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What's the EE experience like?

  1. Aug 24, 2013 #1
    This is my first time posting here, so pardon any faux pas I make. I'm a rising high school senior considering a career in EE as I apply to schools in the fall. I just had a few questions about the journey to a career in EE.

    1. What was the college experience like? Is it easy to switch your majors? Did you have the freedom to explore a double-major or minor in the humanities? How intensive were the courses and projects?
    2. What percentage of your peers did internships? Were they paid internships? When did they occur? When did you intern and what did you gain from your experience?
    3. How was graduate school, if you chose to go? Was it similar or different to undergraduate work? How did it prepare you for your career? Can you switch to a CS or ME career after graduating?
    4. How does one get a job in management? What kind of schooling or skills are needed?
    5. What kind of trends are happening in the industry? Is there any shift in jobs, salary, fields?

    I'm sorry that was so long! Thank you in advance for your replies!
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 26, 2013 #2
    My college experience ended over 20 years ago, so I'll refrain from answering questions 1, 2, and 3.

    Regarding question 4, do you want a career in management? If you choose that route it is very hard to remain involved and technically sharp. I do not like what middle management has to do most of the time, so I chose to remain an engineer. I haven't regretted that decision.

    As for trends, following them doesn't usually produce good results. Follow your intuition and decide what you would like to build. Trust me, few engineers ever have a problem making a comfortable living compared with most other professional endeavors.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2013
  4. Aug 26, 2013 #3


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    sbackround info. I graduated 3 months ago with an EE degree and I am now working in a leadership development program at a large defense contracting company.

    1.) as an ee you will spend more time working than almost all of your non ee friends. that being said, i enjoyed the material, and actually spent some of my free time in the lab 'perfecting' projects and assignments just for the fun of it. you can switch majors in your first year (at least at my school) however after that you cannot without going back a year. yes, however that would require more time. i would not reccomend it, but to each his own.

    2.) i would say 2/3 of us had engineering internships. I have never heard of a non-paid engineering internship. during the summer, and some continued during the school year. some engineering internships consist of copying paper, however many consists of acutal work. i would say 1/2 of the interships got to do real design work. i was lucky enough to act as a lead design engineer for NVG PSs.

    3-4) there are many leadership/rotation jobs out there (at least in the northeast). you can rotate the position that you work on every year, and you get exposure to managment. you also get learship development at the company, and you get your masters degree at the same time. based on your questions i would recomend finding a rotation program. many EEs end up working in software and end up getting a CS degree. as for ME yes, however I have never heard of that. in my company you can get a job in management proving yourself and having good organizational skills.

    Please keep in mind that this advice is free, and should be taken as such. Never take anyone elses word for gold
  5. Aug 26, 2013 #4


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    1. I graduated undergrad in 1997, so my experience is pretty dated now. But it is generally harder to switch majors in engineering because you have to apply for it. You have the freedom to explore a double-major or minor if you want. However, the EE curriculum is intense and there is not a lot of room for taking non-technical courses. If you minor or double-major you will almost certainly be in undergrad more than 4 years.

    2. Maybe half of my peers did internships. The ones that didn't were at a disadvantage when they applied for jobs or grad school. Virtually all engineering internships are paid. I interned after my second and third years. I wouldn't have traded my internship for anything. I learned what engineering was really like and about, and I learned what subfield I wanted to pursue.

    3. Graduate school is a different world. You end up working even harder because you are working for yourself. It isn't a matter of putting in the time and graduating, you have to deliver. I got a Ph.D. and it was an incredible experience. I was extremely well prepared for my career (Analog Integrated Circuit Design) after grad school as I had gone through the whole process from system modeling, to design, to test board layout, to testing and evaluation by myself. Switching to CS is easy. Lots of EEs are employed as software engineers. It's especially easy if you focused on software in your studies. Switching to ME is MUCH harder. You will almost certainly have to go get a Master's in ME to switch.

    4. You get a job in management typically if you do really well at leading technical projects. The Peter Principle is in full effect though, since people who are good technically are not necessarily good at management and vice versa. Managing is hard and finding good managers is harder. I am a technical lead (i.e. I manage projects) but not a manager (i.e. I don't supervise people and give performance reviews and lay people off and worry about office space and telephones and computers and the like). Like Jake above, I do not regret this decision. I paid a very high price for my technical skills, and I want to use them.

    An MBA is a good choice to get into management. You also need to be good at dealing with difficult people and situations, and be able to motivate people. You also have to have backbone in that you won't be able to make everyone happy and sometimes you're going to have to fire people. It is very difficult.

    5. Following trends is dangerous. If you go for a hot area in school, by the time you graduate it may be saturated or cooled off. Follow your passion. Whatever you do try to be the best you can be at it and you'll be in better shape.

    As far as salaries they've been pretty much flat for the last 10 years or so. Entry level salaries haven't quite kept up with inflation in my area. One big trend is people with graduate degrees are being hired for roles that didn't require graduate degrees in the past.
  6. Aug 27, 2013 #5


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    1. may depend a lot on where you go to school. My university had no minors, and a double major in a humanities was impossible (different college within the university). But we didn't have to declare major until end of 2nd year. I had pre-reqs for EE, applied physics, operations research, and materials science all complete so had some choices. If I had had some AP courses (small highschool with none!) I probably could have taken the 3rd CS course I would have needed to be ready for that major as well. So I postponed my decision as late as possible. Not sure that is possible anymore.

    2. perhaps 1/3 did co-ops, and most of the rest of us just found other work. I ended up doing an NSF REU which was good.

    3. grad school was nothing like undergrad, even though I stayed at the same university. Courses were less important, and research was the king. In our department your advisor had all power - determining what (if any) course requirements/limitations you had, what exactly the exams were (coverage, how given, how scored, how long to study, etc.), etc. I did not switch departments. My grad work prepared me well for my career in some ways: able to do independent work for weeks/months on end without supervision (my advisor liked to say that he, "gave his students enough rope to hang themselves,"), strong general analytical background, a few useful classes. In other ways it wasn't the best, since my job is outside of my specialization, so the stuff I spent most of my grad career learning has been shoved in a drawer and mostly forgotten.

    4. I don't know. When I have been asked if I would like to pursue a management track I always run the other direction. Not the best move for $$ or promotions, but keeps me doing work that is more fun.

    5. My only observation is that salaries for typical engineers goes up MUCH MORE SLOWLY than, say, the CEO or his/her cronies. It can be maddening. I have no idea to the trends - I simply try to keep my employer happy and steer myself onto projects that a) are fun, and b) I can make a significant contribution to.

    best wishes,

  7. Aug 28, 2013 #6
    Graduated with a EE last May (2012). Currently working as an R&D Engineer in the automotive industry.
    1. College experience was pretty good. For the most part I liked the engineering classes (and some humanity). The university I went to you could double major in almost any two majors but the amount of classes you took depended heavily on how related the two majors. For me the general classes (humanities, math, some engineering) were easy but then again I had some experience in these classes going into college. Junior and Senior level engineering classes will require time because most of the classes (at least for me) had both class projects and labs. But they are fun, well most of them.
    2. I think most of my peers had internships (over 90%) and they were all paid. I started my first co-op at the end of my sophomore year and I continued on with my co-op/internship until I graduated. A lot of my peers also continued on with their internships/co-ops. I gained a lot of general "professional" experience but a lot of my technical skills/experience didn't help me because I did my co-op in the utility industry and ended up in the automotive industry.
    3. You can easily switch to CE from EE but other graduate majors not sure. I do know you could switch but you will be required to take some pre-req classes. Currently I'm doing a Masters in EE and it's not that much different than undergrad, except it does require a lot of work on your end and you are expected to know a lot more than in undergrad.
    4. I don't have much experience in management after my graduation. But I did do some management work during my co-op. That came with experience in the work I was doing and my manager/supervisor trusting me to manage the projects based on my performance.
    5. I think a lot of jobs are shifting towards digital technology and salary is improving.

    Two tips. Plan for what courses you are taking and which semester you are taking them. Also, learn time management (if you don't know already) especially once you start working you will need to manage time appropriately to make sure you can finish your academic while working. Also have some fun, :).
  8. Aug 28, 2013 #7
    Thank you everyone! This was helpful beyond belief. I'll think about all your advice, especially when applying to schools this fall.
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