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Hands-on work as an EE?

  1. Aug 30, 2012 #1
    I worked 14 years as an electrician and I have gone back to school for Electrical Engineering. I'm about a third of the way through my EE degree, having taken maths up through Calc 3/Diffy Q's and a bunch of other classes.
    However, the more I get into the curriculum and get an idea for what most engineers do, I'm starting to have doubts. I envisioned designing a product, building and testing it, etc... Or possibly overseeing the electrical systems of an industrial (or utility) setting with some hands on work to maintain or improve the facilities.
    In short, I don't think I would enjoy sitting in front of a computer all day. I know that many people will say that engineering jobs vary, but I was hoping to find some anecdotal evidence of people who apply their knowledge as opposed to just designing and using theory. I wonder if I am describing more of an EET degree, but I've always thought those degrees were not very useful (that is the picture I've gotten at least, so no offense to anyone that might have an EET degree).
    Any input from anyone? Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 30, 2012 #2
    Anecdote: When I worked in making arcade games, we had people (engineers) who design the cabinets. In addition to making the cabinet's PC work, they also design the I/O board which controls all the lights and buttons and player inputs, and for security too. They DO get to crawl up and down the prototype cabinets and get to play with electronics. So, design, build (prototype), and test. But, the mass manufacturing and testing is in some distant factory and they don't worry about it. They don't maintain the operational cabinets, either.

    Now what I feel is you *want* to be playing with individual systems, and you want to be *useful*. But usually the most useful work is done in the design phase, where you sit in front of a computer all day. Because one good design will benefit all of its products. So in a sense, you have to choose between hands on work where your usefulness is localized, and high level work where your usefulness scales. I think this is why EE is considered more useful than EET.

    Also, "designing and using theory" is "applying knowledge" in my view.
  4. Aug 30, 2012 #3
    Yes, poor choice of words by me. I merely meant sometimes applying that knowledge in a physical, hands-on manner. Thank you for that example.
  5. Aug 30, 2012 #4
    While attending school at night, I was a telecommunications and instrumentation technician. You will find a place where your hands-on abilities will be respected.

    In fact, our schools are woefully inadequate when it comes to teaching the practical side of engineering. I wish I had a dollar for everyone who graduated with an EE who didn't even know how set up a scope properly, configure a spectrum analyzer, or solder a connector. I would make Bill Gates look poor...

    You could do telecommunications systems design. You could get in to industrial engineering. You could get in to power engineering.

    There are many fields where practical, hands-on experience as an electrician or technician of some sort is valued. And to be able to do so as an engineer is HUGE.

    Most of the learning you'll get is taught by people with very little practical engineering experience. You might regale them with stories about how a tiny amount of resistance from corrosion at the current node of an antenna made a huge difference in performance, and they'll nod sagely. But if they really understood this, they'd have stories of their own about how they were climbing towers inspecting every connection and splice of an array for water damage...

    I suggest looking in to industrial engineering applications and power engineering applications. Also I strongly suggest taking the EIT when you graduate. For nearly 20 years I pooh-poohed the PE certification. And yet, it gets your foot in the door especially among HR people who really wouldn't know a good engineer from a pretender even if it were tattooed on the foreheads of the candidates.

    Good Luck!
  6. Sep 2, 2012 #5
    Most of the EE's where I work spend maybe half their time behind the computer, and the other half in the lab testing and working on the tools they are designing. They also design the circuits for the pcbs used in the tools. I suppose it all depends where you work.
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