Electrical Engineers


Exploring this Job

People who are interested in the excitement of electricity can tackle experiments such as building a radio or central processing unit of a computer. Special assignments can also be researched and supervised by teachers. Joining a science club, such as the Technology Student Association (TSA), which provides students a chance to explore career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, enter academic competitions, and participate in summer exploration programs. TSA administers a competition that allows high school students to use their technology skills. The Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science (https://tsaweb.org/teams) is an engineering problem competition.

Students can also learn more about electrical engineering by attending a summer camp or academic program that focuses on scientific projects as well as recreational activities. Summer programs offered by Michigan Technological University (MTU, https://www.mtu.edu/syp) and other colleges and universities across the country focus on career exploration in engineering, computers, electronics, and robotics. MTU's academic program for high school students also offers art education, wilderness events, and other recreational activities.

You should also check out the American Society for Engineering Education’s precollege Web site, https://prek-12.asee.org, for general information about careers in engineering, as well as answers to frequently asked questions about engineering. There's also a special resources section for students that offers information about engineering schools, internships, and more, https://prek-12.asee.org/resources/student-and-parent-resources.

Check out TRY Engineering (https://tryengineering.org), an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Web site that has engineering, technology, and computing articles and ideas to inspire students. 

The Job

Electrical engineering is a diverse field, and there are numerous divisions within which engineers work. In fact, the discipline reaches nearly every other field of applied science and technology. In general, electrical engineers use their knowledge of the sciences in the practical applications of electrical energy. They concern themselves with things as large as atom smashers and as small as microchips. They are involved in the invention, design, construction, and operation of electrical systems and devices of all kinds.

The work of electrical engineers touches almost every part of our lives. Think of the things around you that have been designed, manufactured, maintained, or in any other way affected by electrical energy: the lights in a room, cars on the road, televisions, audio systems, telephones, your doctor's blood-pressure monitor, MP3 and MP4 players, smartphones, video games, and computers. When you start to think in these terms, you will discover that the electrical engineer has in some way had a hand in science, industry, commerce, entertainment, and even art.

The list of specialties that engineers are associated with reads like an alphabet of scientific titles—acoustics, speech, and signal processing; electromagnetic compatibility; geoscience and remote sensing; lasers and electro-optics; robotics; ultrasonics, ferroelectrics, and frequency control; vehicular technology. As evident in this selected list, engineers are apt to specialize in what interests them, such as communications, robotics, or automobiles.

Electrical engineers focus on high-power generation of electricity and how it is transmitted for use in lighting homes and powering factories. They are also concerned with how equipment is designed and maintained and how communications are transmitted via wire and airwaves. Some are involved in the design and construction of power plants and the manufacture and maintenance of industrial machinery.

Engineers may focus on design, testing, research and development, production, field service, sales and marketing, and teaching. In addition, even within each category there are divisions of labor.

Researchers concern themselves mainly with issues that pertain to potential applications. They conduct tests and perform studies to evaluate fundamental problems involving such things as new materials and chemical interactions. Those who work in design and development adapt the researchers' findings to actual practical applications. They devise functioning devices and draw up plans for their efficient production, using computer-aided design and engineering (CAD/CAE) tools. For a typical product such as a television, this phase usually takes up to 18 months to accomplish. For other products, particularly those that utilize developing technology, this phase can take as long as 10 years or more.

Production engineers have perhaps the most hands-on tasks in the field. They are responsible for the organization of the actual manufacture of whatever electric product is being made. They take care of materials and machinery, schedule technicians and assembly workers, and make sure that standards are met and products are quality-controlled. These engineers must have access to the best tools for measurement, materials handling, and processing.

After electrical systems are put in place, field service engineers must act as the liaison between the manufacturer or distributor and the client. They ensure the correct installation, operation, and maintenance of systems and products for both industry and individuals. In the sales and marketing divisions, engineers stay abreast of customer needs in order to evaluate potential applications, and they advise their companies of orders and effective marketing. A sales engineer would contact a client interested in, say, a certain type of microchip for its automobile electrical system controls. He or she would learn about the client's needs and report back to the various engineering teams at his or her company. During the manufacture and distribution of the product, the sales engineer would continue to communicate information between company and client until all objectives were met.

All engineers must be taught their skills, and so it is important that some remain involved in academia. Professors usually teach a portion of the basic engineering courses as well as classes in the subjects that they specialize in. Conducting personal research is generally an ongoing task for professors in addition to the supervision of student work and student research. A part of the teacher's time is also devoted to providing career and academic guidance to students.

Whatever type of project an electrical engineer works on, he or she is likely to have a certain amount of desk work. Writing status reports and communicating with clients and others who are working on the same project are examples of the paperwork that most electrical engineers are responsible for.