Electrical Engineering Jobs and Careers - Ask an Engineer | Part 1

Published

Welcome to Ask an Engineer where we are going to talk about jobs, this time. Careers, electrical engineering jobs and careers, things like that. And so in this, basically, we have a bunch of questions that have been compiled, asking what I think about different things about jobs. Let's get into this and start with the first question.

Let's talk cold, hard cash. How much do electrical engineers make?

Excellent question. I don't know. Next question. Just kidding! No, it really truly does depend. I mean, electrical engineers, it depends on what you're doing. On your experience. It depends on what your education is, what you're making as a bachelor's degree versus a PhD, things like that. If you've been doing it for two years, if you've been doing it for 20 years, it really, really depends.

Now, these statistics are out there and they can show you exactly what the average is. I think, as of now, it's probably in the upper 60s of thousands. 68K-70K, that might be straight out of college. I don't know. When I got straight out of college I made more than I make currently and that doesn't mean that I made a lot right then. But it means that I don't make very much now. And that was a purposeful career choice. And I decided I would much rather do fun things like CircuitBread, rather than make a ton of money.

Eventually, I'd love to make a ton of money, we'll see what happens! But some people, they get straight out of college and they're making 80 to 100 thousand dollars. I have had job offers for different jobs that have been over $100,000. But that, that usually means you're going to be working somewhere where it's not as pleasant, like California. Sorry. If you want to live somewhere up here in Idaho where our cost of living is lower, you don't need to make as much money to have a nice life.

One thing that I can say is that as an electrical engineer, you typically make more money than non-electrical engineers, you're not going to make as much as a lawyer or a doctor or something like that. But unless you do something really dumb, you should at least have a comfortable life. Moving on.

What are some example responsibilities and electrical engineer has?

Again, this goes back to where you are in your career. When you first come in, and you're straight out of college? They're probably going to say, "Okay, sit here. Review some stuff and don't do anything that isn't first approved by somebody else that looks at it and double checks your work." And then once you develop some more skills, and you get better at what you do, they're going to give you more responsibilities. And they're going to make it so you can design this project and do more overarching strategic planning versus "Hey, let's design this one RLC circuit and figure out R & L & C so that we can have the right resonant frequency without burning too much power." And then it'll later be, "Hey, we want you to design the power section of the circuit," or "We want you to design this entire product," but it really does depend.

And some people, they will go one route where they are getting more and more technical, and they're just getting more just deeper into what they know. And they lose their ability to take showers and to communicate with normal human beings but they're just amazing at what they do. And then other people, they go more the managerial route where they'll get decent at what they do, but they have more social skills more the ability to plan and make strategies, and they'll go that direction. And so there are those two different career paths. And I'm sorry if I offended anybody by saying that you forget to take showers if you become more of an electrical engineer, but we do have a stereotype. Let's be honest with ourselves. Moving on.

What does a day in the life of an electrical engineer look like?

Wow, these questions and they're so variable on what you do. Some people, they probably wake up on a boat somewhere. And they're bobbing along in the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean, and they are getting out their laptops and they're making sure that their underwater submersibles are working properly, and they're getting doused with salt water and it's cold and they're getting seasick. Whereas other people, they wake up, they drive five minutes, they sit in a cubicle all day and are looking at some sort of CAD program and they click click, click, answer email, click... it could be anything.

It's all over the place. I remember before I decided to become an electrical engineer, I was talking to my brother, who is a system administrator, so he's on the computer side of things. And I basically said, I want to be an electrical engineer because I don't want to just sit at a computer all the time, I want to be at a lab or I want to be moving around and be out in the real world. And he looked at me and he said, all of the electrical engineers I know, they just sit at a computer and type reports and run simulations and do things like that. Now, he worked for a large memory manufacturer, and he being a network system administrator type person, he probably only worked with people that he saw that were doing that sort of stuff.

Other people, they're going to be on their feet all day in the fab doing, who knows whatever the heck they're doing. And it goes back to what interests you. What are you passionate about? Where do you want to live? That's why people love Silicon Valley, you go to Silicon Valley down there and you can do whatever you want. There are so many different job opportunities over there. But then it also costs literally 10 times as much to live there as it does here in Boise in terms of buying a house. So, tradeoffs. Moving on.

How prepared were you for an electrical engineering job when you got out of school?

This is an interesting and challenging question. Because for me, I think I was different than most people. As soon as I graduated, I went directly into OCS and became a naval officer as a CEC, or Civil Engineer Corps officer. Now, Civil Engineer Corps. Why would I do that as an electrical engineer? Well, they take other people, non-civil engineers, but it has a lot to do with building infrastructure. And so my very first job when I did that, I was stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, and I did facilities management and I did construction management engineer.

I was the project management engineering branch head for a little while. And all of that had to do with construction, facilities management, all of those sorts of things. And it was a lot of civil and mechanical work, pouring concrete, working on HVAC systems, working on dry docks, just all sorts of random weird things. And frankly, I used almost nothing of my electrical engineering degree, specifically. However, a lot of the things I learned in terms of troubleshooting in terms of math in terms of thinking critically about problems that my construction management engineers had or that the ET's had, and being able to provide them feedback in something that was more than just... uhhh... uhh, I don't know.

Do whatever you think is great. Overall, engineering helped me. But I feel like I'm an exception. A lot of people when they graduate with their electrical engineering degree, they're going to do something that's more specifically electrical engineering. And even then it's going to depend because... for example, here at Boise State University because of Micron, we are very semiconductors focused in that education. And while there are other classes available, there's a lot more on that circuit and semiconductor design side, then there is, let's say, embedded systems or robotics. And so if your first job is robotics, and then you've been going to a school where the majority of your classes were about microelectronics, you're probably not going to be as well suited as you would like to be.

So find your passion. Take whatever your classes that you can that fit that passion and then go find a job that you're passionate about. And then you're going to love your career. Moving on.

As an electrical engineer, what annoying thing to friends and family asked you to help them with?

I think the biggest thing is - fix my computer. As an electrical engineer theoretically, even though I couldn't do it, I could tell you the theory and the general processes of how to build a computer better than I can resolve why Windows is not able to find your printer. That kind of drives me crazy.

And another thing is an electrical engineer and an electrician are similar in that they both deal with electricity. But that's about it. Electricians are actually surprisingly awesome in the rules that they know. So whenever I'm doing electrical work on my house, there are times I just, I think, Well, I'm not getting power here. I'm getting power there. What, what is going on here?

This doesn't make sense, but then working with my father-in-law who has been doing construction and just has been in that field for decades, he can come in and say, Oh, yeah, well, you have to have two circuits in here, because that's the code. And so that's why you're getting power there, but not there. And this is probably... you should find the problem over there. And things I would have never thought of, because as an electrical engineer, I don't know the code.

I don't know why they make the decisions they make. But at the same time, as an electrician, they don't know the underlying mechanics and the physics behind it. So I think those are the two biggest things that bug me is thinking that I'm an electrician, and thinking that I, for some reason, wouldn't know how to fix a computer better than your random other person. Okay, next question.

What are some of the most important skills to have as an electrical engineer?

You know, the first thing you're going to expect me to say is math. And that's true. Math is hugely important as an electrical engineer. What I think I'm going to surprise you with my second highest thing and that is the ability to interact with other human beings. You need to talk to people in your career, whether that's via email, face to face, meetings, notes, writing technical documents, communication is critical in electrical engineering. And the ability to interact and be able to actually have an exchange where somebody doesn't think you're crazy or mean or a jerk or whatever afterwards is hugely important. Because you could need resources, and due to the internal politics of basically any semi-decently large organization, you may miss out on opportunities because people just flat out don't like you.

Now, I wish we were all professional enough that that weren't the case. But there are some times it's like, I don't want to work with that person. He's obnoxious. Even if he is right, he's annoying, and I just don't want to deal with him. So it is so important to not overlook the social aspect, the ability to communicate with other human beings as an electrical engineer, the math, the ability to solve circuits and to come up with innovative ideas. That is all fantastic and also extremely important. But I think that we frequently forget how important it is to be able to interact with others, because we're so focused on those two things. I hope I caught you by surprise. And I hope you trust me on this one. I'm serious. It's important. Moving on.

What should you focus on when creating your resume?

I think you should focus on asking somebody who is an expert at creating resumes. That is not my focus. I am not very good at creating resumes. If I were to go look for another job, I would probably go find either a local or an online resource to help me put together my resume, where these people who've been doing it, it's been their focus, they're experts at it. Just as we're going to be experts at electrical engineering, they're going to be experts at creating resumes. That would be my focus is finding somebody who knows what they're talking about. Moving on.

How do you prepare for an electrical engineering interview?

I think the best way to prepare for an electrical engineering interview is to actually learn what you're supposed to in college. I would love to give you a quick glib answer of, "Oh, yes, study this one thing or get a good night's rest." Something like that. The best way to prepare for an electrical engineering interview is to do well and to be passionate about what you want to do. And if you're going to go in for a job interview designing digital systems, make sure that you actually learned digital systems in college. And if you didn't, then why are you looking for a job doing that?

What was your focus in college? What did you actually find interesting and passionate and that you totally learned, because that's what you should be doing. For me, I am never going to go out and find an antenna design job. I did poorly in that in school, it was a huge struggle for me. And I did not like it. And so I'm not going to go out because the first time they say, "Hey, so what do you think about this half dipole antenna?" I would say, "Excuse me, I'm leaving." And that I would just completely embarrass myself. So figure out what you like, get good at what you like, get a job and what you like.


Okay, we've got too many questions again. We're going to cut this off right now for the Ask an Engineer - Job series will come back in a little bit to finish up the rest of the questions. If this has been interesting or useful, please let us know. If you have any additional questions for us, leave them in the comments below or to our Youtube channel and don't forget to subscribe! We'll see you in the next video.

Make Bread with our CircuitBread Toaster!

Get the latest tools and tutorials, fresh from the toaster.

What are you looking for?