What is Electrical Engineering Anyway?

Electrical engineering is a professional engineering discipline that generally deals with the study and application of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism. This field first became an identifiable occupation in the later half of the 19th century after commercialization of the electric telegraph, the telephone, and electric power distribution and use. Subsequently, broadcasting and recording media made electronics part of daily life. The invention of the transistor, and later the integrated circuit, brought down the cost of electronics to the point they can be used in almost any household object.

Electrical engineering has now subdivided into a wide range of subfields including electronics, digital computers, computer engineering, power engineering, telecommunications, control systems, robotics, radio-frequency engineering, signal processing, instrumentation, and microelectronics. Many of these subdisciplines overlap with other engineering branches, spanning a huge number of specializations such as hardware engineering, power electronics, electromagnetics & waves, microwave engineering, nanotechnology, electrochemistry, renewable energies, mechatronics, electrical materials science, and much more. Electrical engineers typically hold a degree in electrical engineering or electronic engineering. Practicing engineers may have professional certification and be members of a professional body. Such bodies include the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). 

Electrical engineers work in a very wide range of industries and the skills required are likewise variable. These range from basic circuit theory to the management skills required of a project manager. The tools and equipment that an individual engineer may need are similarly variable, ranging from a simple voltmeter to a top end analyzer to sophisticated design and manufacturing software.

Electrical engineers design, develop, test and supervise the manufacturing of electrical equipment, such as electric motors, radar and navigation systems, communications systems and power generation equipment, states the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Electronics engineers design and develop electronic equipment, such as broadcast and communications systems — from portable music players to global positioning systems (GPS).”

If it’s a practical, real-world device that produces, conducts or uses electricity, in all likelihood, it was designed by an electrical engineer. Additionally, engineers may conduct or write the specifications for destructive or nondestructive testing of the performance, reliability and long-term durability of devices and components.

Today’s electrical engineers design electrical devices and systems using basic components such as conductors, coils, magnets, batteries, switches, resistors, capacitors, inductors, diodes and transistors. Nearly all electrical and electronic devices, from the generators at an electric power plant to the microprocessors in your phone, use these few basic components.

Critical skills needed in electrical engineering include an in-depth understanding of electrical and electronic theory, mathematics and materials. This knowledge allows engineers to design circuits to perform specific functions and meet requirements for safety, reliability and energy efficiency, and to predict how they will behave, before a hardware design is implemented. Sometimes, though, circuits are constructed on “breadboards,” or prototype circuit boards made on computer numeric controlled (CNC) machines for testing before they are put into production.

Electrical engineers are increasingly relying on computer-aided design (CAD) systems to create schematics and lay out circuits. They also use computers to simulate how electrical devices and systems will function. Computer simulations can be used to model a national power grid or a microprocessor; therefore, proficiency with computers is essential for electrical engineers. In addition to speeding up the process of drafting schematics, printed circuit board (PCB) layouts and blueprints for electrical and electronic devices, CAD systems allow for quick and easy modifications of designs and rapid prototyping using CNC machines.

Electrical Engineering is a cool area of study, and becoming an Electrical Engineer is a very cool way to build a fantastic life for any student!