My first job was in silicon processing, making computer chips in a factory. It consisted of understanding the specific tools and processes meant to do very precise and repeatable actions upon the silicon wafer -- depositing conductive or insulating materials, creating very fine patterns, removing material precisely etc. Lots of experimentation, statistics and monitoring. Discipline was very important.
The second career was in quality. I led a team where most had different decrees (Materials Science, Chemistry, ChemE, Physics, Mechanical, Computer Science, Electrical) and they helped troubleshoot computers that didn't work properly. The teams who designed and built them couldn't figure out why, so they would come to us and we would do detective work, and identify if it was a materials, manufacturing or programming problem. We got to work on old and new technology across the company, and meet with lots of really smart and capable people. Here you needed to be good at applying the Scientific Method, e.g., "How can we eliminate SW as a candidate?"
Now I am in a more traditional engineering role, we design power delivery for new computer boards. As the latest silicon microprocessors are created, we build motherboards which support them and demonstrate the new chip's capabilities. Computer manufacturers use our designs as a starting point to create their versions which support the new chips. So we understand what different power sources are needed, find components which provide that specification, design the schematic for the board, and test the design to check it works properly. This requires deep technical understanding, lots of flexibility and negotiation with other design teams, and you get to build the fastest computers in the world.
Each of these jobs was at the same company, but the feel was quite different, and different skills and qualities were rewarded at each one. So no matter what you choose, you can always pivot elsewhere. The EE umbrella is very broad and also suits many different roles.
Chet recommends the following next steps:
- Join IEEE, talk to everyone you can!
- Ask interesting people you meet for follow up informational interview (what do you do, what do you like, etc.)