Advice for beginning EE career

Discussion in 'Career Advising' started by Comet, Jul 9, 2014.

  1. Comet

    Thread Starter New Member

    Jul 9, 2014

    I am studying for a bachelors degree in electrical engineering. It seems like my interests don't match up with my skills and what I actually enjoy doing. I have always been interested in infrastructure, much more so than high-tech stuff or consumer electronics. However, I am bored with my job as a summer intern at an electric utility. My coworkers are very bright and I have learned a lot, but I am not seeing much work that I would like doing.

    If I am going to sit at a desk all day, I think I would rather be writing code than pushing paper and doing simple Excel calculations. My math and programming skills are very good (at least compared to my classmates) and I haven't seen much work at my current employer with that kind of technical challenge, even for more senior engineers.

    Alternatively, I could also enjoy a job with more opportunity to work hands-on and on my feet, maybe outdoors. I've done some reading about railroad signalling equipment; what does it take to work as a signal maintainer?

    I have taken classes in circuit analysis/lab, digital logic design, microcontrollers, etc.

    Possible solution:

    Controls engineering seems like a compromise between the power and computer sides of EE. All the controls courses at my university are very mathematical / theoretical. That's fine with me, but the employers I've talked to ask for experience with more hands-on content (PLC programming, etc.) that isn't offered here. Are these classes still worthwhile? Is there inexpensive equipment I can purchase to gain practical experience?

    Sorry if I posted this in the wrong place. Comments of any kind are appreciated.
  2. Lestraveled

    Well-Known Member

    May 19, 2014
    This the kind of question does not require an answer, it requires us to give insight that we have learned while living our own careers.

    - Right now you are learning, so learn as much as you can. Get use to it, you will be learning for the rest of your life. So, learn how to learn quickly.

    - Get a degree, but do not let college interfere with your education.

    - Personal strength, perseverance and integrity are more important than ohms law.

    - Speak truthfully about what you can do, what you can't do, and what you want to do. This works in electronics and in your personal life.

    - Take risks, learn how to deal with risk. You learn and grow so much more when your ass is on the line. This is the big difference between a fun, exciting and colorful career and working at.................something else.

    You have no idea where your life will lead you, just be ready for it from the inside out.

    Chalma likes this.
  3. crutschow


    Mar 14, 2008
    If you are interested in controls engineering then you might like a job in some type of large manufacturing facility that uses a lot of automation (such as automotive assembly, food processing, etc.). Such a job requires programming skills as well as understanding control theory and control hardware. If you've ever seen an automated assembly line in operation, you will know what I mean.

    I think another interesting area involving control systems, is automation such as autonomous vehicles and robots.

    Anyone, that's a couple ideas to consider.

    Theoretical courses in control system are useful since they give you the foundation for understanding the subject. For more practical understanding you can look at real systems, such as PLC control computers and learn the programming language. Many of those languages can be run on a standard PC and they are likely many tutorials for them on the web.

    Another type of control programming language that may be useful to learn is Fuzzy Logic. It has the apparent ability to more readily control non-linear systems (or systems with non-linearities in them as many real systems have) as compared to using standard linear theory PID controllers.
  4. tracecom

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 16, 2010
    I don't have an EE but I have college degrees, and the problem that you have observed applies to some extent across all courses of study, i.e., lots of theory and too little real world experience. This is partly because many of the profs, curriculum developers, and textbook writers don't have any real world experience.

    Your implied suggestion to get hands-on experience on your own is the best answer. As to cost, there are ways to cut costs, but remember that your college education is expensive, and spending on "extracurricular lab work" can produce results that aid your classwork and your job search.

    One of the moderators here, Georacer, has done just that. I hope he will post a reply to your post.
    Chalma likes this.
  5. shakilabanu


    Jul 8, 2014
    There is plenty of scope for an electrical engineer in infrastructure and other hands on jobs, so its best to stay the course right now...

    from my experience of working with engineering students... you seem to be facing the same thing that most students face. Many students take up engineering with all the practical possibilities in mind and by the second year or so into the program....they feel that all they are doing is theory and maths and they are kind of disappointed... I assume the same is the case with you.
  6. sirch2

    Senior Member

    Jan 21, 2013
    I don't know about the US but certainly in the UK the hands-on jobs are often done by crafts people and no one is going to pay graduate rates for craft work - such as maintaining a signaling system or a factory control system. In fact most UK employers wouldn't even hire a graduate for such work because they would assume that you would get bored. Graduate level jobs are either in design or management, both of which involve a lot of riding a desk.

    Like a lot of engineers, I really like the hands-on stuff and I used to work in construction, which was OK as a new graduate, lots of time on site, etc. But it soon became clear that my future was going to be in management if I wanted progress and I didn't want that, so I developed a career in programming. Computer programming is probably one of the very few jobs where you get to design, build and deliver a system end-to-end. It's still a desk job but at least I get to build things.
  7. djsfantasi

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 11, 2010
    I have a college degree in Applied Mathematics, obtained because I was unsure what I wanted to do with a college degree. Mathematics gave me options: teaching, oceonography, computers, research. But I discovered that what I enjoyed doing was designing and coding.

    Find opportunities in your school departments, student organizations, or associated external organizations (such as those offering internships) to try out as many different options as you can. In my case, computer science was in its infancy, so there was plenty of programming to be done for the professors. This helped cement my career. I programmed grade processing and record keeping, data analysis, numerical analysis (both working and non-working on request), educational tools (like computer based training), etc... I even earned some side cash helping fellow students analyze data for an aeronautical design.

    My point, is that if you look, there are many other opportunities for learning beyond your college courses. Be aware of them and take advantage whenever you can.
  8. alfacliff

    Well-Known Member

    Dec 13, 2013
    there should be plenty of programming jobs in the power industry, with the coming of the smart grid and such. plenty of opertunities to code for system monitoring and such.
  9. ramancini8

    Active Member

    Jul 18, 2012
    A career in the power industry doesn't have to be boring. Do you intend to stay at a bench or tube for all of your career? If not, management becomes the career path, and power is as good a career as any. Generally, power companies don't attract the superstars, they usually attract the average college grad, thus competition for management positions in power companies isn't killer.
    I chose to stay in design for 25 years. Then I transferred to applications engineering where I worked from home, did a lot of writing, traveled the world giving seminars or solving problems, and really enjoyed my job (plus lots of bucks). Two side to a coin: had I left design sooner I might not have had the background to become an applications engineer, and special skills that I never considered in college (won't quit on a problem, excellent public speaker, writing ability) made me one of the five top applications engineers in the USA.
    Learn all you can, be willing to shift with technology, make friends, do what you are asked and more, be politely aggressive, and put up with BS until you are saved, and you will have a long successful career.
    Shawn Rush likes this.
  10. MrChips


    Oct 2, 2009
    Never heard that one before but I like it.

    Another piece of advice is learn to step outside of your comfort zone.
  11. tshuck

    Well-Known Member

    Oct 18, 2012
    To add to what others have said, any job can be made interesting. I have a fairly mundane position, but I saw an opportunity to improve our workflow and suggested that I write a program to do just that. The job is much more interesting when you get to do what no one else has before.

    Each company has their definition for what position Y entails. Small companies are typically more willing to "allow" their designers to work in the labs.
  12. GopherT

    AAC Fanatic!

    Nov 23, 2012
    Just because you get a degree in something spent mean you will spend much of your career doing that. My first degree was biology with a teaching certificate. 2-years and out. Then a PhD in chemistry. 2-years in the lab, 4-years in a manufacturing process design/simulation group (coding, industrial engineering time studies, evaluating investment & debottlenecking projects). Then technical sales and product management. Then acquisition and integration teams. Now, I run an innovation/product development team. I have been with the same company since graduate school but there are plenty of odd jobs to do to keep life interesting. If not, there are always hobbies - motorcycles, electronics, 3D printing, landscaping, kids, ...
  13. Comet

    Thread Starter New Member

    Jul 9, 2014
    Thanks for all the comments. I will write a longer reply on the weekend when I have more time.
  14. Comet

    Thread Starter New Member

    Jul 9, 2014
    Just to clarify: I actually like the math and theory we learn in school. I'm worried about ending up with a desk job pushing paper with little technical challenge, because that's a lot of what I have seen at work so far. Either hands-on field work or more analytical problem solving would be an improvement.

    I will definitely check out available resources and software for PLCs.

    Thanks again for all the feedback. I look forward to learning a lot from this forum!
  15. mbohuntr

    Senior Member

    Apr 6, 2009
    My electronics degree landed me a job as an electrician at a power plant. I cannot imagine doing anything else now. (plus this is my second career.)

    We routinely interface with engineers to offer solutions to emerging problems. They look at the big picture and together we make proposals to management for approval.

    Each has it's own pros and cons. We are the grunts in the heat, dirt and noise, and they are the equation crunchers who validate the ideas. We are not responsible for the success of the repair other than to make sure it's installed correctly, and they are not in the harsh environments other than to see the problem first hand.

    Myself, I have not witnessed too many engineers who are stuck in a cubicle and never see the problems first hand. The ones who hide in their offices usually aren't all that successful.

    I would ask the senior people where you are interning for about the day to day work they do. They might be keeping you out of trouble for the summer and watching how good you are with the fundamentals. If you are hired, the job might be totally different.

    I love to see the new hires "deer in the headlights" look when they first see the size and power of the systems they will be overseeing.

    Good luck!