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Career choice for Electronic and Computer Engineer Graduate

  1. Apr 19, 2007 #1

    I will be completing my course in Electronic and Computer Engineering in May of this year. My course has covered a broad range of topics from Analogue Circuit Design to Development of Embedded Systems to Object Orientated Programming in Java and C++. I now have to decide which path to go down from here.

    I have been offered a job with Fidelity Investments, a financial services company. Here I would be trained for a year in Object Orientated Programming using Java and C++ as well as general web development, web security and systems administration, before moving to Boston full time.

    I'm interested in the above type of work but since I have completed a number of projects involving embedded systems I am hesitant about going solely down the web development path where I will have no exposure to embedded systems.

    I have a few questions. Which of these two paths would pay the best in the long run? I feel if I go with Fidelity that it may be a less skilled and changeling area to work in that if I was to look for a job involving embedded systems.

    Also, I have been offered the opportunity to undertake further study in the form of a Phd. which will be fully funded. I would be given a wage of 16,000 euro per year during this time. But I'm less inclined to go down this path as I think I would rather go into the workplace now rather than spend another 3-4 years in college.

    Any advise is very much appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 19, 2007 #2


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    My initial take (I could be wrong of course) is that the software job you are offered does not have much growth potential, and could be outsourced fairly easily. Maybe that's why they are offering it to a new graduate (congratulations, BTW).

    In embedded systems work, there is more room for entrepreneurship (sp?), and hence more room for growth professionally and financially. However, it's probably harder to find positions as a new graduate.

    If you have funding for the PhD, I'd say that it would be a great opportunity to further your education, and to do some research and development projects that will definitely increase your marketability in industry. You would want to decide early on, I would think, what areas you want to work in after you get your degree, and focus your classes, research and projects to get you ready for that work.

    Let's say that you did go the PhD route, what would be your ideal job coming out of school?
  4. Apr 19, 2007 #3
    Thanks for the reply berkeman.

    It's a pretty big company and from what I've heard their graduate training program is considered quite highly throughout the profession.

    I'm from Ireland and the wages in this country for new graduates in this field are about 25 - 28K euro. For a Phd grad you would probably start on 33-35K. One of the main reasons I applied to Fidelity in the first place is because their wages are 28.5K in the first year (which doesn't really matter very much) but when you move to the U.S. with them it goes up to $52K. This seems average enough for this profession in the U.S. but compared to Ireland it's quite good.

    If I was been honest, I would have to say I would rather be programming microprocessors and other general embedded systems work. My two main projects in college involved data acquisition systems using microcontrollers where the data was then transferred over networks for storage and display. I really enjoyed this type of work.

    My problem with doing the PhD is that I think it may be a waste of time. Would an employer look more favorably upon someone just out of college with a PhD relevant to that area of work, or a person with 3-4 years of work experience in that area? I would have thought the person with the experience would be a better person to employ.
  5. Apr 19, 2007 #4


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    That's a good question. A straight academic PhD would not have any value over the person with the equivalent time in work experience for most embedded systems positions that I can think of. But, if you used your PhD studies and projects to get some really good experience and knowledge in a specialized subject or field that would be in demand in say 3 years, then it could be time well spent.

    For example, let's say that you really enjoy communication systems as applied to embedded systems or similar areas. You could be extremely valuable to a cell phone network provider in their development of next-generation communication systems, or to wireless control and sensing networks that are under development by many companies.

    Or let's say that you did some fundamental work in extremely low power IC design in your PhD work. That would be very valuable to the wireless sensing and control industry, where autonomous RF nodes must last for years on battery power. This is a very difficult and hot topic at the moment, and is ripe for some fundamental break-throughs.

    So you see where I was going with my suggestions. If you can do some things in your PhD work, using it as an opportunity to specialize your learning and target some very valuable and growth-oriented industry, then it could be a valuable thing to do. But if the opportunities in the PhD program are more standard academic type stuff, then yes, you may be better served to spend that time out in industry.

    Best of luck either way! Congrats again on the upcoming graduation. :cool:
  6. Apr 19, 2007 #5
    Thanks for the help berkeman.

    Suppose I'll just have to decide which path seems right for me.
  7. Apr 19, 2007 #6


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    I'm a senior integrated circuit designer with a billion-dollar semiconductor company.

    I agree with pretty much everything Berkeman has said. Information technology is really not considered a "highly skilled field" by the engineering industry, and it sounds to me as though you would not really enjoy the work very much. Also, if your only post-graduate experience is in information technology, you will be at a serious disadvantage if you attempt to get into electrical engineering in the future.

    This is a general rule of thumb: future employers will (unfortunately) peg you as a specific kind of employee if your only job experience is in one area, because it sets a precedent. I would be hesitant to consider a candidate for an engineering position if she only has five years of web design experience on her resume. The reason? She's got no practical engineering experience, just like a recent graduate, but she's even less qualified than a recent graduate because she has probably forgotten any engineering she learned in school after five years.

    I find it hard to believe I'm going to make this analogy, but here goes: career trajectories are like billiards trajectories. You can aim slightly in the wrong direction initially, but put a little spin on it and still sink the ball. If your initial shot was grossly inaccurate, though, it may well be impossible to make the shot. Make sure your initial aim -- your first job -- is as closely aligned with your present career goals as possible. Changing careers is extremely difficult in many ways, and IT is considered a distinct profession from engineering, even though you received some training applicable to both in university.

    I should also mention that, in my opinion, enjoying your job is the most important criterion. A little more money or a bigger name on the resume might matter to some extent, but your day-to-day enjoyment of your job probably has a bigger impact on your overall well-being than a few more euros in the bank. After all, you're going to be doing that job for most of your waking hours!

    Also, keep in mind that few people really lovetheir first job. You'll grow a tremendous amount, and refine what you want and need in a job, as you gain experience. You will probably outgrow your first job in a couple of years, no matter what kind of work you're doing, or how rapidly you get promoted. Try to find a position that closely matches your current goals, but expect those goals to change a bit over the first couple of years.

    From the sound of it, I think it would be a mistake for you to accept the web design job.

    - Warren
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2007
  8. Apr 19, 2007 #7


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    Also, I agree that a PhD is not at all a requirement for most engineering disciplines. In my opinion, it only makes sense to pursue a PhD if you have an intense love for some specific field -- microarchitecture, communications, etc. -- and intend to find a job doing that specific kind of work. It doesn't make much sense to pursue a PhD unless you know exactly why you're doing it -- and it won't really make you any significant money in the long run. You'll get paid incrementally more once you start working, but you'll spend five to seven more years in school, making nothing at all.

    - Warren
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