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Path to audio electronic design

  1. Jan 17, 2012 #1
    I am 23 and have not been to college. I am currently working as a technician and panel builder for a small company that engineers and builds automation control systems. This is a decent job, but I feel underpaid due to lack of training, and want to step towards a field I'm personally interested in, which is audio electronics. I want to own a business designing high-end audio merchandise to be used in professional recording and broadcast environments, maybe some consumer hifi products. I had previously been interested in seeking an electrician apprenticeship, but have been increasingly considering engineering instead. I have no problems with manual labor, pulling cables, etc, but I am an analytical thinker with high expectations for myself, and think that I may become bored as an electrician. I don't have the resources to finance college and general living expenses simultaneously, so working and possibly part-time education might be the only option. I understand that an engineering degree and the topics of study in an electrician certification are independent from each other, but it may be possible to get an apprenticeship while doing part-time classes at community college for a "pre-engineering" associates. The apprenticeship pays more than I'm currently earning, and in the 4 years it lasts, I could get an associates (or two) and be ready to transfer to a larger university to get a BA, or find work as a certified electrician. The only problem with that plan is that the electrical certification holds no value in the field I want to work, the experiences may not help in PCB design, and it means I'll be doing more manual labor and less design than I'm doing at my current job. Alternatively, I could maintain the tech job at less pay, but may learn more about design and engineering. I could still take the pre-engineering associates program part-time, but time spent here isn't awarded with any credit towards a degree or certification. I'm not entirely happy here and feel like I'm running in place. There is also another school well known for recording and broadcast training, which has degrees available in pre-engineering and acoustic sciences, which would be a great addition for speaker and enclosure designs. The location is in a larger city, where I could find more opportunities for my career and hobbies. It would mean dropping my job and possible apprenticeship, and taking a greater leap into the unknown. There would be increased living and educational expenses due to a larger city and state school tuition. I am not sure how to get from this current spot in life, to my dream job of audio electronic design. I would like to get started working on simple electronics at home as a hobby, but have no idea where to start, or why resources are out there for someone starting down that path. I've found various kits and books, but they have that snake oil feel to them when reading reviews and sales pitches.

    I would greatly appreciate any advice or suggestions. I'm stuck in a loop here and have nobody with experience to really talk about this with. I want to get out and feel like I'm accomplishing something and working towards my aspirations.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 19, 2012 #2
    Here is my opinion from my experience.

    You need to understand one thing before you go on and kind of choose. A Electrician/Tech etc is going to be different to an EE. So you basically need to decide weather or not you enjoy troubleshooting faulty electronics/wiring building manufacturing etc electronic equipment and/or audio electronic equipment or if you would rather design the equipment (keep in mind this usually includes wiring/troubleshooting electronics etc as well.)

    What Im trying to get at is that if you want to DESIGN electronics audio or not you should get at least a BSEE or equivalent you might be able to get away with a BS EET (Electrical Engineering Technology) degree. I personally think just getting an associates isnt really worth the time. If your going to do it get the full BS. Associates is certainly better then just a high school degree but most employers will really want something higher if your looking for design work. Associates might be ok for tech work. And theres nothing wrong with being a tech it just depends on what you want to do.

    Let me back this up by giving you a look into my education and professional career. I went to school for Audio Engineering Technology. My original passion was recording music. The program that I enrolled in ended up being more about audio electronics and this was good for me because I quickly realized that I do not want to be a musician and that was a big part of recording. I finished this program and graduated. I looked for a job for 2 years and couldn't find anything that I wanted. I was looking for design. The "technology" in my degree deterred companies from hiring me.

    Once I realized that I couldnt get what I wanted with my degree I decided to go back to school and work towords a Masters of Engineering in Electrical Engineering. This required a few additional courses to cross over from technology to engineering. After one year of part time classes and no "real" job I got an internship (paid fortunatley) at a large company. I happened to get assigned to a group that designs and builds ultrasound inspection equipment. Metal flaw detection not medical use. Ontop of this the ultrasound interments are used on automated robots to keep human exposure to dangerous areas to a minimum (radiation). So I design and build ultrasound pulser circuits as well as receiver circuits. The receivers are essentially pre-amps. I now have been working for this company for several years and doing very well there. It sounds like you have similar interests to me as far as what you would like to do for work. They are now paying for the rest of my graduate degree and am making the transition from "Engineer" to "Senior Engineer".

    So that being said If I could go back to highschool where I was deciding what I wanted to go to college for I would just go straight in to an EE program. It is and will be harder then a technology program but if you like what its all about you will make it through and it will be worth it.

    Sorry for the long winded response but your question just seemed so close to the path that I took. Feel free to ask me any questions you may have.

    Good luck!
  4. Jan 20, 2012 #3
    Evo8, thanks for the response. It's great to see someone that's been through the same path. I was also initially interested in audio engineering, but that interest has shifted from recording to designing the products used in recording.

    I definitely, without a doubt, want to find a career designing and understanding audio electronics. I don't mind troubleshooting, but I want to be behind the products and finding new technology for the audio industry, which is a personal passion of mine.

    It was a couple of years back that I was interested in becoming an electrician, and was going to pursue audio engineering on the side. I wasn't able to source the funds for school, or find an apprenticeship at that time. I found this job as a tech and panel builder (we deal with process automation networks, Profinet, ASi, etc). Through my experiences here, I've developed a fascination with electronics and want to delve deeper into that territory. I understand more the role of the electrician, and now I can't see that being a permanent career for me. I want to be more involved with the design and understanding of electronics, instead of the one pulling cables, making terminations, doing maintenance, etc.

    It seems like going to school for a BA or higher in engineering would be the best option, but I can't really get the money together to take care of living expenses and tuition. I don't think I could handle going to school and working full-time, although doing school part-time could work. The only concern there would be the amount of time needed to get a degree. That is why I'm returning to the electrician idea. Although it's not where I want to be in 10+ years, working as an apprentice and doing a pre-engineering associates part-time would get me a degree and certification, all while making more money than I am as a technician. The work done as an apprentice is less involved with engineering than what I'm currently doing. After getting a degree and certification, it would be much easier for me to move to a larger city with an engineering school to work on a BS, and there would be more opportunities for an electrician, so I could fund school. It would be a longer road to engineering, but more financially stable. It could take 5 years before I have an associates and certification, verse going to school for 4 years for a BA. But, when I finally get work as an engineering, all the time spent as an electrician really isn't going to matter anymore. It seems like it might be a waste of time.

    So, should I take a flying leap into school? I might have to settle with working part-time doing meaningless jobs to eat, and couldn't keep working at my tech job. It would be a rough few years, but I would get my degree quickly as opposed to using an electricians certification and apprenticeship to fund my education and expenses.
  5. Jan 20, 2012 #4

    It sounds like you have a good understanding of the different roles your speaking of. Ontop of knowing where you want to be. Again my personal experience was that if I showed effort of working towards a true engineering degree BS or higher I was considered more seriously for engineering jobs then I would have been if I just had a technology degree and no plan to peruse an "engineering" degree.

    That being said I think doing some work part time is just fine. Find a school near you that is accredited at the very least usually the big one is ABET accreditation. The name of the school in my opinion doesn't really matter as long as its accredited. So if you have a state school close by with engineering programs that are less expensive then a private i would go for it. Start with the basic classes that you will need to take regardless. For example almost all disciplines will require your math classes be taken in an actual engineering department. Most schools have things like algebra based physics for technologists, or calculas based physics for engineering type degrees. Same with Calc 1 (differentiation), Calc 2 (integration) Calc 3 (multi variable calc or 3 space calc.) I took calc 1 and 2 in the "technology" department at my school for my Audio Eng degree. When I switched to MSEE I needed to retake calc 2 in the engineering department and then move on to calc 3. Following this I had to take Differential equations and linear algebra etc.

    The reason im mentioning this is that I wouldn't want you to have to retake your classes like I did because your already 23 and you dont want to spend the rest of your life in school. Im 25 now and still working towards my MSEE part time. I spent t first 4 years after high school getting my BS in Audio and Associates in EET then one more year retaking math classes 3/4 time. So not quite full time but it was still a couple of classes a semester.

    Taking all of this into consideration I would never recommend diving into incredible debt and working at McDonalds in the morning and a Autoparts store at night to make enough money to pay min payments on credit cards and put food on the table. Take it slow if you need to for financial reasons and look for Internships in the engineering field. If you get lucky youll find a paid one. The degree you get is important but I dont think anybody in the field will argue experience will drive you further then your education. Dont get me wrong the education is required but if you gain education and experience at the same time you can try to get into a company with a full time job learning what you love and continuing your education with out debt. Meaning the company will fund this for you. This is ideal in my mind.

    Work hard and ask alot of questions. That how I learn anyway.
  6. Jul 13, 2012 #5
    that's pretty pretentious of companies because i know a lot of experienced technologists who are more useful than some "engineers" with higher degrees. there are a small percentage of courses that are required when it comes to design for audio electronics, a full blown electrical engineering degree usually has stuff more related to power systems and machines, etc. so really an electronic engineering technology degree or diploma is more related to what you want because your actually focusing on analog and digital electronics that are used in audio systems. all companies want "degrees" these days its just a name :rolleyes:
  7. Jul 14, 2012 #6
    Your dream job of audio design may not be what you think it is.

    Movie theaters have sound systems. Hotels have sound systems. Clubs have sound systems. Shopping malls have sound systems. Those are the places that pay the bills. Audio and lighting work for the stage is often handled by low paid or amateur workers.

    Most of the work is actually a lot more like electrical work than it is like audio work, though there are issues that distinguish the audio work from electrical wiring.

    I am biased because I am a Control Systems engineer. I think there is a lot more to be found in the world of control systems engineering than there is working on sound systems.

    That said, you can always pursue audio systems as a hobby. I have always enjoyed ham radio, for example, but I have not been able to include RF design in my work. Such is life. I tinker when I can. Likewise, I enjoy piloting aircraft. I fly when I can. But I do so on my own time, with my own money. It is not a job for me. I do not work on avionics.

    So if you have the itch, find a place that can pay you enough that you can scratch that itch. You're relatively young. You can still go to school and learn the stuff you need to become an engineer. If you go toward studying electrical engineering, you can parlay your experience in panel building in to a good job designing control systems for clients. And because you have experience building panels, you can also learn a great deal by starting off as a field engineer, fixing problems for clients.

    That can pay quite well, and when you have had enough as a field engineer, you'll have solid experience you can build on to design first rate, high reliability systems.

    I've been working on one thing or another for thirty years. I too have a dream job in mind that would use all of my current abilities. I'm not likely to find that dream job, but my work does change enough to keep my interests going, and that's really what it is all about.

    "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." --John Lennon
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