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What Is Electrical Engineering?
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Leah Thomas
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What Is Electrical Engineering? 

Electrical engineers are in the career company of Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, the creators of the induction motor and the light bulb, respectively (but you already knew that!) Electrical engineers work with the technology of electricity — from small engines to electric cars to power station generators. 

Electrical engineers comprise one of the newer areas of engineering, due to the more recent innovation of electricity. The field began in the late 19th century. Electrical engineers have helped to make electricity and technology more accessible for all. They’ve brought power to office spaces, schools, sports arenas and individual homes, which we can all be thankful for!

This type of engineer designs, develops and tests electrical machinery. Electrical engineers can work on global positioning systems or broadcast technology or microchips. These engineers also supervise the creation of the products to ensure efficiency and safety. They complete all testing on safety, durability and reliability.

Basically, every technological device you use on a daily basis — from your bedroom light to your laptop — can be traced back to an electrical engineer. 

What qualifications do you need to be an electrical engineer?

One can obtain a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, but some companies may require you also have a Master’s degree in the subject. There are also certifications related to specializations in the field that you can seek, but not all companies or positions require you have them.

Different employers will require different prerequisites when applying for an electrical engineering position. Certain employers may require that a potential employee has completed a co-op with a similar company that worked on similar projects, or at least shared the same industry. Other employers may simply want job shadowing experience or a college internship for credit. And others may just want to see you completed an engineering degree. 

Electrical engineers will study physics, electromagnetism, chemistry and more in school. And electrical engineers can choose a specialization within engineering. Specializations may include:

  • Bioengineering
  • Microelectronics 
  • Signal processing
  • Communication
  • Control systems
  • Microelectronics/photonics
  • Instrumentation
  • Computers
  • Remote sensing and space science, and more!

What skills do you need?

1. Mathematics

Electrical engineers must be skilled in mathematics, including calculus, chemistry, statistics, computer science and especially physics. These are skills that are not just necessary in school, but are also applied outside the classroom in the real world. 

2. Coding

Coding sounds a lot more frightening than it actually is. Electrical engineering students learn to code in school, and they apply these skills in the field. They use coding when designing and working on certain projects. Most electrical engineers will tell you that you need an above average understanding of C/C++ for embedded systems and MATLAB for equations. 

3. Problem Solving

Problem solving is a highly applicable skill in most fields, but especially in electrical engineering. This type of engineer works to assess a situation, identify a specific problem and draft the best solution. And the issues electrical engineers are working to fix could be deadly if not fixed correctly. Often, identifying and choosing the proper solution is not easy, but having creative problem solving skills can and will help.

4. Time Management

Another highly applicable skill, time management is very important in electrical engineering. Electrical engineers must be highly organized in order to complete certain projects by certain deadlines — they must also be able to prioritize their time. They have to decide which issues can wait and which ones are dire. 

5. Electrical Measurements

Electrical engineers must be able to read and understand electrical instruments on a daily basis. While testing electrical currents, electrical engineers note how much electrical current is necessary for making a circuit work — and the wrong amount could be devastating. 

6. Understanding Circuit Structure and Design

In a similar vein as electrical measurements, these type of engineers must understand the ins-and-outs of circuits. Circuit structure and design is a basic skill, one of the first things an electrical engineering student will become educated on. As it is the foundation of the field and the introduction to many additional skills. 

What is the average salary of an electrical engineer?

The average salary of an electrical engineer is $73,441, according to Payscale. On the lower end, electrical engineers make around $56,000, and on the higher end, $108,000. 

The salary of electrical engineers can increase or decrease depending on where one lives — bigger cities tend to yield higher average salaries. And the average salary increases with one’s level of education, i.e. an electrical engineer with a Master’s degree is likely to make more money than an electrical engineer with a Bachelor’s degree. 

Electrical engineers can also make more or less depending on their specialization and company. These engineer at the Boeing Company make, on average, $78,307. The same type of engineers at Lockheed Martin Corp make $69,142, and $86,674 at Intel Corporation, according to Payscale. 

What is the future for electrical engineering?

In the year 2016, a significant number of electrical engineers with electrical engineering jobs existed in the United States: 324,600, to be exact. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in electrical engineering are projected to grow by seven percent until the year 2026. While this may sound promising, this is a slower growth than the field has previously experienced. But 21,300 more electrical engineering jobs are expected to be added in the next eight years. 

While electrical engineers will be necessary as long as we continue to use electricity, the field is beginning to shift away from the classic specialization of manufacturing. Electrical engineers must be careful when choosing their specialization, as the areas experiencing the most growth involve computer systems and design. In this specialization, electrical engineers use electronics such as GPS’s, computers, cellular devices and more that use innovative means to solve a problem our current means of electronics have not yet solved. 

Certain states are expected to experience more growth in this industry than others as well. Until the year 2026, the states that will have the most electrical engineering job growth are, from most to least growth: Colorado, North Dakota, Montana, Texas, Georgia, Utah, Kentucky, Oregon, and Rhode Island. 

Women in Engineering

Women account for a significantly lower percentage of people involved in STEM careers. STEM careers include those jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In 2016, women made up just 25.2 percent of computer and mathematical positions, and just 14 percent of full-time and salary positions in architecture and engineering, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

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