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Are there different kinds of focuses an electrical engineer may have?

Are there different kinds of focuses an electrical engineer may have? In other words, what kinds of electrical engineers are there? What are the differences in terms of what they do?
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Andrew’s Answer

Yes! There are many different specialties an electrical engineer can pursue, many of which are actually very different from each other. For example, there are power engineers working with high voltage systems, motors, etc. There are optics-focused engineers who work with microscope imaging (and lasers!). There are also embedded engineers who work with logic circuits. There are RF engineers who design antennas for satellites or other large systems. There are even more focuses electrical engineers can pursue, of course, but these are just a few examples.

If you do end up pursuing an electrical engineering major, the first couple years are going to be more general and less focused, but those which will give you an idea of what the different focuses are and what they do. After the introduction to electrical engineering classes, you are free to take classes in different focuses to see which would interest you most, but you generally won't be "stuck" in any focus if you find something that interests you more.

I myself was an electrical engineer (though I did end up in software), and I was able to explore multiple different focuses (I chose image processing and RF :)) during my time there.

Andrew recommends the following next steps:

Look up some universities you are interested in and find their electrical engineering department pages. They will describe different focuses and sometimes classes you will take so you can see all the different areas you can get involved in with electrical engineering.
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G. Mark’s Answer

Oh, absolutely. Electrical engineering is, by its very nature, applicable to a huge variety of mechanisms, applications, studies, phenomena and situations. You'll find it overlapping with mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, even petroleum engineering. And of course, EE has a close coupling with Computer Engineering. When you factor in the variety of problems those fields will be engaged to address, you can see the variety of focuses you can have in EE. My background was in Computer Science, and when I went to grad school, my school, Carnegie Mellon, did not offer a PhD in CS, but only in Computer Engineering. And it included a lot of EE, which I was definitely not versed in. As painful as it was, it was one of the best experiences I'd ever had -- pain notwithstanding. The variety of focuses I was exposed to and the brilliant people I was also exposed to served me very well in my later inventions and efforts of problem solving.

One of the things that I teach my students is the fact that approximately 70% of new innovations are due to applying principles from other seemingly-unrelated fields to the field in which the problem seems to originate. In fact, several of my earlier patents were simply "rip-offs" of applying patters from outside the field to my current problem. In one, I had been reading a book on neurophysiology, and my problem was how to make computer packet networks more resilient. Like the plasticity in the human brain that allows stroke victims to recover. Focus? Maybe not so much. And many of my earlier inventions were based on similar surprising relations.

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Christopher’s Answer

Hi Katrina,

Congrats on investigating Electrical Engineering (EE) and all of the related fields. My daughter is a musician who is also interested in studying EE. It is a super flexible field. One of the cool things about EE is that there are many many specializations. You can find some that focus on creating computer hardware and different kinds of electronic chips, other specializations that focus on audio/music/acoustic engineering, even others on large power systems, and more for building all kinds of devices (medical, vehicles, home appliances, mobile phones, games, etc).

Often you are designing or building new technology, working with hardware, assembling things by hand or figuring out how to build robots to do the work. Sometimes you are spending more time in computer programming and code. It is really that wide open.

Even if you just study "plain" electrical engineering, you can find jobs doing all of the things I mentioned above. To get more ideas, I suggest you Google "electrical engineering college curriculum" and you'll find lots and lots of schools' lists of all of the different special subjects and classes that might be available.

Hope this helps give you some ideas! Good Luck!

Christopher recommends the following next steps:

Google "electrical engineering college curriculum" or "electrical engineering classes" to see how many different areas are possible to study.
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Aditi’s Answer

I am glad to see you are interested in a focused domain such as Electrical engineering. I myself have a bachelors degree in electrical engineering so I can very well relate you your question.

You can have multiple options as an electrical engineer such as going into more core subjects like - Signal processing, System/OS level stuff (VLSI), Chips (IC) designing, Semiconductors industry, etc depending on your interests. Since there are languages like Matlab and C/C++ that are frequently used by Electrical engineers, you could also go on a more application software programming side of things if that is of more interest to you. So to broadly categorize them, you can go more towards hardware electrical engineering roles or software electrical engineering roles.

You might be interested in looking at some of these companies and what they do to understand how electrical engineers work -

Aditi recommends the following next steps:

You could save these links and follow up on what each company does, maybe look at their career pages and look at fresher/new graduate job description to understand better about it
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Christopher’s Answer

Hello Katrina!

So glad you asked about this since it's very easy to get lost with "titles" like "electrical engineering". It's really encouraging to know that you're interested in such an amazing field. I'm not specifically an electrical engineer but I worked closely with many electrical engineers and have had many of them as friends back in school. I don't want to overwhelm you with too much information but just for a short list of fields that electrical engineers engage in:

  • Computer Systems
  • Biomedical Devices
  • Solar/Alternative Energy Systems
  • Data Science/Machine Learning
  • Circuit Design/Semiconductors
  • Aerospace Systems

There are a ton of things that electrical engineers will specialize in. It may also be helpful to start looking at curriculums at different universities. From my graduate schools electrical engineering program:

A lot of professors at these universities also have cutting edge research in these fields that can give you an idea where the field is heading within the next 5-10 years:

I hope this gives you a little taste of all the possibilities. I wish you the best in your career choices and future!

Christopher recommends the following next steps:

Check out some studies in Electrical Engineering
Research universities and what they're currently researching
Do some google searches on electrical engineering careers
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Alex’s Answer

Yes, there are all kinds of different electrical engineers. Electronics are everywhere: cars, houses, phone towers, ships, traffic lights, toasters, satellites, deep sea submarines, CPUs, robots, quantum computers, medical devices, instruments that study black holes, and on and on.

I studied electrical engineering in school. There is a wide variety of topics and skills to learn, and they often relate to the environment that you need to work in – you might one set of skills to build a laser, and another to make sure your electronics will survive in the desert.

I suggest thinking about the electronics you're interested in building and exploring some of the special electronics that apply to the device.

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Tony’s Answer

Hello Katrina - Yes, most definitely! An electrical engineer can focus on anything from large-scale power distribution to radio frequency communications to factory automation and robotics to solar power generation, down to microelectronics, and everything in between. To some extent, this will depend on your specific studies. Some areas - for example radio antenna design or semiconductor layout and fabrication - require some specialization during school. But an electrical engineering degree is a very flexible basis for a career. Think about how many electric and electronic items are part of your everyday life - all of these require engineering to design, manufacture, program, and maintain. You could find your work in all of these areas. And even if you're not "engineering" everyday, you will understand the principles of how these devices work.

In my own career, I have used my EE background to work in telecommunications, consumer electronics, and computer programming. My suggestion is to pursue electrical engineering and follow the areas that spark your interest. Regardless of the specialization you end up choosing, the foundations will be valuable for your career and to society.