In our world of rapidly changing technology, electrical and electronic
engineers are in demand. But first, what exactly do they do?
Electrical engineers, in general, are in charge of bigger things with more
power. For example, an electrical engineer might work with an electrical utility
company or with an electrical power generation.
Electrical engineers can also work with wiring for communications companies.
They can also be involved with wiring in other buildings and consult for
a variety of businesses.
Electronic engineers often deal with smaller things, like transistors or
amplifiers. In general, they deal with things with lower power. They could
work in electronics manufacturing, or they might also work for communications
companies. They could work with control or instrumentation companies.
Both branches of engineering have some things common: they work on researching,
planning and designing systems that use electricity. The relationship between
the two branches gets further confused when you bring in computer engineering,
a related field. Computers deal with electronics, and computer engineering
is taught along with electronic and electrical engineering much of the time.
Andrew Sund is an engineer who took an engineering technologist program
at a college and worked his way up through a company. In his current job,
he writes the code for microcontrollers for a company that makes things like
flight controllers and other communications devices for aircraft.
Sund says his job is fun, but it can also be difficult. There are a lot
of aspects of the job that are outside of his control. He also says that,
technically, things don't always work out like he figures they should.
"There's a lot going on when writing software, and knowing enough to figure
out why something isn't working requires lots of research and self-education,"
he says. "I spend a lot of time searching the Internet or reading chip data
sheets. The non-technical things make it difficult too, like standard time
management: trying to hit deadlines or spending time in meetings."
Catherine Harwood is the director for an engineering association. "Engineering
is a great job for everyone who is creative and who wants to help make our
world better," she says. "There are a lot of challenges out there, and if
you have ideas on how to fix them, then engineering is for you."
Ken McMartin is the director of professional and international affairs
at an engineering association. He says that engineering is a good fit for
many young people because of the nature of the work.
"I think young [people] like and appreciate diversity in their work," he
says. "Routine is not part of most young [people's] work style. Working in
engineering regularly provides you with thinking outside the box, using imagination.
It allows you to travel, to work with professionals in other industries, and
you bring home a very decent paycheck."
"The work is varied," says Harwood. "You work with teams of experts in
other fields. It provides opportunities for travel. I love going to work every
day and I appreciate all the opportunities I have."
Stacey Ober is the senior manager of public relations and outreach for
the National Society of Engineers. She says that engineering has gotten a
bad reputation for being too difficult.
"While it's true that pursuing an engineering degree may require more study
and commitment than other majors, the learning experience itself and the payoffs
when you're finished make it more than worthwhile," she says.
Ober says that for years, youth were told they had to love math and science
to be an engineer. She says that's really not true. "You have to be able
to do the required math and science involved in the problem-solving aspects
of engineering, but you don't have to love it. I know plenty of engineers
who will admit math was their least favorite subject in school! But they knew
that if they just did it, the more fun and creative side of engineering was
Sund says that in the engineering world, there's lots of talk about outsourcing
(contracting out business services to a third party not directly employed
by the business) that might make people a bit wary of entering this line of
work. However, he says that there will always be a need for jobs connected
to electricity and that shouldn't discourage people from pursuing this. He
even sees an interesting change occurring putting power into the hands of
the little guys.
"In fact, I think the recent popularity of hobbyist electronics...means
that the next neat product or small company could come from anywhere... also,
despite what you hear about the economy, we're still all living our lives
and there are jobs around."
Wages vary depending on what kind of engineer you are, but they are pretty
good across the board, as Sund illustrates. "If you can make six figures
doing grunt work on an oil rig, you can probably make a ton more servicing
the control systems they use with a little technical training," he says.
"An engineering profession does provide for a comfortable lifestyle,"
Harwood agrees that the pay varies quite a bit, depending on where you
live and what kind of engineer you are. She also adds that getting education
is important, and so is getting licenced.
"After graduating from university, I didn't stop there. I wanted to get
my licence to practice engineering. The P.Eng. [professional engineering licence]
is actually a tool for me to show my employer that my education and experience
is recognized by my peers. So I would encourage students to not only aim for
a university degree in engineering but to get their licence, too."
Looking to the future, McMartin says that "there will be some challenges,"
because even though a rise in demand is expected, it's one that's going to
favor those who have been engineers for a while, particularly those with 10
years or more experience, he says.
"Recent labor market studies show that there will be an increased demand
for experienced engineers," he says. "More so in some regions of the country
and disciplines. But if you are willing to move to where there is work, the
prospects are good."
National Society of Professional Engineers
A national American engineering association