What Do Electrical Engineers Do?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

An electrical engineer specializes in building, testing, installing, and maintaining electrical equipment and systems.

[Featured image] An electrical engineer works on a project with her laptop computer.

Electrical and electronics engineers design and develop, upgrade, and maintain electrical systems and equipment. The science of electricity applies to small and large projects, from household appliances or car transmissions to satellite communications systems or renewable energy power grids.

In this industry, your day-to-day tasks might include:

  • Designing electrical products and electrical systems

  • Creating technical drawings and topographical maps to ensure proper installation and operation

  • Identifying and correcting power system problems

  • Using computer-assisted design software

  • Communicating with customers, engineers, and other stakeholders on engineering projects

  • Preparing specifications for manufacturing, maintenance, testing, and purchase of electric equipment

  • Ensuring compliance with safety standards and codes

How much do electrical engineers make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for an electrical engineer in the United States is $103,390 as of May 2020 [1]. This amount can vary based on your location, education, and experience. Those working in research and development tend to earn on the higher end of the pay scale, followed by semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing. 

Fields of electrical engineering

Electrical engineering is a broad field covering a wide range of industries. A career in electrical engineering often means specializing in a certain area. Some common specialties include (but are not limited to):

  • Energy and power systems: In this field, you’ll work on generating, distributing, and maintaining electric power systems. This might include traditional sources of power, like motors, generators, and transformers, or emerging technologies, like fusion or green energy.

  • Computer engineering: While sometimes considered a separate field altogether, computer engineering overlaps with electrical engineering in many ways. As a computer engineer, you’ll work to develop and improve computer hardware and software across a range of industries.

  • Telecommunications: We can communicate with people around the globe almost instantaneously, thanks to new technologies in telecommunications. Telecommunications engineers address the basic challenge of delivering information from one place to another, securely and efficiently.

  • Microelectronics: The field of microelectronics deals with small (often very small) electronic components. In this career, you’ll work toward further reducing the size of circuits and microchips for use in electronic devices and even nanotechnology.

  • Systems and control: This discipline of electric engineering deals with the design of control systems that behave a certain way in controlled environments. This could involve everything from home thermostats to biomedical prosthetics.

  • Robotics and artificial intelligence: Robotics engineers design and build robots and robotic systems from the circuits up. Some of these systems may also involve artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning.

How to become an electrical engineer

Let’s take a closer look at the basic qualifications you’ll need for a career in electrical engineering, including education, licenses, and skill sets.

Electrical engineering degrees 

Becoming an electrical engineer requires at least a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering (EE) from a school accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Most electrical engineers hold either a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering (BSEE) or a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (BSE) with a focus on electrical engineering.

Some universities offer engineering students a five-year program where you can acquire both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in less time (and at less cost). Earning a graduate degree can open up opportunities to work in research and development, or to teach at the university level.

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While not required for entry-level positions, you may consider becoming a licensed Professional Engineer (PE) as you advance in your career. This is common after you’ve gained a few years of work experience.

The first step toward licensure is taking and passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. Once you pass, you are given the title of engineer-in-training (EIT) or engineer intern (EI) until you meet the requirements to take and pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. This license is what you need to become a PE in the United States.

Electrical engineer skills  

You'll also need a specific skill set to succeed as an electrical engineer. The technical and workplace skills you'll need include the following:

Technical skills

  • Mathematics

  • Computer science fundamentals

  • Electrical design

  • Circuit knowledge

  • Programming

  • AutoCAD

  • Systems integration knowledge

Workplace skills

  • Analytical skills

  • Concentration

  • Interpersonal skills

  • Communication skills

  • Problem solving

  • Organization

  • Leadership

  • Teamwork

  • Adaptability

Career paths for electrical engineers 

There are many opportunities to advance within the field of electrical engineering depending on your interests, education, and experience. After you’ve met your basic requirements and obtained the necessary licenses, you may move on to become a project manager, consultant, or a contractor. Some electrical engineers decide to pursue academic careers, teaching others the skills required for success in the field. 

Get started with Coursera

Experience for yourself whether a career in electrical engineering might be right for you with Introduction to Electronics from Georgia Tech. If you’re ready to take your electrical engineering career to the next level, learn more about earning your Master of Science in Electrical Engineering online from the University of Colorado Boulder.

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Electrical and Electronics Engineers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/electrical-and-electronics-engineers.htm." Accessed March 30, 2022.

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