Careers in electrical engineering
Electrical engineering (EE) is one of the newest engineering fields, focused on the technology of electricity. Electrical engineers design, research, develop, and test electrical components, systems, and equipment used for industrial, scientific, or even military purposes.
Why pursue a career in electrical engineering?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of electrical engineers is projected to grow approximately 7% from 2020 to 2030.
Graduates with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in electrical engineering can pursue careers in diverse fields such as:
- electrical controls
- power systems
- test engineering for electronics
- project engineering for electrical builds
- instrumentation and electrical reliability
- electrical design
What is life like for an electrical engineer?
Most electrical engineers work in an office setting and are occasionally required to work on a production floor or cleanroom, depending on the industry.
Introversion and independence are traits shared by many electrical engineers. Autonomous work is common, as is independent decision making. Proactively seeking out the appropriate coworkers or sources from whom to obtain information and efficiently breaking down and comprehending complex data sets are common skills.
Electrical engineering, like other engineering disciplines, can lead to a high-paying career straight out of college. An engineering bachelor’s degree may be more challenging than many other disciplines, but it pays off. Two years after graduation, the average electrical engineer earns $70,436 – compared to $46,471 for an average bachelor’s degree holder.
Electrical engineering is an excellent career for problem-solvers who enjoy working with low-level electrical components and digging into technical details.
How hard is it to become an electrical engineer?
The most difficult part of becoming an electrical engineer is likely to be completing your EE bachelor’s degree. Many graduates go on to pursue FE and eventually PE licensure. The FE Electrical exam has the highest pass rate of all the engineering disciplines – at 73% – an encouraging statistic in what is otherwise a challenging pursuit.
Once you’ve completed your degree, there is demand for electrical engineers in a variety of industries and career fields. Finding a job should be fairly straightforward, especially if you have been speaking to employers about career opportunities while still in college and pursuing internship opportunities.
How long does it take to get started in electrical engineering?
It typically takes 4 to 5 years to get started in electrical engineering. This includes the time it takes to complete your bachelor’s degree. Following graduation, it may take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to land your first job.
Qualities and skills of an electrical engineer
Electrical engineers give their full undivided attention to what others say and take the time to truly understand the points being made.
Coming up with efficient solutions to difficult problems is a key component of an electrical engineer’s job.
Electrical engineers apply logic and reasoning abilities to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a problem or solution and approach their tasks in innovative ways.
Attention to detail
When it comes to complicated low-level circuits and electrical problems, the details matter. Electrical engineers are able to spot small subtle mistakes in their work in order to correct them before designs go to production.
Deep electrical engineering knowledge
This one may be a given, but electrical engineers should always be improving their skills and learning new ones.
Where do electrical engineers work?
Electrical engineers typically work in an office environment as part of an integrated team developing, designing, or testing electrical systems or products. They may be required to attend meetings and conferences with their fellow engineers.
In some industries, electrical engineers may be required to work at a customer site, manufacturing plant, or cleanroom. Knowledge of computer systems, office suite software, electrical schematics and their respective software packages are typically required.
As in most office jobs, electrical engineers may find themselves responding to emails, answering questions, and speaking with clients or customers.
What types of electrical engineering jobs are there?
Becoming an electrical engineer offers many job opportunities in a variety of fields and industries. You may find yourself working in microelectronics or telecommunications, or designing, developing, and improving smartphones, watches, and other electrical products and gadgets.
Electrical engineers focus on designing, developing, supervising, and testing the manufacture and distribution of electrical equipment.
Electrical engineers work with various electrical equipment and products such as radar and navigation systems, communication systems, electric motors, and power generation equipment.
How to become
Earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from an accredited college or university. After graduation, consider FE licensure as you begin searching for career opportunities.
Electronics engineerMedian salary: $81K
Electronics engineers focus on designing and testing various electrical circuits using electrical components such as resistors, capacitors, transistors, and diodes. They frequently work with electrical systems ranging from broadcast and communication to global positioning system (GPS) devices.
Microelectronics engineerMedian salary: $76K
Microelectronics engineers specialize in designing integrated circuits, such as small electronic circuit boards, microchips, and semiconductor devices. The devices they develop are used across multiple industries including aerospace, biomedical, electronic, and information technology (IT).
Telecommunications engineerMedian salary: $80K
Telecommunications engineers are responsible for installing, designing, and overseeing various telecommunications equipment and facilities. This includes telephone service facilities, IP networks, microwave transmission systems, optical fiber cabling, and complex electronic switching systems.
Signal processing engineerMedian salary: $92K
The day-to-day work of signal processing engineers involves processing and extracting information embedded within various signals. They use frequency analysis tools such as Laplace transforms, Fourier transforms, and Fast Fourier transforms (FFT) to analyze and decode complex signals. One of the most widely used forms of signal processing is translating FM radio signals into audio.
Smartphone/watch engineerMedian salary: $95K
Smartphone and watch engineers are focused on designing, developing, and testing personal phones and wearable devices. From an electrical engineering perspective, this includes developing the integrated circuits and technology required to allow these devices to run and operate efficiently when produced at scale for consumers.
Energy and power engineerMedian salary: $72K
Energy and power engineers work to assure that electrical energy is delivered and generated efficiently and reliably. In addition to their responsibility to energy production and generation, they may also focus on advancing various environmental quality improvements and helping customers meet their electrical energy needs economically.
Robotics and automation engineerMedian salary: $77K
Robotics and automation engineers develop robotic systems that automate various tasks within manufacturing plants, assembly lines, or other manual labor. This field has been rapidly growing in recent years and utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) to power the latest robots and automation systems.
Circuit design engineerMedian salary: $88K
Circuit design engineers design integrated circuits on a low level by using components such as resistors, capacitors, inductors, transistors, and diodes.
Electromagnetics engineerMedian salary: $105K
Electromagnetics engineers design and verify electromagnetic-sensitive designs and components for use in aviation, power plants, and other sensitive environments. They test, design, and certify components in electrical environments and ensure they meet all tolerances and levels as listed in their specifications and requirements.
Web development engineerMedian salary: $123K
Web development engineers use programming languages to create web pages and web applications that go live on the internet. While this profession doesn’t work with electrical engineering topics firsthand, the skills and knowledge gained in an EE degree are highly applicable to web development.
How do you become an electrical engineer?
Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering
The primary requirement for becoming an electrical engineer is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from an accredited college or university. Once you earn your electrical engineering degree, you can apply for jobs in the field.
Step 2: Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam [optional]
While passing the FE exam is not required, it puts you on the path towards obtaining Professional Engineer (PE) licensure. Most engineers sign up for the FE exam within 12 months of graduation. Accredited engineering colleges or universities generally provide guidance on FE exam signup.
Step 3: Earn work experience as an electrical engineer
Earning work experience as an electrical engineer allows you to develop your expertise and move up the chain of command. If you have successfully completed your FE exam, you can obtain PE licensure after working as an engineer for at least 4 years. Earning a master’s degree may further increase your career opportunities and salary. Most electrical engineers start in positions titled “graduate electrical engineer” and progress through multiple stages (often, up to 6).
Step 4: Pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam [optional]
After 4 years of working as an electrical engineer, those who’ve passed the FE become eligible for the NCEES PE exam. Passing the PE is required for becoming a licensed Professional Engineer in your state. Engineering licensure allows you to perform a variety of functions such as signing off on electrical drawings and schematics before production or reviewing technical content for accuracy. Advertising engineering services to the public also requires PE licensure, as do many government jobs.
Step 5: Become a licensed Professional Engineer [optional]
Each state sets its own licensure specifications, but the PE exam is a universal requirement.
Step 6: Complete a master’s degree in electrical engineering [optional]
Electrical engineers looking to transition into senior or management roles often complete a master’s degree. Some companies pay for their employees’ graduate degrees. It is worth investigating the possibility with your employer. Additionally, many large engineering companies count a master’s degree as 2+ years of professional experience that can be used towards advancing career levels.
Step 7: Complete a Ph.D. in electrical engineering [optional]
A Ph.D. in electrical engineering is usually only pursued by individuals wishing to teach engineering at a college or university or those interested in advanced research and development roles.
How hard is an electrical engineering degree?
Due to the amount of abstract and technical thinking involved in low-level electrical engineering, obtaining an EE degree is considered relatively difficult. A bachelor’s degree may be less challenging compared to other engineering disciplines in light of the FE exam pass rate being the highest for EE, at 73%. At the PE level, the pass rate falls to 58%, suggesting advanced electrical engineering knowledge has a steeper learning curve than other engineering disciplines.
Can I get an electrical engineering degree online?
The majority – 96.6% – of electrical engineering degree programs require in-person learning and class attendance, with no online components. Depending on your school or university, it may be possible to take certain courses online.
Do I need a PE license to be an electrical engineer?
No, you do not need a PE license to become an electrical engineer and work in the field, although doing so can make you a more desirable job applicant.
Can I become a video game programmer with an electrical engineering degree?
Yes, you can become a video game programmer with an electrical engineering degree, although the work does not use most of the EE concepts learned at college. Game development primarily requires programming skills, which may be taught in combined electrical and computer engineering programs.
The NCEES is a nonprofit organization that focuses on professional development and licensing for engineers and surveyors. They administer the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exams that are required for an individual to become a Professional Engineer within the United States.
Considered one of the world’s largest technical professional organizations, IEEE has over 400,000 members worldwide consisting of engineers and technology professionals. If you are interested in being involved in developing standards for electrical engineering or electrical products and networking with other professionals in your areas of technical interest, IEEE may be a good fit.
Founded in 1904, Eta Kappa Nu is the international honor society of IEEE focused on promoting excellence in electrical and electronics engineers worldwide. There are over 250 chapters and 200,000 members who are currently a part of the HKN honor society.