Life as an Electrical Engineering Student - Ask an Engineer | Part 2

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Welcome to Part Two of Ask an Engineer - College Edition. And here I'm going to continue answering all those questions that we have received about what life is like going to college as an electrical engineer and how it affects your life. So... moving on!

What does a day in the life of an engineering student look like?

Homework, class, confusion, whiteboards, engineering paper, crumpled up engineering paper, eraser, all over the place. Typically, as a typical engineering or college student, you're waking up around 10 o'clock, because you're staying up until two or three to do homework. You go to class, make it there barely on time. You're kind of bleary eyed through the class. You take notes, you think, "Oh, man, I need to spend some time working on this later so I can better understand these concepts." Then you go to your next class and think the exact same thing while you're taking those notes. And then you keep on moving over.

You start doing your homework and by the time you finished with that, you're a bit burned out and you think, "I really should go back and study and work on those things, but I just kind of want to watch some Netflix right now because I am tired." And then you do that for a while. That ends up taking you until about 10 or 11 o'clock at night and then you're like, holy cow, I haven't finished my homework yet. And so then you're scrambling to do your homework and then about three o'clock, four o'clock in the morning, you go back to bed. Rinse, repeat. That is what a day in the life of an engineering student looks like. If you're like me. Moving on!

What was your favorite class and why?

I found this really interesting because I enjoy embedded system, I enjoy the digital systems. The digital logic class was fascinating to me. I did not really like my semiconductor classes. It's just not something I'm passionate about. Intro to Electromagnetic Theory class really hurt. I really did not like that class.

But there are two components to it. And that's you have the subject material and you have the teachers, because one of my favorite teachers was a signal systems teacher. She was amazing. I really liked my microelectronics teacher. She was also awesome. And then my CMOS design teacher, he was fantastic. And none of those were really in my areas of interest. But I enjoyed the classes because the teachers really pushed me, they were really clear and I felt like I learned so much.

Whereas my digital logic and my embedded system, my microprocessors classes, those ones... the teachers weren't as strong and they were still nice, but they weren't as strong. So I don't feel like I got as much out of them. That's the challenge there. If you can find something that you're passionate about, and you have a great teacher, that is beautiful. That's exactly what you want. And good luck with that. It's a difficult thing to find. And so there's a little bit of self motivation that goes in there. Moving on.

How many years of schooling do you need to become an electrical engineer?

Depends on the school. Depends on the school, depends on the person. I was able to do it in four years. And that is because I started in calc one and I didn't fail any math classes. Looking at the curriculum at Boise State when I was an undergraduate, the only way you could graduate in four years was to do exactly that. Start in calculus one, don't fail any math, and then you could graduate in four years. If you started any earlier, just the way all of the classes lined up with the prerequisites, you could not graduate in four years.

So I was very fortunate in that I was able to graduate in four years, a lot of people I met took five years and some people even took six or seven years. And take your time. Don't worry about it. I mean, there's a lot of plans out there. But if you take five years, and just take one less class per semester and then are able to spend more time on your other classes to get a better understanding, I think that's going to help a lot more in the long run. There's no rush. Moving on.

What exactly does an electrical engineer do for work?

That is such a crazy question. You can go all over the place for that. My best friend from high school is an electrical engineer and he does power distribution systems. So all he does is work on power grids and things like that. And I don't even know exactly what he does. Other people, they are working on making it so each gate on a transistor is smaller so that they can fit more transistors into their microcontrollers or into their memory system, to make everything smaller and more dense. And then other people are designing hardware with embedded systems or they're doing the firmware for small embedded systems, or they're doing electronics.

I feel like I've had a non stereotypical career. Because the first several years straight out of college, I was working in the Navy and I was a Seabee or a CEC officer, where I worked doing facilities management and construction projects. Then I was a communications officer where I was over communications equipment, things like that. But I didn't really use my electrical engineering degree so much. And then once I got out of the Navy, I moved directly into more of the educational and marketing and training aspect of engineering where I do things like this. Either for ourselves like here at CircuitBread, or for clients. And so I don't have a whole lot of practical electrical engineering experience other than what I do at home as a hobby.

So all of this equipment that you see in the videos, these aren't props, and these typically aren't CircuitBread stuff. This is stuff that has been pulled from my office that I have accumulated so that I can still do the embedded system and electronics projects on the side. There's a lot of different things, robots, electric cars, power grids, test equipment. It's, it's awesome. So sky's the limit whatever you want to do. Moving on.

Wait, so electrical engineering is just witchcraft, right?

That is correct. I was talking to Sergey, a good friend of mine, also an electrical engineer, about this. And I was asking him about VHDL and digital logic systems, FPGAs. And he said, basically, an FPGA is just a magic black box and VHDL is just the spells that makes it do what you want. And that's basically how electrical engineering is in general. We do a lot of hand waving, back it up with some math, and it does what we want to do. We actually have a cauldron back over there, we get it out of the out of the camera shot so you can't see it. Because, you know, typically, we don't want people to realize that this is witchcraft but I'm letting you in on a secret. Moving on.

What is electrical engineering design?

Electrical Engineering design is another super broad question because it's basically doing any design work in the electrical engineering field. Now, you may think, "Well, don't all electrical engineers do design work?" and no. My current job, my position, what I do, I don't do design. There's a lot of engineers that do tests. And so their job is to run tests, and then extrapolate important information from that.

There are other engineers that are managers, other engineers that are quality assurance, which is basically just an offshoot of testing, but not every electrical engineer is going to be doing design. And actually, it's very uncommon for people to graduate and immediately go into design, because you need a little bit more understanding in your field before you're going to be making good design decisions. Again, that's a generalization. Some people do and they do fantastic, but it's not as common as I think a lot of potential and soon to be electrical engineers hope. Moving on.

After getting your degree, you were ready to build the next great tech gadget, right?

Yeah, yeah. So you go into college you do your senior design. And by the time you walk out, you think I know exactly what I'm doing. And I look back at my senior design project, it was such a great learning experience for me. And it taught me so many things. And one of the things that helped me learn was knowing what I didn't know.

I had an interview for a... man, this is embarrassing.... I had an interview for an internship between my sophomore and junior years. And I think I was doing pretty well during the interview up to this point, one of the guys that was giving me the interview, he's like, just joking around, "Yeah, you know, we know that you're going to be an intern. So it's not like we're expecting you to do a voltage, some sort of voltage regulation design in an hour and a half." And the funny thing is, I had just taken a test where that was one of the questions was to make a voltage (charge) pump. And I figured, hey, I did as one of my questions, in this test, I did a voltage pump. So yeah, I could do one in an hour and a half. And I made some sort of comment, like, "Yeah, yeah, that wouldn't be too unreasonable." And I remember the the interviewers, the look They gave me was one of, "Oh, this guy's an idiot. Okay, yeah..." I never got a callback for that internship. And the reality is, is because I had done a very non-practical design in and I didn't have to worry about power considerations, I didn't have to worry about cleanliness, I didn't have to worry about where the incoming voltage was coming from, I didn't have to worry about the clock that was going to be driving this. All those things were things that I didn't have to worry about on the test. But it gave me a false sense of... I know how to do this, I'm fine. And they could see that I was an idiot, and so they never called me back.

So after getting your degree is great, it's giving you a good foundation, and you are ready to take those next steps to becoming even more awesome. And there are very, very talented people out there. That's fantastic. I believe they're the exception. I know that I definitely did not fit into that area. And I think even now, working with some incredible engineers here at CircuitBread, we all have our areas of expertise, but if we were to create an actual project and do something which we have discussed, and we have done work towards in the past, there's a lot of things we still are learning about making things that are robust and inexpensive, and can withstand everything that the world is going to throw at it. So, take on the world, do what you can, try, because the only way you're going to learn is by doing things. And by studying, you're never going to be make the next great gadget by just sitting around and thinking about it. So go do something amazing. Moving on.

What is that cool stamp / seal that you get as an engineer?

Okay, so that goes into professional engineering, and in the United States to... and I'm not so sure about the legal jargon here.. but to call yourself an actual engineer, you need to be licensed as a professional engineer. You can say, I got my electrical engineering degree, but you can't say, "I am an electrical engineer" legally, even though, of course, tons of people do. But this is basically this program that is set up to make sure that people who make stamps on drawings for houses or buildings or whatever, they actually know what they're talking about. And so that's something where you need at least four years of experience under a licensed professional engineer. And then you have to take a test. And you have to get a bunch of people making recommendations, things like that.

I did it, it was painful. I did it while I was in the Navy, which really helped because as part of the CEC officer program, you need to get your professional engineering license to keep on promoting. The test was pretty brutal. It's an eight hour test, it was a lot more theoretical, then it... was the the first test you have to take right after you graduate to get your fundamentals of engineering, which basically just says, I'm going to try to become a professional engineer. That one was a lot more technical, a lot more math, whereas the professional engineering license for me was a lot more theory. Now, that was six years ago or something like that. So things may have changed. But if you want to stamp any drawings, if you want to work for construction firm as an electrical engineer, then it's super important.

The majority of electrical engineers do not need the stamp, it's not a requirement for a lot of jobs. I've heard that some people even kind of discourage it, because they look at it as well... You don't need that here. So if you get that, does that mean that you're leaving us? And they look at it as a bit of disloyalty. I don't know how true that is. But I've heard that said. I've only used my stamp once. And I since I'm licensed in California and live in Idaho, I could only use that one stamp for reviewing a design change for a solar panel installation for my brother-in-law. Other than that, I've never used my stamp. I use the little thing more to hold down circuit boards that are kind of wobbly, hold them down so that I can solder them better. I use that all the time for that. And as an actual stamp, very rarely. Moving on.

Was becoming an electrical engineer worth the agony?

The agony! Yeah, yeah. And everybody's different. For me, I've enjoyed being an electrical engineer. There's a lot of other things that catch my interest. But for me knowing everything, knowing so much more about science and circuits... it feels just empowering. And I love it. And I love sharing it. And it's just been fantastic. I think it's really helped me in my career. In everything that I've done since I graduated, I couldn't have done without my degree. And for the most part, I've really enjoyed what I've done as part of my career. So for me, personally, yeah, it was worth it. And it's just fascinating and awesome. And again, empowering and then... "Ah... you want me to build this? I can! May not be very good, but I can do it." For you? I have no idea. Good luck.


Okay, and that's the last of the questions. I hope that my views on these questions were interesting and entertaining. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below here on YouTube or go over to our website, CircuitBread.com and put some comments there or reach out to us. We like working with people, we are very passionate about electrical engineering and electronics. So if there's anything we can do to help you out, we would love to know what that is. And we'll see you in the next one.

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