When imagining the role of an engineer, you might think of someone working on a busy construction site or in a noisy industrial setting. Perhaps you think of a professional overseeing the design and build of something big like a nuclear power station, a suspension bridge, a high-speed train, or an enormous ship. However, not all engineering projects take place on a big scale. If this is how you would normally perceive the job of an engineer, it might be time to reconsider your preconceptions of the profession.
In today’s high-tech world, engineering isn’t only limited to those massive construction projects and heavy industry. Today, engineers are just as likely to be working on somewhat smaller (but none-the-less impressive) projects. Some of these might be everyday objects which fit in the palm of your hand, like your smartphone, tablet or other computer-related devices. Others might push the boundaries of business or science.
Today, when you think of certain careers in engineering, you should probably think more lab coat than dirty overalls and a hard hat. In the digital age, engineering can be a clean and even quiet job, most likely conducted in a laboratory setting or in an office. In fact, if you want to follow a career in electrical and computer engineering, the only heavy lifting you’ll be required to do is with your mind.
To get a better idea of what a career in engineering looks like today, we spoke with Dr. Pelin Fu, Academic Director on National University’s bachelor of science in computer engineering and electrical engineering degree program.
How to Get an Online Degree: Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering
“Electrical and computer engineering is a field where you use electronic devices and electronic elements to design circuits and build computer-related devices,” says Fu. “These could be smartphones, medical devices, or even robots.”
As an industry, the sector strives to push the boundaries of technology and to make a profound difference in everyday life. In fact, it’s hard to imagine an area of life that isn’t influenced by computer technology. From entertainment to education, industry to healthcare, and all the way through to national security and even space exploration, computer engineering plays a vital role in almost everything we do. As such, National University’s bachelor of science in computer engineering and electrical engineering designed to develop the analytical thinking and design skills that today’s companies demand to keep pace with constant innovation.
What Makes a Good Computer Engineer?
Engineering is primarily the art of solving problems through mathematics and science and a solid basis in these subjects is an important prerequisite for the online computer engineering degree program.
“You’ve got to love math,” says Fu. “Math is the foundation, not only for the sciences but also for engineering, management, economics — in fact, a lot of majors.
As well as a love of math, you should also have a good basis in science, particularly about the technology of electricity; you should also be able to think logically and enjoy the kind of hands-on work that will enable you to build-up circuit boards and devices.
But before you can start building, you must first understand the theory behind computer engineering.
“Theory is the foundation,” says Fu. “Without a solid theoretical background, you cannot build anything. In our program, we introduce the theory first and then we have a couple of lab courses where the student applies the theoretical part to different applications.”
Theoretical Knowledge and Practical Skills
According to Fu, by the time students graduate from the online degree program, they will have both the theoretical knowledge and practical skills to design, build, and integrate a wide range of computer-powered devices.
The program is designed to help students understand and master the working relationships between physical hardware products and the software which controls them, effectively placing graduates in the “communications center” between the two, and guiding collaboration.
“We are a hardware-oriented program but we also give students some background knowledge about software,” says Fu. “There are also a number of hands-on experiments to build their practical skills — how to build-up circuits, how to build-up electronic devices, etc.”
Learning to Code
Classes on the bachelor of science in computer engineering and electrical program include an introduction to programming, C++, and an object-oriented programming course. Students are also exposed to MATLAB, which is simulation software specifically used in the computer engineering industry.
“Software is a very important part of our program,” says Fu. “Even though you are not in the software industry you still need to use software with the hardware development and do simulation.”
A good grounding in software will also stand you in good stead if you want to follow alternative career paths within the computer industry.
Prior to graduation, students in the program complete a three-month capstone course where they work on a practical project, using all of the knowledge they have learned through the program. This creates the opportunity to work as a team with your fellow students, assigning specific roles and responsibilities to individuals and mimicking the way you would work in industry following graduation.
Throughout the online degree program students are supported by adjunct faculty members who come directly from industry and bring with them the latest ideas from the field. This helps to ensure that your class projects don’t just follow current industry trends but also lead to greater innovation.
“A lot of these projects have completely blown me away,” says Fu. “Students have worked on everything from innovative smartphone designs to solar energy systems and even underwater robots. The students are dedicated, they are very creative, and they have some brilliant ideas.”
Wondering How to Get an Online Degree? Computer Engineering at National Is a Great Option
National University’s bachelor of science in computer engineering and electrical engineering is available both onsite, at the University’s San Diego campus, and 100% online.
According to Fu, online classes offer a tremendous opportunity for students to access a degree-level education that might not otherwise be available to them.
“Many of our students are working professionals,” says Fu. “All of the course materials are available on the website so they can study whenever they are able to, morning or night.”
Fu admits that some of her students do work some “crazy hours” to fit their educational needs around their existing work and family commitments, but “they still want to come to school to improve themselves.”
“Of course, it’s challenging,” says Fu. “But many of our students are dedicated and they do very well in the online environment.”
The dedication to online education is particularly visible in National University’s burgeoning community of military students (both active service personnel and veterans).
“One student I remember particularly well is in the military right now,” says Fu. “He has to get up at four o’clock in the morning to work — but he still comes to school in the evenings. He told me that he wanted ‘to leave a dent in the world,’ so he decided to continue with his education after his graduation and get his Ph.D. I was touched by this student when I heard his story.”
Getting into the Flow of Online Education
“Once students get into the flow of online education, there really is very little difference between studying online or in a traditional school environment,” says Fu. “We meet with students twice a week online using Blackboard classroom software. We can schedule a collaborative session, talk to our students, give them examples, and answer their questions — just kind of mimic the real classroom setting.”
Even the lab work can be done online.
“For lab experiments, we mail the lab kits to students,” says Fu. “There is a National Instrument’s component kit for students — so we mail out some resistors, capacitors, and diodes and they can connect the circuit with a ‘breadboard’ and then connect their experiments to a computer.” According to Fu, with the guidance of the instructors, It’s a very good experience for the students.
“During the live sessions, the instructor will give students instructions how to do the lab and then they can video or take photographs of their work and then upload these files with the lab report where the instructor can read it. It’s a great way to teach them.”
Maintaining Innovation in a Rapidly Evolving Field
The challenge of maintaining pace with the online degree in what is a highly innovative and rapidly evolving field is not lost on Fu.
“We update our courses very frequently,” says Fu. “The bachelor of science in computer engineering program has only been available for five years and we have updated many of the courses already. When there is new technology or there is new content, such as a new version of the textbook — we update the program.”
Employing top industry professionals as adjunct faculty members is just one way National University maintains the relevance of their programs.
Rolling Four-Week Courses
National University is no stranger to innovation. The institution disrupted the traditional university experience by creating a more flexible, focused and accessible route to degree education. Some of this has been accomplished by adopting cutting edge online educational practices. The rest has been achieved by simply re-imaging what the academic year should look like. National University’s rolling four-week class system is key to achieving this innovation.
The flexibility of National University’s rolling four-week courses ensures classes can be updated to reflect innovation in the field as quickly as possible. This means students can be guaranteed that the topics they are presented with are always up-to-date and relevant to the field of study.
“The four-week program is especially beneficial for our working professional students,” says Fu. “The workload is actually the same as in a traditional university, but there you need to take three or four courses over a semester. At National, students only take one course each month, so they focus on this one course completely and finish it.”
The rolling four-week courses, which typically run throughout the year with no extended breaks for summer and the holidays, also create a degree of flexibility for students who may not be able to commit to the rigid academic terms of a traditional university.
“If they have to travel or they have some family emergency, they can skip a month and come back to study the month after,” says Fu.
The unique class structure at National University also means that a potential student is never more than 30 days away from starting their degree program and they can potentially graduate in a much shorter period of time than they would at a traditional school.
Computer Engineering: An Equal Opportunities Employer
Because electrical and computer engineering is more about brain than brawn, any stereotypical perceptions associated with a career in engineering, shouldn’t hold anyone back from achieving success in the field.
Despite the fact that female students typically perform equally as well as their male peers in mathematics and science, women are still an under-represented minority in the field of electrical and computer engineering. Currently, only 10.7% of electrical or computer hardware engineers are women. This is something Fu is passionate about changing and she actively encourages more women to consider the opportunities in the field.
“I think people should change their mind about engineering as being something that men are supposed to do,” says Fu. “This is a field women can do very well in, and we actively encourage them to consider a career in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) professions.”
To encourage greater participation by women, National University gets involved with #girlSTEM events, as well as scheduling seminars, workshops, and field activities designed to attract a more diverse range of students into following a career in engineering.
Fu is also delighted to see how an interest in STEM subjects is being actively encouraged from a young age.
“I can see that STEMs have a lot of interest right now,” says Fu. “Schools have science Olympiads, math competitions, and robotics clubs. I’ve been to open house events at high schools, and even in elementary schools, where they have robotics competitions. The schools compete against each other and the robots they developed were very impressive.”
Military Students and Veterans
Fu also sees a lot of interest in the bachelor of science in computer engineering program coming from students who are either currently serving in the military or who have recently retired from active service.
“We have a variety of students coming from military backgrounds,” says Fu. “Some of them are currently in engineering fields, some of them are electricians in the Navy for example. Program enrolment has definitely increased in this area and this is one of the fields that a lot of military students are interested in.”
Students from the military are also drawn to study with National University due to its long-standing connection with the military (the university was founded by veterans) and its experience in working with the specific needs of the military community. The support system for military students includes financial advice about the GI Bill, access to a cohort of students and faculty who have experienced military service and the process of transitioning back into civilian life, and the opportunity to study and socialize with fellow service personnel and veterans. Military students truly find a “home” at National.
Career Opportunities in Electrical and Computer Engineering
Prior to joining the online computer engineering degree program prospective students typically inquire about the job opportunities available to them following graduation. According to Fu, the prospects are good.
“This is the era of computers, new technologies, mobile devices, and smartphones, so it’s not difficult to find good job opportunities in the field,” says Fu. “These positions pay very well. We have students who have been hired by big companies like Qualcomm, Broadcom, and we also have students who are hired by some small-sized companies — like electronic start-up companies.”
Fu’s summary of employment opportunities following graduation is supported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics which cites the national median wage for computer hardware engineers at $114,600 per year. Median salaries are higher — $131,570 in the State of California — where there is a particular demand for qualified computer engineers.
Employment growth in the computer engineering sector is also healthy, with an estimated 5% growth rate expected over the next decade.
Graduates with a bachelor of science in computer engineering can also find opportunities in other segments of the computer industry. Software development is just one area where the scale of the opportunity is almost unprecedented with an estimated 302,500 new jobs being added to the industry between 2016 and 2016. Opportunities are also available in fields such as database administration and information security.
Engineer a New Career in the Computer Industry
If you have a love for solving problems using math and science and would like to engineer a new career in the computer industry, National University’s Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering will provide you with all the tools you need to launch a new career. To learn more or to speak with a faculty member about how you could start your journey in computer engineering by studying for an online degree, visit the electrical and computer engineering program page on the website.