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Controls Engineering

  1. Aug 27, 2014 #1
    Hello PF,

    Something has arisen in the past couple weeks and really has me questions what to do with my entire life. I don't believe anyone on the forums knows my true identity, so I'll go into a little bit more detail than I would typically be comfortable doing.

    I'll first give some background. I'm currently a Junior pursuing a degree in electrical engineering. While I do enjoy electricity and electronics, I have found that I have become a lot more interested in the controls aspect of electrical engineering. This is one area that I feel really incorporates a lot of other engineering into it other than the typical electrical design. I have always been a fan of math and physics and I feel like a control concentration allows me to learn and work in these areas as well.

    For a total time of 10 months, I was working for a company within the automation industry. I was able to get involved with programming and industrial circuit design that involved controlling physical systems. Getting to study the physics of a mechanical system and implementing control via electrical means was something that was pretty enjoyable. I was able to expand my knowledge in control, advanced mathematics, physics, and programming.

    I had gotten to a point (as an intern) where the company began trusting me and was allowing me to spend quite a bit of money for my projects. The trust they gave me seemed somewhat abnormal for someone in my position. And then the bomb was dropped. I was offered a full time position, as a junior with 3 semester left, I was in disbelief.

    While it is an honor to get a full time opportunity so early into my education, at the same time, I don't know how to interpret it. I don't have anything to compare the offer to in order for me to truly understand the offer. The annual salary is something that I have nothing to compare to as well.

    Furthermore, there are still other areas of control engineering that I would like to explore before making such a commitment.

    So my questions for you PF regard the idea of personal career choice and control engineering opportunities outside the automation industry.

    Going back to you education, how would you treat something like this? If the opportunity fell on your lap, what would you do? Do you believe there is value in experiencing as much as you can before making a commitment while you're still in school? Were there any career choices that you regretted shortly after graduation?

    As I stated earlier, I'm interested in other areas of control engineering and the automation industry is a single area. Are there many opportunities out there where I could implement control theory in other types of systems such as robotics, aviation etc.? Do any of you have experience in these industries and do opportunities exist?

    I realize these are very open ended questions and I'm more interested in simply having a discussion with experienced engineers/designers.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 27, 2014 #2
    First of all. Stay the course. Get your degree. Electrical Engineering is a good introduction to the world of Control Systems.

    My degree is Electrical Engineering. I started off fascinated with telecommunications and radio in particular. However, I was working at a water and sewer utility to pay for my education at the time. I graduated in the depths of a major industry downturn following the end of the cold war defense contracts. Many of my classmates were on scholarships from their employers. They didn't have money for tuition. They didn't graduate because they couldn't afford the last semester of class.

    I saw that I had interesting and meaningful work. I had lots of cool toys. It was very steady work. So I stuck around.

    That was 25 years ago. I'm still here. It is a lot of fun. There are days when I'm amazed that I get paid to do this. And yes, there are days when I wonder why anyone would want to be here. There are many more days like the former than the latter.

    The field of controls mostly grew out of the need for instrumentation engineering at refineries and mills. However, control systems engineers design many things including instrumentation and controls for piston engines and turbines; autopilots, for rockets, cars, aircraft, and ships; water and waste-water treatment; Electric power transmission and distribution; HVAC; long distance pipelines; and many more things.

    The job involves MANY disciplines: mathematics of Laplace transforms, valve design, materials, fluid dynamics, both compressible and incompressible, steam thermodynamics, software, telecommunications, information theory, electrical standards, safety systems...

    For a good feel of what the industry could be like, go find a copy of the Instrument Engineers Handbook by Bela Liptak. It is a HUGE set of three volumes. It is the go to reference for most of the industry. You'll probably find it in most technical libraries.

    And if you look deeply enough in the latest edition of the third volume, you might even find my name there too.

    Jake Brodsky, PE
    Control Systems Engineer
  4. Aug 27, 2014 #3
    Yeah, finish school. While many opportunities won't require an EE degree you are only 3 semesters away and it can only help you.

    I was elbow deep in automation and robotics for many years at an auto plant. And I made pretty good money for what often felt like play (integrated a DVT vision system with a Fanuc robot). Now I am in operations at a large nuclear power plant and what I learned in controls still helps me. Automation is everywhere. If you like working outside or travel you can but you don't have to. (PM me and I'll give you dollar figures)
  5. Aug 27, 2014 #4


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    I agree that finishing your degree, one way or another, is not negotiable. Even if the company puts more value on what you have done than on your academic qualifications, you need to keep your options open for the rest of your life!

    On the other hand, if the company wants to make you an offer that will give you more guaranteed internships with better pay, and a permanent position at the end, that's well worth considering. Just make sure you aren't signing yourself up to a long term commitment, like a financial penalty unless you work for them for X years after graduating.
  6. Aug 27, 2014 #5
    That was something that I forgot to mention. I will be graduating for sure and the company realizes that they will need to wait for me to do that. Thank you for your insight!

    I will absolutely be completing my degree and the company understand that. The latter situation you described is exactly how this is going. I have been offered the opportunity to return and would start immediately upon my graduation.

    My primary concern is making a commitment too early. I want to expand my view and see what else is out there, but at the same time it's a job opportunity. Lots to think about I guess.
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