Electrical engineering as a discipline has seen a surge in activity in the past couple of decades, thanks largely due to advances in technology, driven by humanity’s desire to improve the society ln which we live.
Electrical Engineering as a discipline covers a broad range of activities involving the generation and use of electrical energy, including the design, implementation, and support of large power-generating stations, computing and information transfer, and telecommunication systems.
Electrical engineering is an exciting, multi-faceted discipline that opens up a range of career prospects for any budding young technology whizz. But what is electrical engineering exactly, and how do you know which job suits you best?
What is Electrical Engineering?
The definition of electrical engineering is not always easy to determine. It depends on who you ask.
Of course, all electrical engineers would agree that it’s an engineering branch dealing with electricity and electrical principles technology. Still, it is a bit more complex than a simple definition.
Electrical engineers are tasked with a lot of responsibility in the ever-evolving modern world of rapidly advancing technologies. But what is electrical engineering?
Electrical engineering is a very wide-ranging engineering discipline that focuses primarily on the application of complex mathematics and physics principles of electricity, electromagnetism, and electronics to design, test and deploy new electrical equipment and theoretical systems to solve problems and in the development of new innovative solutions.
These electrical engineering disciplines include power and control systems, telecommunications equipment solutions, and signal processing.
These solutions and products can include household appliances such as stoves, fridges, washing machines, power tools, metropolitan-scale telecommunications solutions, and signaling equipment for transport management.
The rapid technological advances, specifically in computer hardware and software, have spawned new disciplines in recent years.
It can include computer systems engineering, radio-frequency engineering, and instrumentation and further specializations in nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, and power generation, for example, in the design of electric and autonomous self-driving cars.
The History of Electrical Engineering
Electrical engineering as a defined discipline is still relatively new, perhaps less than 200 years old, but rapid incremental advances have been made since then.
Quantum leaps in developments are being made so quickly that some ideas considered fantasies a few short years ago have become a reality, giving electrical engineering a lot to bragging rights.
To get a deeper understanding of electrical engineering as a discipline, it is necessary to look at the history of electricity or the generation of electrical current. Traceable historical records of this, however, are at best mediocre.
Before the advent of electricity generation, humanity could only ponder and observe natural phenomena such as lightning and the behavior of electric eels.
The father of electrical engineering, Michael Faraday, a physicist and chemist born in England in 1791, was not a typical science scholar. He started an apprenticeship to a bookbinder, which exposed him to the texts concerning scientific subjects.
This experience, combined with this natural curiosity, piqued his interest in science which eventually led him to attend scientific lectures. His specific attention was paid to the fields of galvanism, mechanics, and especially electricity.
Faraday’s attendance of four lectures by chemist and inventor of the arc lamp, Humphry Davy, sparked his career in the sciences. Faraday and Davy formed a friendship, which saw them travel through Europe in 1814 on a voyage of scientific knowledge gathering.
Upon their return, Faraday dabbled with chemical experiments and, in 1821, also published a research piece on electromagnetic rotation, which is the theory of the electric motor.
For the next decade, Faraday continued to work with electricity until, in 1831, he discovered electromagnetic induction. His theory proved conclusively that a magnet could induce an electrical current through a wire conductor, thereby converting mechanical energy into electrical energy.
This discovery laid the foundation for electricity as a major technological development.
Faraday died in 1867, leaving behind his legacy as the father of electricity. His fundamental theories are the cornerstones of electrical engineering today, and his principles are still employed in electrical theory today.
A close cousin of electrical engineering, the field of electronics was born with the invention of the thermionic valve diode vacuum tube in 1904 by John Ambrose Fleming and was the foundation of all electronics, including radios, television, and radar, until the mid-20th century.
Some of the most important pioneers in electrical engineering include Thomas Edison (electric light bulb), George Westinghouse (alternating current), Nikola Tesla (induction motor), Guglielmo Marconi (radio), and Philo T. Farnsworth (television). Innovative ideas and concepts were turned into practical devices and systems that paved the way to what we have and use today.
Recognizing Electrical Engineering as a Field Of Study
The study of electricity started as a part of physics but eventually branched out into its discipline. In fact, even today, in most middle and high schools, the study of electricity usually falls under the physics school subject as a sub-section.
The world’s first School of Electrical Engineering was established as the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany in 1883. Soon other schools opened offering similar subject matter, and the study of electrical engineering was born.
In 1884 an organization was formed known as the American Institute of Electrical Engineers to support professions in this field.
In 1963 it merged with the Institute of Radio Engineers and was renamed the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and is today regarded as the world’s leading technical professions organization.
Advancements in Electrical Engineering
Since the early pioneering days of Michael Faraday and his contemporaries, many astonishing leaps in technology have led to the invention of world-changing concepts such as computers, mobile telephony, microwave ovens, and radar, to name just a few.
Television has seen massive improvements since its introduction in the 1920s. Until only a few decades ago, televisions were low resolution, monochrome and unaffordable for the average person.
Today, thanks to huge advances in semiconductor technology and inventions such as LED and LCD, TVs are huge, colorful, and feature-rich. Importantly thanks to efficiencies in components and manufacturing processes, they are also more affordable.
We have become so reliant on the important contributions and work carried out by electrical engineers that if they all packed up and left tomorrow, the world as we know would be left in disarray.
An example of their contributions is the global positioning systems (GPS). Without electrical engineers who designed and built the components that make them work as they do, your smartphone wouldn’t be able to reveal your location or track your Amazon package.
What Does the Future Look Like?
Footwear that can alert the wearer of unsafe working conditions? Have food or packages delivered by drone to your door? Pipe dreams a decade ago are becoming today’s reality.
Innovation will continue to evolve at breakneck speed. Processing power continues to improve, allowing for faster, more compact, and innovative devices to be produced.
Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors that can be packed onto a microchip double every two years, allowing processing power to expand exponentially.
Microchips that could host fewer than 100,000 transistors in the 1970s can today host more than 50 billion today.
In a modern world increasingly dependent on technology, electrical engineers are more in demand than ever. They will always be relied on to provide innovative engineering solutions for diverse industries, such as telecommunications, automobiles, and renewable energy.
What Do Electrical Engineers Do?
The industries where electrical engineers work are quite varied, and therefore different skill sets are required for each field. It can range from knowledge in electrical or electronic circuit theory to the broader skill required of a project manager.
The equipment or tools deployed for any individual engineer are similarly varied, from using a multimeter or frequency counter to bespoke design or architectural software.
The projects that electrical engineers work on also define what skills they should possess. Computers, cars, GPS systems, telecommunications, building lighting, or robots all require a particular set of skills and training.
Increasingly, electrical engineers are dependent on computer-aided design (CAD) systems for schematic designs and circuit diagrams, and they use computers to simulate how their engineering designs will function when deployed.
Duties of an Electrical Engineer:
- Evaluating electrical systems and their applications
- Designing electrical systems and products
- Applying knowledge of electrical theory and the behavior of materials
- Deploying testing models to confirm theoretical design and component properties and behaviors
- Developing products to comply with customer specifications
- Researching and testing manufacturing and assembly line methods
- Developing manufacturing processes by designing and modifying equipment
- Quality assurance of finished products
- Testing product prototypes and system capabilities
- Preparing product release reports by collecting and analyzing test results
- Providing engineering information by answering questions and requests
- Maintaining product specifications by complying with federal and state regulations
- Maintaining product database through computer programs and information
In today’s demanding jobs market, there are many sub-disciplines of electrical engineering. Although some electrical engineers specialize exclusively in one sub-discipline, others have to operate in a combination of sub-disciplines that often overlap.
An electrical engineer can work in various engineering industries: Aerospace, Automotive, Chemical, Construction, Defence, Electronics, Consumer Goods, Marine, Materials & Metals, Oil & Gas, Pharmaceuticals, Power Generation, Rail, Telecoms, and Utilities.
Electrical engineers can work for companies, corporations, non-profit organizations, or government agencies. They can also become managers, patent attorneys, professors, or work in the financial sector.
Many electrical engineers are self-employed or are outsourced to other organizations and government agencies.
Most Common Electrical Engineering Jobs
Electronic engineers typically research, design, develop, and test electronic components and solutions for use in industries such as space and aeronautics, telecommunications, acoustics, propulsion, or instrumentation and control systems.
This job description is very similar to that of an electrical engineer, and both careers are advertised interchangeably in the United States. The main difference is specialization.
While electrical engineers take care of entire electrical systems, electronics engineers focus primarily on the smaller parts that make up the electrical system, such as computers, electronic circuits, and components, and apply principles of electronic theory and knowledge of materials properties.
Recommended minimum education: bachelor’s degree in electrical/electronic engineering
Microelectronics, a subfield of electronics, relates to the study and fabrication of very small electronic devices and surface-mounted or integrated circuit components made from semiconductor materials.
Many components of standard electronic design and size are also available in a microelectronic form and can include transistors, diodes, capacitors, inductors, resistors, insulators, or conductors.
Microelectronics engineers use highly specialized equipment and unique techniques such as wire bonding because of the unusually small size of the components, leads, and pads.
As techniques have evolved, the scale and size of microelectronic components have continued to decrease. Therefore, the interconnective properties of circuits may become of more interest.
The microelectronics engineer aims to find innovative ways to minimize these effects while delivering smaller, faster, and more cost-effective devices.
Recommended minimum education: associates’ degree in electronic engineering
Signal Processing Engineer
A signal processing engineer analyzes and modifies digital signals to make them more efficient, accurate, and reliable.
This work includes the development of digital signals and creating algorithms to process them more efficiently.
A signal processing engineer can work in speech and image processing, pattern recognition, chip design, radio frequency (RF) design, biomedical signal processing, and space or military applications, including mobile and satellite communications.
Efficient use of signals results from applying precise algorithms coded in software packages with concise, logical steps to capture real-time outcomes.
Engineers need to develop the steps or processes needed, provide the specifications, design the processor that emulates the machine, and simulate the system before fabrication.
Recommended minimum education: bachelor’s degree in computer or electronic engineering
Power Systems Engineer
A power systems engineer deals with a subfield of electrical engineering that involves power generation, transmission, distribution, utilization, and the electrical power equipment used for these systems.
This would include equipment such as transformers, generators, motors, and the relevant electronics required.
Although much of a power engineer’s focus concerns issues faced with three-phase AC power, it also involves the conversion between AC and DC power and the innovation of specific power systems such as those used in aircraft or for electric railway networks.
Power engineers draw the majority of their theoretical knowledge and application from electrical engineering principles.
Recommended minimum education: bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering
Control Systems Engineer
Control systems engineering is fundamentals taught alongside electrical engineering theory at many universities and tertiary institutions, specifically focusing on implementing control systems obtained through mathematical systems modeling.
This engineering discipline uses the automatic control theory to design electronic controllers that cause systems to behave certain ways, using micro-controllers, programmable logic controllers (PLC), and signal processors. A simple example of a PLC is a traffic light.
By using detectors and sensors to measure and adjust the performance of the controlled process output and provide corrective feedback and actions, desired performance outcomes can be achieved.
Recommended minimum education: bachelor’s degree in mechanical or electrical engineering
Telecommunications engineering is a sub-discipline centered on electrical and computer engineering which aims to improve telecommunication systems such as Private Business Exchanges (PBX), public switched networks, or mobile communications.
A telecoms engineer’s work can include basic circuit design, providing high-speed data transmission or broadband services, and overseeing the installation of telecommunications equipment (such as switching systems, fiber optic cabling, IP networks, microwave transmission systems, and cellphone towers or base stations).
They use an assortment of transport media to design the network infrastructure (such as twisted pair, coaxial, and fiber optic cables) and provide solutions for wireless communication modes and data transfer, such as wireless telephony, microwave radio link, and satellite communications, and internet and broadband technologies.
Recommended minimum education: bachelor’s degree in computer science
Instrumentation engineering has its roots in electrical and electronics engineering and deals with measuring devices for pressure, flow, and temperature.
This discipline deals with the automation of measurement and control processes which requires a deep understanding of physics theory.
Instrumentation engineers develop intelligent sensors, smart transducers, MEMS, and Blue-tooth technology.
Instrumentation engineers can be found working at almost all processing and manufacturing industries involved with oil, petrochemical, steel, power, and defense capabilities.
Recommended minimum education: bachelor’s degree in electrical/electronic engineering
Most universities and colleges offer computer engineering as either a degree, sub-discipline of electrical engineering, or a double degree encompassing electrical and computer engineering.
Computer engineers research, design, develop, and test computer systems and components such as microchips, processors, circuit boards, memory and storage devices, networks and related equipment, and devices such as routers, hubs, and network switches.
They specialize in digital systems, operating systems, computer networks, pc, server hardware, etc. Computer engineering aims to match digital hardware devices with software to meet businesses and industry’s technological and business admin needs.
Recommended minimum education: bachelor’s degree in computer science
Careers Related To Electrical Engineering
Aerospace (or aeronautical) engineers design and develop mainly aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles.
They develop, create, and test new prototypes to ensure that they function successfully. Many are either subcontracted to or are employed directly by the federal state or military.
Recommended minimum education: bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering
Architectural and Engineering Managers
Architectural and engineering managers plan, direct, and coordinate activities in architectural and engineering companies. They often work closely with civil and construction engineers.
Recommended minimum education: bachelor’s degree in engineering management
Bioengineers And Biomedical Engineers
Biomedical engineers focus on advances in medical technology to develop new devices and equipment for improving human health.
For example, they might design software to run medical equipment or develop computer simulations to test new drug therapies.
Recommended minimum education: bachelor’s degree in bioengineering/biomedical engineering
Electrical And Electronics Engineering Technicians
Electrical and electronics engineering technicians help engineers design and develop computers, communications equipment, medical monitoring devices, navigational equipment, and other electrical and electronic equipment.
They often work in product evaluation and testing and use measuring and diagnostic devices to adjust, test, and repair equipment. They are also involved in the manufacture and deployment of equipment for automation.
Recommended minimum education: associate’s degree in electrical/electronics engineering
Electrical and Electronics Installers and Repairers
Electrical and electronics installers and repairers install or repair various electrical and electronics equipment in telecommunications, transport systems, municipal utilities, and many other industries.
Recommended minimum education: associate’s degree in electronics
Electricians install, support, and repair electrical power equipment, communications, lighting, and control systems, in homes, businesses, and factories.
Recommended minimum education: relevant apprenticeship program, typically four to five years
Electromechanical technicians require combined knowledge of both mechanical and electrical technologies. They operate and support electrical equipment such as automated or unmanned electromechanical equipment.
Recommended minimum education: associates’ degree or relevant certification
Network and Computer Systems Administrators
Computer networks are fundamental to the daily operations and communications in almost every organization. Network and computer systems administrators are responsible for the day-to-day support of these computers and networks.
Recommended minimum education: bachelor’s degree in computer science
Sales engineers market and sell complex technological products or services to businesses. They must have extensive technical skills and knowledge of the products and services and understand the complex processes that make them work.
Recommended minimum education: bachelor’s degree in related engineering
There are many other sub-disciplines and jobs related to the field of electrical engineering. Each requires a unique skill set and education.
These job descriptions include mechatronics engineer, automation engineer, project manager, field service technician. The list goes on and on.
Important Skills And Qualities For Electrical Engineers
Initiative. Electrical and electronics engineers must apply their knowledge to new tasks in every project they undertake with enthusiasm. They must also engage in continuing education and skills training to keep up with advances in technology.
Concentration. Electrical and electronics engineers design and develop complex electrical systems and electronic components and products which require intense focus. They must keep track of multiple design factors and technical characteristics when engaging with these tasks.
Interpersonal skills. Electrical and electronics engineers must have the ability to work well with others. This collaboration includes monitoring and coordinating the activities with multiple team members.
Speaking skills. Electrical and electronics engineers work mostly close to other engineers and technicians. They must be able to articulate their designs and reasoning clearly to coordinate tasks and responsibilities. They also need to concisely explain complex issues to customers who have little or no background technical expertise.
Math skills. Electrical and electronics engineers must use advanced mathematical principles to analyze, design, and troubleshoot equipment.
Writing skills. Electrical and electronics engineers write technical manuals and publications related to the goods and services they develop, including operational manuals, parts lists, product proposals, and design documents.
Jobs Outlook for Electrical Engineers
The employment of skilled electrical and electronics engineers is projected to grow around 7 percent between 2020 and 2030, similarly to the expected average for all occupations.
Unfortunately, employment growth is expected to be tempered by slow growth or decline in most manufacturing industries and areas such as telecommunications.
This problem has been exacerbated by the unexpected arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in late 2019, which has had an ongoing devastating impact on the economy worldwide and is not expected to recover for some time to come.
Job growth for electrical and electronics engineers is projected to occur largely in professional and technical services, as more firms are expected to harness the highly skilled expertise of engineers for projects involving sophisticated electronic business and consumer solutions.
One such example is in the field of telecommunications software, where the Covid-19 lockdowns in countries across the world have forced companies to allow remote working.
Home-based work has resulted in a huge uptake for remote working and web conferencing applications like Microsoft Teams and Zoom.
The rapid pace of technological innovation will create some demand for electrical and electronics engineers in research and development, an area in which engineering expertise will be needed to design distribution systems related to new technologies.
With proper education and relevant training, six-figure engineering jobs are available.
In a highly competitive jobs industry, successful applicants will be expected to perform at the peak of their abilities and provide the platform to enhance personal advancement and growth. At the same time, it improves the lives of people in general.
There are a host of career opportunities available in this diverse field to anyone who has the drive and dynamics required to enter the wonderfully complex world of electrical engineering.
CollegeGrad: Electrical and Electronics Engineers
CareerExplorer: What does an electrical engineer do?
The Best Degree Programs: High-Paying Electrical Engineering Jobs
Wikipedia: Electrical engineering
NewEngineer: The History of Electrical Engineering
Wits University: Electrical Engineering