Author Topic: US Electrical Engineering Technology Senior looking for career path advice  (Read 1793 times)

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Offline 4flyer

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So, my path in engineering has not been normal. I started school in 2015 as a professional flight major and intended on becoming a pilot. While technically minded, I had no interest in engineering. A few years (yes, years) into my degree, I encountered health issues where I had to stop flying. It became paramount that I get out of aviation. Being lost in life and not knowing where I belonged, I decided to take a chance on engineering after some friends pointed me in that direction. I did not know much about the field. I decided to pick EET with an aviation concentration (think minor) as that would get me out of school the fastest. I was not in a good place and I did not really know where I wanted to go.

It turns out engineering was the place for me. While I struggled at first due to mental health issues, and had a GPA drop to 2.77, I was starting to love electronics and solving problems. I started to get my personal issues together and really dive into engineering. Last spring, I got my first 4.0! My GPA is now projected to be 3.1-3.2 when I graduate next semester.

Through hard work and projects out of class, I was able to get to places I wanted to go. Last summer, I landed an awesome internship at a small aerospace company. I was their Electrical Engineer Intern. I was tasked to solve an issue they had and I developed a system to fix their problem, developed a PCB from schematic to board, and wrote the C firmware for the MCU. They trusted me with a project on my own and I was able to rise to the occasion despite the difficulty and boy did I learn a TON. They extended the internship, and I was able to work part-time remotely for the company over last semester and I am now working full-time with them over winter break. While they say that they are interested in me, they cannot offer me a position at the moment due to business uncertainty. While I think that there is a good chance for a position there, I am operating off the assumption that I will not.

I was also able to get on a senior design team at school as the only engineering technology student on the team. The rest of the team is EE/ECE and it is a project in partnership with a national lab. While I feel inadequate in many ways on the team, my team members have been supportive and said that I have a better grasp on EE compared to many EE majors. That being said, there are many topics I am weak in due to curriculum gaps (high level math, DSP, etc).

Now that I only have a few months left in school, I am trying to find the best path forward with an ET degree. I want to be an engineer. I do not want a technician job. I want to design. I know that at large companies, I will get pigeon holed for not having the "right" degree despite knowing how to do a job and I want to set myself up for success.

Here are some options I am thinking:

Work for my current company assuming an offer is there. This will put me in a company that I really love to work for and give me the job title of Electrical Engineer more than likely.

Keep applying for jobs and hope that I get a position in the midst of this job market.

Go to grad school. I now have the GPA to get in somewhere. I have been in school for a freaking long time though so I do not know if the lost wages are worth it, especially when I have learned a great bit by myself. Even if I go on this path, is it better to go full-time or do school part time while working? I honestly do not have a large desire to do more school right now but I will do what I have to do.

Thoughts? I really wish I had a BSEE but I made the choices I made with the information I had that the time. It does not make sense to go back and spend another 2-3 years getting a BSEE from a financial, purely educational, or time perspective. Should I keep chugging forward and try to blaze my own path? I would also eventually want to get my PE which is possible as an ET in my state. I also love the idea of working for myself, if that is helpful information.

Any advice is appreciated.

Offline fourfathom

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Re: US Electrical Engineering Technology Senior looking for career path advice
« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2020, 07:40:23 pm »
I can't provide details for your personal path, but I can give some words of encouragement based on my own history.

I did start out in elementary school and Jr. High being very interested in electronics (vacuum tubes then), but later made a diversion into a want-to-be rock bass player (I was fairly good).  I eventually realized that this wasn't a responsible path for me, and I had plenty of bad examples on which to base this opinion.  So I returned to electronics and almost obtained my two-year degree in Electronics Technology (I never bothered to get the actual degree certificate).  But I was very good at it, moving through a few tech jobs and learning some good lessons along the way.  I quickly became an engineering tech (working for engineers in product development), and while in a small company I was given the title "Associate Engineer".  Modesty has never been one of my strong points, so I can honestly say that I was a better engineer than some of those I had worked for.
Soon, I moved to another company and became an "Engineer".  Again, I learned a lot along the way, changed jobs a few times, and learned to manage other engineers and technicians.  I joined startups, and eventually helped found a very successful one.  I was product architect, director of engineering, ASIC designer, synchronization guru -- sometimes all at the same time (in a startup we do what we can).  Our company was acquired by a Very Big Company and a couple of years I retired, with the title "Distinguished Engineer".

So, my late start and lack of formal education didn't pose insurmountable obstacles for my career.  In fact, my exposure to a broad area of interests helped me in my "generalist" career.  What made the difference for me was my willingness to take chances, having a broad background, and of course aptitude and passion.  Timing and luck also played a big part, but you can encourage your own luck to some extent.

Also critical was working for companies and in industries where a formal degree wasn't a requirement.  Aviation and other highly-regulated industries are not going to be as open in this regard.

It helps to make friends along the way -- if you impress someone they are likely to vouch for you later on.  I advanced from one company to another several times through the recommendations of co-workers.

Again, timing is important, and perhaps the thing over which you have the least control.  The industries that were hot when I was advancing may not be fertile fields for you now.  Pay attention to others here (EEVblog) who are still in the thick of it.

Good luck, and stay positive!  I found my passion and it has enriched my life in more ways than I can count.  I hope you can do the same.


Offline tedfernau

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Re: US Electrical Engineering Technology Senior looking for career path advice
« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2021, 02:40:51 am »

I think your current experience will carry you towards that engineer position with the right company. 

If you get an offer from them in an engineering role, that is your best bet: with a few years at that position it will become much easier to transition into a similar role.

If that doesn't happen, you are going to want to heavily emphasize your electrical engineering intern experience. Ask for advice and references from engineers/managers that seem to support you there. Getting the first EE job can be difficult even with a BSEE(internships help there also), it took me 6 months, a small company, and a move. The ET may make things more difficult as you know, especially if it is an associates degree. Small companies are not so rigid with their hiring, and may value more 'tech' skills such as soldering, building and fixing things.  You will be looking for a job that is a good fit to your courses/projects/internship experience. This may take time(or a move) to find, try not to get discouraged.

Something that may hinder you: landing a job as a tech. If you are in that position, find out if you can work your way up to engineer (within a reasonable time frame) OR continue the job hunt for a better position. (There is nothing wrong with working as a tech, I think it is a great career working with electronics AND your hands. It doesn't sound like that is what you want.)

You have the skills for one of these positions, on the job learning is a large chunk of entry-level engineering positions. You have already begun this process with your internship. If you are insecure about your ET, then look up the curriculum of some EE program, compare it to your education and get to work. There are great ways to learn most of the material (MIT open courseware, Khan academy for math, ask around here for book recommendations if necessary), especially in the age of covid.

If you want a job doing something specific (IC design, power) you would have needed a BSEE (or internship) that concentrated on those things. For those I think a masters in that field would come in handy.

This is late, so your issue may be resolved by now (if so, let us know), but there is an 'in the trenches" perspective.


Online JohnG

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Re: US Electrical Engineering Technology Senior looking for career path advice
« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2021, 06:45:57 pm »
I come at this from the opposite direction. I was sure I wanted to be an engineer as soon as I even understood what one was. I went through school, got a engineering job, went to grad school all the way to the end, etc. I've worked at several companies, mostly big, and done some consulting as well.

It sounds like you have a strong practical bent, and this is really a valuable trait. But, I'll be honest in that the lack of an engineering degree is going to close off some opportunities to you early on. Big companies will want to put you in a technician role. In some companies, this is more valuable than starting engineers, and in others, not so much. A few big companies will still pay for you to finish your degree while you work. I know a number of people who've done that, and they tend to be good. You might have to change jobs (perhaps even in the same company) after that, because the group may still think of you as a tech.

This can even happen in smaller companies, but if you are good, they will try to keep you happy if they are smart. If they are not, best to leave anyways. This means a higher chance that they will value you enough to give you the title and position you earn.

The benefit of more school and theory is that in the right hands, it will pay off. You don't even have to remember it all, but the exposure and practice with it can give you better judgement when you come across it, and combined with some practical knowledge, can make a potent contribution.

On the other hand, in many companies, being a technician means you can get overtime pay when you work overtime. At least in the US, this is almost never true for salaried engineers.

"Those who learn the lessons of history are doomed to know when they are repeating the mistakes of the past." Putt's Law of History

Offline wizard69

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Well looking for jobs in the aviation world is certainly a non starter at the moment.   We are likely to start seeing bankruptcies and plant closures there.

As for starting out as a technician someplace, don't knock it, that is how many advance into engineering.   Beyond that there are different levels or focuses for technicians in industry, many will be working directly with engineers.   If nothing else you learn about what is on the other side of the cubical wall?   In some operations they will literally put new hire engineers on the floor, in a variety of rolls, to gain the knowledge of how the operation works.   This is actually a good thing even if many newly graduated engineers may roll their eyes at the thought.   

Now lets say for the minute that the world of aviation is completely out of question, (it might not be but lets say so).   Your best course of action would be to look for work in similar fields that might allow you to move back into aviation in the future.   Right now the automotive world is one place that would be very high on the list of places to look as new technology turns that world upside down.    There are a lot of opportunities at places like Tesla and the other EV startups.   This can range from plant automation to car electronics.

Offline 4flyer

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For those curious how things turned out, I was hired as a EE at the aerospace company that was interning at back in May. The company is healthy and is growing. I now get to work in R&D as one of three electrical engineers! I have an absolute blast at work! Thanks for all the guidance, all!
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