What Do Electrical Engineers Do?

From the tiny chip inside your smartphone to the massive power grids that supply electricity to the world’s most populous cities — the appliances in your kitchen, to the GPS in your car — electrical systems, tools, and devices make modern life possible for all of us. Electrical engineers are responsible for designing, prototype development, building, testing, and maintaining the complex electrical parts and networks that power our world, impacting every industry from aerospace and telecommunications to artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.

So what do electrical engineers typically do on a daily basis, and how in-demand will they be in the future? We’ll answer those questions and more in this guide for students, which covers how to become an electrical engineer; what sorts of job opportunities exist and within what industries; how much electrical engineers earn, according to the most recent data; and some of the fundamental skills that you’ll need to possess or develop if you want to maximize your success. If you’re fascinated by science and passionate about innovation, read on to learn how a career in electrical engineering might be a rewarding professional path.

How Do I Become an Electrical Engineer?

If you’re interested in becoming an electrical engineer — or, for that matter, any other type of engineer — one of the most important first steps you can take is to identify the professional requirements you’ll need to satisfy, then create an action plan for how to meet them. For example, most electrical engineer positions require the applicant to hold a bachelor’s degree, either in electrical engineering itself or a closely related field like electronics engineering. Learn about the ABET accredited Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering program offered at National University and whether it could be a good fit for you.

Of course, holding a bachelor’s degree in a field related to electrical engineering is not the only qualification you’ll need to complete this intricate work. To work safely and efficiently with the electrical devices and systems you’ll encounter throughout your career — and to qualify for many jobs other than entry-level positions — you’ll also need to become licensed in your chosen field, earning your status as a licensed Professional Engineer (PE). For instance, to become licensed to work in the utility field, you’ll need to successfully pass the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam.

In addition to earning a relevant bachelor’s degree and license, you should also consider completing laboratory work, field studies, work-study programs, and/or internships during your time as a student, which can help you get a head start on gaining the invaluable work experience you’ll need to stand out to employers. Beyond your studies, consider joining a professional association such as the International Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and attending webinars or meetings about pertinent topics in electrical engineering.

What Kinds of Jobs Do Electrical Engineers Have?

As we’ll discuss in more detail below, electrical engineers have a wide and exciting range of career paths to explore. For example, electrical engineers may work in fields such as robotics, microelectronics, energy systems, and telecommunications, power generation, avionics, and many others. They may fill research, business, managerial/leadership, and other types of roles, ranging from test engineers and design engineers to project engineers, production engineers, power engineers, and aeronautical engineers. They may even work as a patent attorney on obtaining patents for electronic devices and processes.

Continue reading for a general overview of what electrical engineers earn on average, or scroll down to the section on what you can do with a degree in electrical engineering to learn more details about the employment opportunities that exist within this broad field.

What Do Electrical Engineers Make?

You’ve probably wondered at some point when considering this career path, what sort of job prospects you will have as an electrical engineer, and what your earning potential looks like. The good news is that electrical engineering is a field that holds promise and economic opportunity, as reflected in the data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) — and, as the technologies and infrastructures we create grow more and more complex, the need for electrical engineers seems likely to keep pace.

According to the BLS, the median salary for an electrical engineer or electronics engineer was over $101,700 as of 2021 — substantially greater than “the median annual wage for all workers,” which the BLS reported was $45,760 as of May 2021. This shows that electrical engineers have higher earning potential, particularly if qualified with professional licenses and/or an advanced degree, such as a master’s degree in electrical engineering. The BLS also projects a 7% growth in the employment of electrical engineers during the period from 2020 to 2030, which is approximately on pace with the average rate of 8%.

What Can I Do with a Degree in Electrical Engineering?

What can you do with an electrical engineering degree? The answer depends on what you’re most passionate about and inspired by, since a master’s or bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering is a versatile degree that can help you launch or advance your career in a broad array of industries and fields. Here are just a few examples of the numerous career paths or job titles you can pursue with your undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, keeping in mind that a master’s degree opens even more doors to employment opportunities.

Communications Engineer

As a communications engineer, you’ll be working directly with the communications systems that keep the globe interconnected, such as fiber optics, wireless, and satellite systems. This may involve working on inspection, installation, and maintenance, along with testing signals for strength and quality.

Project Engineer

Are you a highly organized person who’s inspired to take on leadership roles? Consider a career in project engineering. In this role, you’ll be responsible for directing and overseeing engineering projects, which require the careful management of budgets, workflow, and schedules.

Research Engineer

Play a direct role in an innovation that could disrupt an industry and improve our world. As a research engineer, you’ll be collecting and analyzing data to design new and improved products and devices, accelerating the pace of change.

Test Engineer

In your career as a test engineer, your duties will revolve around testing the safety and functionality of various electrical systems. That means you’ll be engaged with business or government organizations to understand their needs, create and implement test plans, and work on finding solutions to issues or vulnerable points in existing systems.

Systems Engineer

As a systems engineer, you’ll help to ensure that complex electrical systems are safely and properly installed and maintained. This type of position can overlap with computer engineering since some of your job duties might include installing software, observing its performance, and performing system updates to enhance and optimize functionality.

Design Engineer

if you enjoy and excel at using computer-aided design (CAD) tools, a career in design engineering may be a good fit for you. The role of a design engineer is to create, test, and revise the designs of electrical equipment and devices, meaning you’ll need good problem-solving and communication skills.

Aeronautical Engineer

An aeronautical engineer works on electrical and electronic systems that enable satellites and aircraft to operate properly. This involves designing, testing, and continuously improving navigation systems, propulsion systems, and other systems that comprise these incredibly intricate structures.

Power Engineer

a power engineer works on conversions of other forms of energy into electric power. The sources of power include but are not limited to fossil fuels (coal), and gas, hydropower, nuclear power, solar power, wind power, geothermal power, etc.

Electrical Engineering Fields

As we mentioned earlier, there are versatile applications for a master’s or bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Depending on what sorts of projects or technologies you’re most interested in working on, an electrical engineering degree enables you to work in fields as diverse as:

  • Aerospace
  • Automotive
  • Chemical
  • Construction
  • Consumer Goods
  • Defense/Military
  • Materials and Metals
  • Oil and Gas
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Power Generation
  • Telecommunications
  • Transportation
  • Government (local, state, and federal)
  • Utilities

Considering this diversity, it’s no surprise that electrical engineers work in an equally wide array of settings. Some electrical engineers work for government entities, nonprofit organizations, or corporations and manufacturers, while others gravitate toward roles in academia (like becoming professors) or law (like becoming patent attorneys).

Top Electrical Engineering Fields

1. Energy and Power Systems

Electrical engineers who enter this field work directly with the power and energy systems that enable our world to function, from transformers and generators to fusion systems and green technologies.

2. Computer Engineering

There are close links between electrical and computer engineering, which is why the BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering at National University integrates both disciplines into a single rigorous program. We also offer a separate BS in Computer Science (BSCS) degree program.

3. Telecommunications

Telecommunications systems enable banks, governments, businesses, and everyday people to communicate with each other instantly. This field deals with optimizing the speed and enhancing the security of our critical telecommunication systems.

4. Microelectronics

Engineers in this field devote their careers to working with electronic components like computer chips and circuits, reducing their size while increasing their speed for faster and more efficient performance.

5. Systems and Control

This field involves ensuring that electric systems perform as expected within the environments they were designed for, like ensuring that thermostat and temperature systems perform correctly.

6. Robotics and Artificial Intelligence

Robotics and AI are at the forefront of technology, offering an exciting and innovative work environment. Electrical engineers who enter these fields work on designing, constructing, maintaining, and improving robotics and AI systems, such as using machine learning to deliver more accurate results.

7. Aerospace

Aerospace is the field that involves the design and construction of aircraft, including spacecraft. As an engineer in this field, you may be working with the electrical systems and components of commercial planes, fighter jets, helicopters, space shuttles, drones, and more.

Tools and Skills Used by Electrical Engineers

As an electrical engineer, you’ll engage with a wide variety of tools and technologies — and deploy an equally wide variety of soft and hard skills — throughout your career. Here are a few examples of the electrical engineering tools you’ll need to utilize, along with some of the skills you’ll need to master, in order to perform your duties safely, efficiently, and effectively.

Electrical Design — Every system, product, machine, and device begins its life as a design or concept. Whether you’re working with tiny smartphones or massive aircraft, you’ll need a strong grasp of electrical design principles.

Circuit Knowledge — Circuitry is an integral part of electrical systems, and you’ll need a strong foundation in this area to build the foundation for the rest of your academic and professional career.

Programming — Programming languages are what enable engineers to provide computers with specific instructions and receive the desired results. It is therefore vital to develop strong programming skills, especially in a program that combines elements of an electrical engineering degree with elements of a computer engineering degree.

AutoCAD — CAD refers to computer-aided design. Payscale reports that AutoCAD ranks among the top three most common electrical engineering skills, meaning you’ll need AutoCAD proficiency to compete with other job applicants.

Analytical Skills — Strong analytical skills are crucial for any electrical engineer, who needs the ability to identify, diagnose, correct, troubleshoot, and prevent problems in electric systems and products. Analytical skills are also necessary for seeing patterns in data, identifying opportunities for improvement, and applying solutions to real-world engineering problems.

Interpersonal Skills — Many engineering jobs require you to interact with clients and learn about their needs on a routine basis. Having solid interpersonal skills makes it easier to communicate effectively so that projects can be completed smoothly.

Problem-Solving — You’ll need a flexible, logical yet creative approach to problem-solving to continuously overcome the challenges of designing safe and efficient systems and devices.

Organization — When you’re working with intricate and potentially dangerous electrical systems or machinery, or are responsible for managing massive projects (and equally massive budgets), being organized is a simple yet critical skill to master.

Adaptability — Engineers frequently encounter glitches, system errors, and other unexpected problems, especially when systems or prototypes are still in the process of being researched, designed, and tested. You’ll need to be adaptable so that you can meet challenges head-on without losing your momentum or becoming overwhelmed.

Other Software — Knowing how to confidently use engineering software will increase your marketability while making your job duties easier. Specifically, you should strongly consider familiarizing yourself with SCADA, ETAP, Proteus, PLC Programming, and PSpice.

Looking to Start an Engineering Career?

If you are thinking about pursuing a career in engineering, take the first step and look into our ABET accredited Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering program. Then request more information from our friendly team of admissions advisors, or applying to National University online today.

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