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Getting back in after a long time

  1. Jun 26, 2013 #1
    Just a probe here for anyone that can offer professional advice. I worked for 5 years in industrial power, automation, and controls after college. After that, I had an offer to begin work with a non-profit organization, working on community development, teaching literacy, and teaching principles of foreign language learning. It has been good and rewarding work, but I have found myself to have strayed rather far from my electrical engineering roots, and it has been 12 years since I was in industry. From time to time I have done some consulting on minor projects, like how to install small solar electric systems or lightning protection, but not much beyond that.

    I have about 1 year to 1.5 years left doing the non-profit type work, and in my free time I would like to begin preparing for going back into industry, and I am wondering what sort of knowledge I need to brush up on in order to be able to do an effective job where ever I end up. In my industry job before I installed Allen-Bradley PLC control systems, maintained a Bailey DCS, built a Citect HMI for a crystallization plant, and installed medium voltage and low voltage switchgear. In a year or so from now when I begin job hunting, I would like to be able to be sharp on this sort of knowledge. Now is the time for preparation, and I am not worried about looking for a job yet.

    I am also thinking I would want to move towards finally getting my PE license, as I was too busy with the work before to complete my studies towards that.

    So, anyone that has some experience as a mid-level to senior-level engineer, are there any particular areas that you would recommend I study up on to make sure I am sharp? I am thinking about things like, would it help to learn a programming language, like java, or something else for setting up pc to pc communication? What is the standard set of skills that a power, automation, and controls engineer should be expected to have working in industry in the United States today?

    Thanks in advance
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 26, 2013 #2


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    Just from reading what you wrote, you already sound pretty darn sharp. I think it would be impossible to pre-study for a job simply because every job is so different, I don't think you would be able to hit the mark so to speak. Baptism by fire is probably the way it is going to happen. Things haven't changed that much, V still equals IR.

    But since you are talking PE, I think that would be the way to get back into the game. Sound like the power version or the electronics version would fit your background. They offer great study guides for any of the PE disciplines. Since you've been out of the game a while, I would guess you would need at least 200 hours of solid studying, hopefully working about 2,000 electrical problems. And since you seek knowledge anyway, you should probably go beyond that to make sure you pass the first time. I'm assuming you passed the FE. If not, probably about another 250 hours of studying to re-grasp the 12 or so phases of engineering.

    Also, just stay active on this site. Ask questions and even answer questions. There are some seriously smart people on this site that really impress.
  4. Jun 26, 2013 #3
    The hardest part for you is going to get hiring committees to take a chance on you if you've been out of the industry for 12 years. You seem like you're a very capable person but hiring is very risk adverse.

    Have you given any thought to getting an MS degree? That would trump your resume gap, and might help you brush up on your skills.

    Good luck!
  5. Jun 26, 2013 #4
    Thanks for the encouraging words and advice. I did pass the EIT back in 1993, did some military service for a few years, and then went on with work. I think that I would have time to do some independent study for the PE, though right now I probably would not have time to pursue a master's degree. I can keep that idea open for the future, knowing it would help.

    Do you all have any recommendations for which study guides would be best to use as I prepare for the review? I see that several companies, like Professional Publications, Kaplan, school of PE, etc. offer review courses of one sort or another.
  6. Jun 27, 2013 #5


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    Having the "PE" after your name on a resume typically puts you in the "top stack". Always a good thing.

    This link is one of the best sources I found for books:
    http://ppi2pass.com/shop/pe-exams-80/electrical-pe-exams [Broken]

    You can apply for test here assuming you are USA:

    Additional info here:

    Just buy the complete set of books for $330 or so and that's pretty much all you will need. Couple hours studying after work every day and a good 8 to 10 hours on weekends. (assuming you jam it in 6 month period) The trick is to enjoy your studying. If you have a passion for it and enjoy learning, studying will be an absolute pleasure instead of a "drag". Each and every day you will struggle...then after a couple hours you will figure it out and you will feel fantastic. Nobody can take that feeling away from you.

    There's several sample tests in the package as well. And yes, you do need a legit 70% to pass the PE. But since they are multiple choice.....your guesses figure into the 70% as well. So you actually only need to know roughly 45 out of the 80 mulitple choice questions. The 35 you don't know you are going to get 8 or 9 right if you have no idea...and slightly higher if you have some idea. This will get you to 56/80....or better.

    As far as actual studying, I did very little of that. Working sample problems is 99% of your studying. Attention to detail is key. Such as is it metric, millimeters or kilometers, is it in mili-seconds or micro seconds, is it radians per second or hertz just to name a few.

    Taking a course may or not help, you need to contact your local engineering society to see about that.

    Here's another snafu, most of the things you will be studying will not be on the test. However, the theory of the things you are studying will be on the test.

    An 8 hour test is fairly gruling....it will definitely test your endurance. If you leave it "all on the table", it will take your mind a couple days to recover. 66% of first timers pass it....how hard can it be? Good luck!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  7. Jul 7, 2013 #6
    Ok, a follow up question. What calculator do you recommend for the PE exam? I used to use an HP 48-SX, because it had reverse polish notation on it and graphing capabilities, and I could really fly with that. It looks like there are only 2 HP calculators on the approved list for the exam, which do use RPN, but do not have graphing capabilities.

    The calculators that are approved are the casio fx-115 model series, the hp 33s and 35s, and the ti-30x and 36x series. the website ppi2pass offers a sale for the casio, and also a calculator lesson book for sale.

    Since I haven't bought anything yet, I would be interested to know what your experiences have been.

  8. Jul 8, 2013 #7


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    You won't need any fancy graphing calculator for PE. Most calculations are basic with advanced calculations only containing sin/cos/tan or converting vectors from polar to rectangular or visa versa.

    The calculator you need (in my opinion) is one of the TI-36X solar that you mention above. Simple calculator that costs roughly $10. Over complicating your calculator only leads to additional mistakes. Use this calculator in your studies and it will become second nature fairly quick.

    If you know what you are doing on test, most answers can be attained by a couple short "sentences" on scratch paper.

    Incidentally, how you take this test is key. For example, morning session you have 40 questions. Answer only the questions you think are relatively simple and can complete easily. Now that your confidence is up, go back and try to tackle all the "mid range" problems. Then, leave the most difficult ones to the end. Repeat for afternoon session. So many people screw this test up because of time....do not waste more than 5 minutes on any problem until the end.

    Also, there are going to be about 5 questions on each session which seem impossible. They are impossible....you could sit there for a 100 years and have no clue to the answer. These problems are designed to discourage you. But the good news is, you won't need these problems because of the fudge factor I mention above with the 45/80 example.

    Keep asking questions all the way thru your PE process...I'll be happy to give any advice.

    And think of it this way, your new prospective employer will be wowed by the fact you passed this PE on your first shot away from the industry!
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2013
  9. Jul 8, 2013 #8
    for your Allen Bradley products, a lot has changed in 12 years. I would visit http://ca.rockwellautomation.com/

    download the SLC 500 instruction set manual, the controllogix manual, and the PICO smart relay controllers literature from the knowledge base and literature library. If yuo can't find a copy email me and I'll send via email to you.
    Many oilfield companies prefer Seimens products so I would also look there for step 5 and step 7 literature.

    other PLC based lanquages to brush up on is STL structured text lanquage, and Sequental function chart. priority on the former as its more used.
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2013
  10. Jul 10, 2013 #9
    Thanks, you guys are fantastic! This is really really helpful advice.
  11. Jul 12, 2013 #10
    As I am looking at what to buy, I see that I can purchase either the pdf version or the printed copy of the Power Reference Manual. I am wondering now, when taking the exam, are you allowed to take reference material into the exam to help you? If so, it would seem that it would be better to purchase the printed book rather than the pdf version. But if they don't allow you to bring in reference material anyway, it would seem easier to get the pdf version, as it is cheaper, and I will always have a copy on my computer.

    Any thoughts on that?
  12. Jul 12, 2013 #11


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    You can bring in any reference you like...but in the case of loose papers, they just need to be hole punched and put into a binder. You'll find that somewhere in the rules.
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