful career in electrical engineering. The steps are simple but not always necessarily easy. Like other career paths, students need to attend college to pursue a career in electrical engineering.
1) Obtain a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering with internship experience
The first step to becoming an electrical engineer is going to a four-year college and obtaining a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Some companies will accept candidates with bachelor’s degrees in related fields, such as physics or mechanical engineering. A student that received a master’s degree in electrical engineering but their bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field is also eligible for electrical engineering positions. Students should look for colleges accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.
Engineering internships can provide valuable experience to engineering students before they enter the workforce. Interns can work on projects and applications to learn the ins and outs of electrical engineering. This experience can help any job-seeker stand out from the competition. Students who obtain an internship or mentorship by the time they graduate will have a more difficult time finding an entry-level position as an electrical engineers.
2) Fundamentals of engineering exam
This step is optional for most engineering students. Once a student receives their bachelor’s degree, they can take the fundamentals of engineering exam. The Fundamentals of Engineering exam is six hours and 110 questions long. This exam covers the majority of courses that a newly graduated engineer has taken when obtaining their bachelor’s degree.
If you seek a job in a competitive industry or company, successfully passing the fundamentals of engineering exam can help you. Once a graduated student passes the fundamentals of engineering exam, they will be awarded the engineer-in-training or engineer intern. Passing this exam is generally necessary for engineers to obtain their professional engineering license.
3) Land your first job
The next step in pursuing an electrical engineering career is to find an electrical engineering position. Finding your first position as an electrical engineer can be difficult, but with enough persistence and dedication, you can find the right role for you. The experience gained from actively working in an electrical engineering role will help shape an engineer’s career.
Once you land your first electrical engineering position, the path to becoming a professional engineer is not over. Engineers have many choices when it comes to their long-term career path. Electrical engineers can continue to advance their careers and take on new challenges and projects, including obtaining their professional engineering license.
4) Professional engineering license
After a few years in the electrical engineering field, professionals can earn their professional engineering license. This form of certification can help an engineer sharpen their skills, advance their career, and gain the respect of their colleagues. Some jobs and projects require engineers to have their professional license. Obtaining a professional engineering license can make engineers more valuable to their companies.
Engineers need to have a bachelor’s degree from a college that the Accreditation Board has accredited for Engineering and Technology. In most states, engineers must work under the supervision of a professional engineer for at least four years and pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering for the state that you work in. This exam ensures that engineers are up to date on the latest technologies and test their competency as an engineer.
What Does an Electrical Engineer Do?
Due to the wide variety of tasks and responsibilities that electrical engineers perform in their job roles, no one description of an electrical engineer’s duties will accurately describe what they do daily. In a very broad sense, electrical engineers design, develop, test, manufacture, and deliver electrical systems and devices in a very broad sense.
An electrical engineer will accomplish this task by applying the principles of electricity, electromagnetism, and electronics. Electrical engineers have a wide variety of opportunities available in fields that they can work on. The electrical projects that electrical engineers can be involved in vary widely from simple household appliances to entire electrical grid systems.
Some electrical engineers will be heavily involved in managing various engineering projects. In an electrical engineering project management role, one can expect to be involved in all branches of an electrical engineering project. Electrical engineer project managers will see a project through from submitting RFPs to putting the finished product in the hands of the end-user.
An electrical engineer focused on moving up the corporate ladder can do so. Electrical engineers can join the executive suite of a company as a chief technology officer or chief executive officer with enough hard work and talent. The opportunities for electrical engineers are limitless for an engineer who is motivated and willing to take risks. Many electrical engineers start businesses after learning the ins and outs of electrical engineering.
Electrical Engineer Job Description
As with most engineering jobs, electrical engineers are well compensated. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2020 median salary for an electrical engineer was $103,390. Electrical engineers have a wide salary range from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands. A systems engineer typically has the highest salary for a sub-discipline of electrical engineering that tops out at around $128,000.
Electrical engineers can move into management positions. A management role requires more soft skills and emphasizes communication and collaboration. This type of switch can be difficult, as some engineers focus only on hard skills. Moving into management positions can greatly increase salary potential.
Electrical engineers may also want to stay on the engineering side of their careers. There are countless niches that engineers can specialize in. Here are a few of the most common subdisciplines of electrical engineering:
- Microelectronics engineer: This type of engineer focuses on electrical systems and devices that operate on the micro level.
- Control engineer: Control engineers are responsible for monitoring and optimizing electrical equipment and systems.
- Power engineer: This electrical engineer focuses on the generation, transmission, distribution, and utilization of power in the electric grid.
- Quantum engineer: Quantum engineers use quantum physics and electrical engineering tools to implement technology in real-world applications.
Electrical engineers have a great job outlook for the foreseeable future. The road to a long, fruitful career in the electrical engineering field is not always easy but worth it in the long run. Pursuing a career in electrical engineering can be a well-compensated and enjoyable career for potential students interested in this field.