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Controls engineering vs mechanical systems design

  1. Jul 12, 2011 #1
    In college I majored in Math and had little to no idea what I was going to do with it. I ended up getting a job doing CAD design for an electrical engineering firm where I worked for 1.5 years. There was a lot that I liked about electrical engineering, but the company I worked for was in dire straights and the president was a complete and total lunatic, so I abandoned ship and got another job as a CAD designer at a different firm, this time in the mechanical department. I've been with this company 3 years now. I started out being really involved in the 3D BIM technology that the company was just starting to embrace, and then moved on to HVAC design working under a sr engineer at the company. About a year ago I started taking engineering classes at night, working towards and degree in mechanical engineering.

    Now I'm trying to figure out what I should really be working towards, and what type of position I ultimately want. I wan't attracted to mechanical over electrical because I liked the engineering more, it was more of a short-sighted decision based on my 3D CAD skills, but there are some things that I like about it a lot more than electrical; mechanical systems are more integrated into the way the building as a whole operates, so in a certain sense it's more important.

    However neither of these options are really all that related to what I first got into, which was Math. If I could do it all over again I think I might be happier as a computer programmer. I've only dabbled recreationaly with writing code but I think I'd be good at it.

    Anyway, I have only a vague and potentially ignorant impression on what controls engineering actually is, but I am curious if it is in fact a combination of electrical and mechanical engineering, and computer science, in a proportion that I may find agreeable to how I want to spend my working hours. The way things work at the company I work for now, the mechanical engineer that I work for will write a sequence of operations: a document along the lines of "if the temperature of the space rises above 75 degrees and the outside air temperature is between 65 and 70 the outside air dampers will open and the fan shall increase to maximum speed until the temperature of the space is 73 degrees". How those instructions are carried out in the actual operations of the constructed building is a mystery to me, but it is something that interests me.

    So I have 2 dilemmas:
    1) What exactly is controls engineering? What types of companies do people with this sort of specialty work for and where can I go to learn more about it and figure out if I would like it more than mechanical design?
    2) If I decide I want out of the mechanical world to get in to controls, am I better off with an EE degree rather than doing ME? And along those lines, what is the best way to break in to the industry given my experience and credentials before finishing the engineering degree? It'll be a good 3 years before I finish school, would I be better positioned if I spent that time at a company that does PLC programming, or would the only positions available to me at those firms be relying strictly on my CAD skills?
  2. jcsd
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