Everything you need to know about Electrical Engineering

Everything you need to know about Electrical Engineering

Everything you need to know about Electrical Engineering
Everything you need to know about Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineering is an engineering discipline concerned with the study, design and application of equipment, devices and systems which use electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism. It emerged as an identifiable occupation in the latter half of the 19th century after commercialization of the electric telegraph, the telephone, and electrical power generation, distribution and use. 

Electrical engineering is now divided into a wide range of fields, including computer engineering, power engineering, telecommunications, radio-frequency engineering, signal processing, instrumentation, and electronics. Many of these disciplines overlap with other engineering branches, spanning a huge number of specializations including hardware engineering, power electronics, electromagnetics and waves, microwave engineering, nanotechnology, electrochemistry, renewable energies, mechatronics, and electrical materials science. See glossary of electrical and electronics engineering. 

Electrical engineers typically hold a degree in electrical engineering or electronic engineering. Practising engineers may have professional certification and be members of a professional body or an international standards organization. These include the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) (formerly the IEE). The IEC prepares international standards for electrical engineering, developed through consensus, thanks to the work of 20,000 electrotechnical experts, coming from 172 countries worldwide. 

Electrical engineers work in a very wide range of industries and the skills required are likewise variable. These range from circuit theory to the management skills of a project manager. The tools and equipment that an individual engineer may need are similarly variable, ranging from a simple voltmeter to a top end analyzer to sophisticated design and manufacturing software.

What does an electrical engineer do?

"Electrical engineers design, develop, test and supervise the manufacturing of electrical equipment, such as electric motors, radar and navigation systems, communications systems and power generation equipment, states the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Electronics engineers design and develop electronic equipment, such as broadcast and communications systems — from portable music players to global positioning systems (GPS)."

If it's a practical, real-world device that produces, conducts or uses electricity, in all likelihood, it was designed by an electrical engineer. Additionally, engineers may conduct or write the specifications for destructive or nondestructive testing of the performance, reliability and long-term durability of devices and components. 

Today’s electrical engineers design electrical devices and systems using basic components such as conductors, coils, magnets, batteries, switches, resistors, capacitors, inductors, diodes and transistors. Nearly all electrical and electronic devices, from the generators at an electric power plant to the microprocessors in your phone, use these few basic components. 

Critical skills needed in electrical engineering include an in-depth understanding of electrical and electronic theory, mathematics and materials. This knowledge allows engineers to design circuits to perform specific functions and meet requirements for safety, reliability and energy efficiency, and to predict how they will behave, before a hardware design is implemented. Sometimes, though, circuits are constructed on "breadboards," or prototype circuit boards made on computer numeric controlled (CNC) machines for testing before they are put into production. 

Electrical engineers are increasingly relying on computer-aided design (CAD) systems to create schematics and lay out circuits. They also use computers to simulate how electrical devices and systems will function. Computer simulations can be used to model a national power grid or a microprocessor; therefore, proficiency with computers is essential for electrical engineers. In addition to speeding up the process of drafting schematics, printed circuit board (PCB) layouts and blueprints for electrical and electronic devices, CAD systems allow for quick and easy modifications of designs and rapid prototyping using CNC machines. A comprehensive list of necessary skills and abilities for electrical and electronics engineers can be found at MyMajors.com. 

Electrical engineering jobs and salaries

Electrical and electronics engineers work primarily in research and development industries, engineering services firms, manufacturing and the federal government, according to the BLS. They generally work indoors, in offices, but they may have to visit sites to observe a problem or a piece of complex equipment, the BLS says.

Manufacturing industries that employ electrical engineers include automotive, marine, railroad, aerospace, defense, consumer electronics, commercial construction, lighting, computers and components, telecommunications and traffic control. Government institutions that employ electrical engineers include transportation departments, national laboratories and the military. 

Most electrical engineering jobs require at least a bachelor's degree in engineering. Many employers, particularly those that offer engineering consulting services, also require state certification as a Professional Engineer. Additionally, many employers require certification from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) or the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). A master's degree is often required for promotion to management, and ongoing education and training are needed to keep up with advances in technology, testing equipment, computer hardware and software, and government regulations. 

As of July 2020, the salary range for a newly graduated electrical engineer with a bachelor's degree is $55,570 to $73,908, according to Salary.com. The range for a mid-level engineer with a master's degree and five to 10 years of experience is $$74,007 to $108,640, and the range for a senior engineer with a master's or doctorate and more than 15 years of experience is $97,434 to $138,296. Many experienced engineers with advanced degrees are promoted to management positions or start their own businesses where they can earn even more. 

The future of electrical engineering

Employment of electrical and electronics engineers is projected to grow by 4 percent between now and 2022, because of these professionals' "versatility in developing and applying emerging technologies," the BLS says.

The applications for these emerging technologies include studying red electrical flashes, called sprites, which hover above some thunderstorms. Victor Pasko, an electrical engineer at Penn State, and his colleagues have developed a model for how the strange lightning evolves and disappears. 

Another electrical engineer, Andrea Alù, of the University of Texas at Austin, is studying sound waves and has developed a one-way sound machine. "I can listen to you, but you cannot detect me back; you cannot hear my presence," Alù told LiveScience in a 2014 article.

And Michel Maharbiz, an electrical engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, is exploring ways to communicate with the brain wirelessly.

The BLS states, "The rapid pace of technological innovation and development will likely drive demand for electrical and electronics engineers in research and development, an area in which engineering expertise will be needed to develop distribution systems related to new technologies."

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