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Life as an Electrical Engineering Student - Ask an Engineer | Part 1


Welcome to Ask an Engineer, a series where non-engineers ask an engineer something we think that we might know the answer to. In this particular episode, we're going to be talking about the college experience. So this is probably more specifically for non-engineers who wants to change that and become engineers. This is going to be my opinion and my viewpoint. So yours might be completely different. Okay, so let's jump right into this.

Why choose electrical engineering over other engineering majors?

The easiest and most straightforward answer to this is that electrical engineers are the best. Now, that might might sound egotistical. And the fact is that it is. So, basically the joke is, is that mechanical engineers are electrical engineers that couldn't cut it and civil engineers are mechanical engineers that couldn't cut it.

In all reality, that is just a joke. I think it's interesting, my background, I actually worked with a lot of civil engineers when I got straight out of college. And so I was one of the few electrical engineers and it gave me a lot more interesting perspective on how everything works.

Electrical engineering for me, the reason why it is the best is because it's the one that interested me the most. It allowed me to do those things that I thought were most fascinating. The the ability to create things that had intelligence and were able to respond to their environment. And don't get me wrong. I've worked on several projects. I've worked on mechanical projects when I was in the Navy. And those were interesting. I felt like you're doing important things I mean, civil projects, that's how you drive around, you build bridges, you're making it so people can drink clean water. And that is great, fantastic work.

Mechanical projects, those are super important as well that was working with HVAC systems, designing cars, a lot of those sorts of things. So really what it comes down to, all kidding aside, and making fun of people, even if there's just a kernel of truth in those jokes, electrical engineering is what I was passionate about and if that's what you're passionate about - the ability to... even if its power distribution, which does not interest me that is what you think is wow, that's fantastic.

I enjoy more of this small systems, I don't like anything above 120 volts and I like the idea of creating robots or or small interesting Embedded Systems because that's just what's interesting to me. So why choose electrical engineering over other engineering majors? Because that's what you're interested in. Next question.

Why does everyone say studying electrical engineering is so hard?

Is it just the math? No, the math is a huge part of it. Math makes things more complicated. Now, I know a lot of engineers that went in, like, I'm good at math, I should be engineer. And that's fantastic. I was not one of those engineers. And so the math for me was always a challenge.

I think one of the things about electrical engineering in particular, is with civil engineering and mechanical engineering, you can see what you're doing. It makes more sense intuitively, whereas with electrical engineering, there's a lot of hand waving. And it's something where it took me years to understand current and voltage to a very intuitive sense where it just kind of clicks to me for the longest time is more of a just a mathematical model, or it's a "Oh, well, there's that resistance." And I'd have to think that voltage, let me do the math here really quick. Okay. Whereas now I can just look at it and think, yeah, it should be something like that. And that just took a couple of years to do intuitively.

Now, that's also something material science engineers, nuclear engineers, they're gonna have the same problem of it's not going to be something visible that they can see. And that's probably going to be the challenge for them as well. But particularly with electrical engineers, it's a challenge because you can't see it. It's not intuitive. You start hearing things about imaginary numbers, you start hearing about negative frequencies. I still don't understand how in the world and negative frequency works, because one over the period, how do you have a negative period because... it's just a challenge.

So that to me is just as challenging as the math. For me, those were equally challenging, the understanding intuitively what's going on and the math but if you have a great grasp of the math probably will help the other stuff be a little bit easier, because you can focus on that more. Next question.

Do you have to be naturally good at math?

No, no, no, it it helps. Oh, boy. It definitely helps. But you don't have to naturally be good at it because I am not naturally good at it. It's almost a sliding scale where... there's a cut off, and if you are below that ability in math, it probably just isn't going to work out for you.

Now where that line is? I don't know, I knew somebody I saw him when I was a freshman, and then I saw him again as a senior. And I saw him, "Hey, how you doing? It's been so long." Found out he had taken every single math class three times and only passed the math class on the third attempt for all the calc one, calculus two, calculus three, differential equations, all of that sort of stuff. So here I was, in my last semester ready to graduate, and he was plugging away. He was still doing it. And, and kudos to him, because oh, my goodness, I wouldn't have had that much patience.

But even though he wasn't naturally good at math, he was still plugging away at it and being good and probably having done it so many more times, I would hope that he has an even better intuitive understanding, and a better mechanical understanding of how all of the the math works. And so long story short, it's not necessary, but it helps. Moving on.

What is the square root of two to the negative nine plus three to the third power?

So the square root of two is 1.4. To the negative nine, I don't.... That's 1.4 over... Moving on!

What are some examples of courses you take in college?

So in college as an undergrad, you have to take a wide variety of classes. Communications, English, obviously a lot of math if you're gonna be an engineer, and then your engineering courses. So some people do it forward/backwards. The way I did it, I actually did most of my engineering classes in math classes up in the front. And then my last two to three semesters were a lot of history and I think I did a military fitness class because I knew I was going into the Navy and I am not a fit person, and things like that. But there's a wide variety of classes that you have to take.

Now, particularly the engineering classes as an undergraduate they're trying to make you have a broad understanding of electrical engineering, not a deep understanding. If you're going deep, that's where you get into your master's degree and things like that. And that's where you focus more on one thing, but people think, "Oh, electrical engineering great! He wants to be an electrical engineer." But once you get into it, there are a lot of different sub fields. And they're very tenuously related between the different types of electrical engineering, you have RF and microwave design, which is something that I'm not very good at, you have your embedded systems, which is more of your microcontrollers, and your electronics, and your circuit design, and your microelectronics, which is basically your semiconductor devices. And then there's a lot of other stuff that I'm not mentioning here.

But all of these things, you can get your PhD on and spend an entire career on these tiny, little things. So it could be all over the place, from circuits to embedded systems to microwave design, whatever, there's a lot. Moving on!

What are some of the best electrical engineering schools in the world?

I do not feel like I am qualified to answer this question because I have not done a thorough review. But I will go back to the one that my answer would be, it is the one that you can go to. Somebody like me, I got decent grades in high school, I was relatively intelligent. I still don't think I would have made it into MIT or that one down in California that's also known for being all hoity toity and super smart. I don't think I would have made it into those.

However, I went to Boise State University, it was relatively close to where I grew up, it was in-state tuition. And they had a good solid program, one that I could afford to go to and one that I was able to actually physically go to and learn everything I needed to. Now would I have become a better engineer going to a more prestigious school? Probably. But if I couldn't have made it to that, then if it were between that and working at a fast food restaurant, I'm glad that I went to Boise State because I feel like it prepared me and got me ready for my career, and gave me all the tools that I needed.

So, while I'm sure there are magazines and websites dedicated to the best electrical engineering schools in the world, I'm going to stick with mine that it's whichever one you can go to and that you can take advantage of it. If you are passionate enough, you will be able to learn as much as you need to. If you're not passionate enough, even the best schools will not change that. Moving on.

Is it important to go to prestigious school?

No. Moving on.

How feasible is it to work part time and go to go to school full time?

Oh, that's a challenge. It really depends on you and your class load and basically... if you have that drive and are able to balance things. I read an article a couple years ago that said that people that worked a little bit and paid for a little bit of their school did the best. Because they weren't working so much that it detracted from their studies, but they had to invest enough in their education that they saw the value of it.

But in general, it really has to go down to you and what you can handle. I'm auditing a class right now. And yesterday, we were in class. And I was talking to the professor afterward and she said, Ah, there's this one gentleman. He couldn't come to class today because he was he had to work and he has to pay his bills. And so that was affecting his ability to go to school and to learn, and that's unfortunate.

When I did my MBA, not engineering related, it was an online, whenever you can, you just had to get assignments. done by certain times of the day, and I was working full time, and I just did it at night. And it didn't really affect things. And so I was able to go to school full time and work full time. But if I had been required to go to multiple classes during the week, and still go to work and pull all that off, I don't think I could have.

So just look at yourself giving a realistic overview of yourself. How motivated am I? Am I going to be able to figure this out? And if you're not, it's probably better to be realistic and take a little bit more time going to school, maybe add on another semester to and take less classes rather than failing and getting demotivated and just wasting money, and still taking that long anyway. So it's really a personal question. Moving on.

Does being an electrical engineer help you with the ladies in my personal experience?

Yes, my wife told me specifically....

So this is running a bit long. I think we're going to cut it off right here and we're going to come back later and do the second part of Ask an Engineer college edition. If this has been interesting or useful, 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! Take care. We'll see you in the next video.

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