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Can I reasonably expect a decent low-level job with a BSCpE?

  1. May 30, 2014 #1
    I am a Junior in my school's Computer Engineering curriculum, and am thoroughly enjoying it. Since CpE programs vary enormously, here is my flowchart for reference. I have added a few courses (actually, 26 credits of courses) for a Japanese minor, and this will cause me to graduate one semester late (I'm taking 12 to 24 credits over summer semesters, but scheduling conflicts force me to take the extra fall semester). That doesn't really pertain to much, but I thought I'd toss that out there in case anyone asks how I liked Semiconductor Physics, which I have put off.

    My ECEN elective will probably be high-speed computer arithmetic, and my technical elective will probably be a mathematics course, but I may also consider something from physics or computer science. I am aware that this degree plan only scratches the surface of the field, and that many positions will be closed to me until I return for a Master's degree.

    That being said, what does industry have to offer BSCpE graduates? Will I get stuck configuring servers and writing high-level programs, or is there a good chance that I can work at a much lower level, designing and programming microcontrollers or designing and implementing control circuitry? The carrot that the curriculum dangles in front of me is computer architecture, but I know that field is held by a very small number of highly skilled engineers, and I am very unlikely to get in there no matter how advanced my degree is. So the question is, what is left once that is gone?

    When I attend my university's career fairs, recruiters seem altogether oblivious to the similarities between electrical and computer engineering. In fact, if you look at this flowchart, you will see that the core curriculum is the same, differing only in electives and the choice of statics over discrete math in BSEE. This obliviousness, and many other things, make me worry that I will get stuck either in software or network engineering. These are great fields, and I may end up going to one of my own free will at some point, but I don't want those to be my only viable options. I enjoy networking atomic units* such as logic gates and controllers too much to just completely kiss low-level abstraction goodbye when I graduate.

    So, PF, what is out there for me?

    *When I say this, I am well aware that transistors are closer to being "atomic units" than what I mentioned, but I will obviously be stronger in digital elements than analog.


    I suppose that my issue is that I don't want to have to work exlusively with coordinating and optimizing prepackaged solutions such as servers. I want to work with actually putting something physical on the market, not consuming products to produce purely electronic services. I don't have to actually hold the soldering iron, but I do want to balance software with hardware design.
    Last edited: May 30, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. May 31, 2014 #2
    There are career opportunities for somebody with a BS Degree, however employers are increasingly turning towards those with graduate degrees, and are off-shoring much of the lower-level design and verification work to places such as India and China. This leaves US Engineers to perform the more challenging work of architecture, SOC design, and integration, and this work often requires substantially more knowledge and experience than that provided by a BS Degree.

    I doubt that you would be doing anything like putting servers together from components; I am not even sure anybody in the US still does that.

    The industry has been focused on the design and verification of SOCs and higher levels of integration for quite some time, and has moved away from stitching together components on a board. In some cases you might find that the board consists of 1 or 2 SOCs, and the system might have many such boards.

    I've not held a soldering iron for at least 20 years. Specialized equipment is needed to place components on most boards today, or else they use sockets for engineering prototypes. Although some Engineers frequently work in the lab, many do not. Most of the time I sit in an office and login to the lab equipment from there, and virtually all of my co-workers do as well. You might be designing, architecting, or debugging a SOC, however you would generally perform that at a workstation or PC and not on a breadboard.

    The industry representatives you meet at career fairs are most likely working in HR and not in Engineering. So I would not expect those people to have much knowledge about Engineering. If they dress nicely, then they definitely work in HR.

    BTW, this thread may belong more properly under Career Guidance, rather than Academic Guidance.
    Last edited: May 31, 2014
  4. May 31, 2014 #3
    That's understandable.

    I certainly expect not. I just mean that I would rather not be locked into working at such a high level as integrating complex commercially packaged products (such as servers) into, for example, a cloud infrastructure. This is as opposed, for example, to designing complex networks of more basic units such as FPGAs, microcontrollers, etc.

    That pretty well describes something I would enjoy. I'm not particularly a fan of soldering anyway; I tend to get migraines from the fumes. But, I would like the finished product, at least on occasion, to be something tangible.

    I like that rule of thumb. They do dress rather neatly.

    Perhaps, but the underlying question (never made explicit) is this: should I consider changing to EE with a computer emphasis just to put the word "Electrical" on my degree? I really love my curriculum, and I can't think of any course in my requirements sheet that I would want to replace, but I also feel that I need to be aware of my career prospects.

    That said, I have been strongly considering graduate school. I started college two years late (I had no intention of going beyond high school), so I am already getting a somewhat later start on life. Furthermore, I do not know whether or not I will be able to get sufficient funding to pursue a higher degree. However, I do realize that if I can do so, it would be very beneficial.
  5. May 31, 2014 #4
    If you're interested in FPGAs and microcontrollers, then I doubt there's going to be much difference in your career prospects whether you choose an EE or CpE degree. If you're more interested in working with analog, signal integrity, and high speed interfaces like GbE, PCIE, and DDR, then an EE degree would likely be the better choice IMO. Here you're more likely to be working more in a lab setting. If you're more interested in working in both hardware and software, for example in a field like embedded programming, then IMO the CpE degree might work better.

    Employers tend to judge recent grads not so much by their course work, but by how quickly they can become productive in the company. Recent grads tend to be unknown quantities -- they often do not have prior work experience, and so employers find it difficult to judge whether a candidate will "sink or swim" once they're hired. If you are able to get an internship and talk about your work intelligently with a prospective employer, then you will have a huge advantage over other graduates with no such experience. Experience matters more than what kind of degree that you have, for the kind of career that you are contemplating.

    Of course, it's sometimes difficult to get an internship if you don't already have some prior work experience in the field. But that problem has never prevented employers from looking for experienced people anyways. They just assume that some other company will be hiring recent grads and training them.

    BTW, there is a substantial amount of hardware and software engineering that goes into building a server farm -- probably a lot more than building a SOC. Look up the "Open Compute Project" as an example.
  6. Jun 1, 2014 #5
    Thanks for your input! I'll probably continue with CpE, spend some time in industry to get a real feel of what I am doing, and use that experience to choose the direction for a Master's degree if I want to knock on one of the doors that are closed to me with a BS.
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