How To Become An Electrical Engineer

Becoming an Electrical Engineer Electrical engineers have one of the most satisfying, high paying jobs you can have. Those who love to tinker, love to figure out how things work, and love math, will love being an electrical engineer. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics electrical engineers are some of the highest paid professionals with a median salary of $90,230 in 2010. Let’s look at how to become an electrical engineer by taking a look at this career and where it stands today.

Electrical engineers can design anything from cellphones to jet propulsion systems. Some work for manufacturing companies, designing and implementing machinery; others work for the government or for private companies developing new technological innovations. Becoming an electrical engineer requires a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, engineering technology, or physics. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for electrical engineers in 2010 was $84,190. A master’s degree can earn graduates even more money as they progress. For example, a software engineer with a master’s degree typically earns $88,800 a year while a medical physicist receives $111,920 a year. Electrical engineers make on-average $92,910 per year. 

what do electrical engineers do?

Electrical engineering dates back to the late 19th century, and is one of the newer branches of engineering. The field of electronics was born with the invention of the thermionic valve diode vacuum tube in 1904 by John Ambrose Fleming, and was the foundation of all electronics, including radios, television and radar, until the mid-20th century.

Some of the most important pioneers in electrical engineering include Thomas Edison (electric light bulb), George Westinghouse (alternating current), Nikola Tesla (induction motor), Guglielmo Marconi (radio) and Philo T. Farnsworth (television). Innovative ideas and concepts were turned into practical devices and systems that paved the way to what we have and use today.

Electrical engineers work on a variety of projects, such as computers, robots, cell phones, cards, radars, navigation systems, wiring and lighting in buildings and other kinds of electrical systems.

More and more, electrical engineers are relying on computer-aided design (CAD) systems for the creation of schematics and to lay out circuits, and they use computers to simulate how electrical devices and systems will function.

Electrical engineers work in various industries and the skills required also vary. These skills can range from basic circuit theory to those required to be a project manager. The tools and equipment that an electrical engineer may need are also variable, and can range from a straightforward voltmeter to a top end analyzer to advanced design and manufacturing software.

An electrical engineer’s job duties may require:

  • Evaluating electrical systems, products, components, and applications
  • Designing and conducting research programs
  • Applying knowledge of electricity and materials
  • Confirming system’s and components’ capabilities by designing testing methods and properties
  • Developing electrical products by studying customer requirements
  • Researching and testing manufacturing and assembly methods and materials
  • Developing manufacturing processes by designing and modifying equipment
  • Assuring product quality by designing electrical testing methods
  • Testing finished products and system capabilities
  • Preparing product reports by collecting, analyzing, and summarizing information and trends
  • Providing engineering information by answering questions and requests
  • Maintaining product and company reputation by complying with federal and state regulations
  • Maintaining product data base by writing computer programs and entering data

There are many sub-disciplines of electrical engineering. Some electrical engineers specialize exclusively in one sub-discipline, while others specialize in a combination of sub-disciplines.

How To Become An Electrical Engineer

Steps to Becoming an Electrical Engineer

Deciding to become an electrical engineer is a first step. Below we’ve outlined the process for becoming an electrical engineer and advancing your career:

1. Earn at least a bachelor’s degree

In order to begin your career as an electrical engineer, you will need to obtain at least a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, or EE, from an institution that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, or ABET. Some electrical engineering programs are offered through a separate school of engineering and require students to apply for entrance in addition to the college or university.

Classes like math, computer science, physics, basic engineering and statistics are common requirements for this field. Additionally, programs focus on the design of digital systems, differential equations and electrical circuit theory, among other things. Within the basic overview of electrical engineering, there are specific concentrations that students can choose to study:

  • Computer hardware: Specializing in computer hardware, or computer engineering, means a focus on software-hardware integration, essentially combining computer science and electrical systems. Computer engineers are often responsible for writing the software that makes systems run. Specializing in this field will lead to job opportunities as a hardware engineer or as a computer network architect.
  • Control systems: Most commonly referred to as electronic engineering, this specialty studies the electromagnetic circuits found within machines. In order to ensure that hardware and software systems work together, these engineers design and test the electrical components. If you specialize in this field, you could go on to work as a control engineer or as a sales engineer.
  • Power systems: Engineers that specialize in power systems are responsible for designing large-scale systems for residential, commercial and industrial use. They are in charge of making sure that power grids are functioning properly and that electrical systems avoid becoming overloaded. Students that specialize in this field go on to work as electrical plant-power distributors, substation electrical design engineers and transmission line engineers.
  • Communications: Those that specialize in communications study wireless networking, information theory, noise suppression, security and compression. In order to work in telecommunications, graduates will usually be required to pass state licensing exams, as well as an additional four years of work experience before being able to take the professional engineer exam. Electrical engineers that specialize in this field work as radio frequency engineers, electronic communications engineers and broadcast engineers.

Students have the option of pursuing a Bachelor of Engineering with a concentration in Electrical Engineering or a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. Though not a requirement to find work as an entry-level electrical engineer, pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree can aid in the advancement of a career in this field. Students pursuing a graduate degree can work toward a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering, a Master of Engineering or a Doctorate of Philosophy in Electrical Engineering.

2. Take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam

If you’d like to work in the utility field as an electrical engineer, you must first obtain licensing by passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. Applicants are required to have earned an electrical engineering degree from an ABET-accredited program. Students are able to take the FE exam immediately upon graduation. Once individuals have received a passing grade on the FE, they will receive the title of engineer-in-training, also called an EIT, or engineer intern, also known as an EI, until they decide to take and pass the Professional Engineer exam.

3. Get an entry-level position

Once you have your degree and licensing, you can then start applying for positions. There are several ways to advance in your career as an electrical engineer:

  • Through experience and accomplishments
  • By earning a master’s or doctorate degree
  • By taking the Professional Engineer exam

Though electrical engineers only need a bachelor’s degree to find work, they are expected to constantly be training and educating themselves on technological advancements.

4. Take the Professional Engineer exam (optional for advancement)

Before taking the Professional Engineer, or PE, exam, EITs must first have at least four years of pertinent job experience. Some states require that professional engineers maintain their licensing through continued education and training. This is, in large part, to ensure that engineers are staying up to date on any emerging technology.

SKILLS & CHARACTERISTICS OF A SUCCESSFUL ELECTRICAL ENGINEER

No two successful electrical engineers are exactly alike; and, as such, it is impossible to say definitively what character attributes an individual must possess in order to achieve success in this field. That being said, there are certain skills and abilities that will likely prove beneficial to anyone working as an electrical engineer in the future. O*NET OnLine and a resource sheet from the Virginia state government list these skills among those most characteristic of electrical engineers:

  • Understanding of electronics: Perhaps a defining characteristic of budding electronic engineers is interest in and familiarity with circuit boards, processors, chips, and electronic equipment, as well as transmission, broadcasting, switching, and control.
  • Knowledge of science, technology, and engineering-related subjects : Of course, in order to succeed an engineer must be well-versed in subjects related to electrical engineering, as well as science, technology, and various fields of math.
  • Knowledge of computers and design: Because electrical engineers will often find themselves utilizing computer design programs in the modern era, they should be comfortable with this type of technology and its application on their work.
  • Ability to solve complex problems: Engineers often excel at identifying problems, developing and evaluating options, and implementing solutions.
  • Foresight in relation to science: A skilled electrical engineer must be able to predict physical principles and laws and their applications and effects on the processes related to his or her work.

electrical engineer salary

Electrical engineers are well-paid for their work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual wage for electrical engineers was $91,410 in 2014. Engineers working in oil and gas extraction or wireless telecommunications earn particularly high salaries. The top 10 percent of all electrical engineers can earn more than $143,000 a year and engineers in the bottom 10 percent can expect to earn an average of $60,000 annually.

The highest earners are located in California, Alaska, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia and Washington state. The map below shows details of the 10th, 50th, and 90th percentile earners for each state.

Earning an electrical engineering degree online

For those unable to attend classes at a traditional university, earning a degree online can provide the necessary flexibility. There are plenty of online programs out there. It’s important to choose one that is beneficial for you. Here are some things to look for in an online electrical engineering program:

  • Access to online resources: The field of engineering is constantly growing and changing. Oftentimes, curriculum is unable to keep up with the ever-developing trends. When searching for an online program, make sure that the school offers access to current industry journals, engineering magazines and scientific articles.
  • Learning support for students: Electrical engineering programs require a number of courses in math and science. Many students deem it necessary to find tutors or study groups to navigate the complex information. The best online engineering programs will give students access to math and writing centers as well as live video tutoring.
  • Technological support: The nature of electrical engineering is rooted in technology. Therefore it only makes sense that truly effective online engineering programs would offer comprehensive technological support to their students, such as videos and interactive smartphone applications.
  • Program accreditation: In order to obtain professional engineering licensing, you will need to attend an ABET-accredited program. Accreditation also ensures that the program is able to accept and offer federal financial aid. Additionally, accredited programs are held to academic standards, meaning that you will receive a quality education.

how to become an electrical engineer without a degree

Follow these steps to become an engineer without having a degree:

1. Finish high school

Although becoming an engineer without a college degree is indeed possible, you still need to graduate high school to be on your way to an engineering career.

2. Work on specific engineering skills

Although various engineering specialties require different skillsets, there are some core skills that you need to have if you want to become an engineer. Some can be learned in high school, while others require separate research and study. The most important areas that you need to improve on are calculus, differential equations, physics, chemistry, circuits and instrumentation. You also need to learn specific information related to each engineering specialty.

3. Work on your soft skills

Engineering requires both hard and soft skills, so you should constantly work on improving traits like creativity, intellectual curiosity, leadership and teamwork.

4. Choose an engineering discipline that doesn’t require a degree

Although most engineering jobs favor applicants with engineering degrees, some areas of engineering make it easier for those with no degree to become engineers. Some of them are:

  • Mechanical engineering: If you want to become a mechanical engineer without having a degree in engineering, the solution is to find a low-level engineering-related job and then demonstrate work ethic and proficiency for several years. Although this may help you get into mechanical engineering, some employers may still require you to earn a degree at some point in time.
  • Civil engineering: Although it is a very hard field to enter without a degree, you can still become a civil engineer by working in the construction field and gradually rising in rank as you acquire new skills and demonstrate your qualities. However, due to the high level of responsibility that civil engineers are facing, promotions in the field tend to be relatively rare and the quickest way is still earning a degree.
  • Electrical engineering: This is one of the easiest engineering fields to access without having a degree, as it is largely based on experience and proficiency. Most aspects of electrical engineering can be learned through experience and the entire field values experimentation, making electrical engineering the easiest way for someone without a degree to become an engineer.

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