Electronics > Mechanical & Automation Engineering

Career Question: What's your job like?

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My local Technical College has two programs that I'm interested in: "Industrial Electronics" and "Electrical Technology". I am trying to decide which path to take and could use some advice.

The Industrial Electronics program teaches PLC programming, robotics, and electronic troubleshooting. It's intended to prepare students for working as a Maintenance Technician or PLC Programmer in a factory. On the other hand, the Electrical Technology program prepares students to become Electricians.

I am very interested in automation, but I'm concerned that I might see my family a lot less. I've been told that the Maintenance Tech jobs usually work long hours and graveyard shifts, and that PLC Programmers often work 60-80 hour weeks and spend months on the road. I am more interested in electronics/robotics than I am wiring, but I think it might be easier to find reasonable hours as an electrician.

Can anyone working in these fields chime in and give me an idea what the industry is like, and if you have any work-life balance? Thanks.

These areas are not my world, so I can't give you any advice from personal experience here, but I can offer a few thoughts.

Firstly, industrial plants and big factories often run 24/7, so if you are in the maintenance department you might have to be on call at unsociable hours if ever things go wrong and need fixing quickly. However, I would expect scheduled maintenance activities would take place at more sociable hours. The same might also happen as an electrician, depending on where you work and who for. On the other hand, if you work in a union job you should get compensated for working bad hours, and you should definitely get paid for every hour you work.

To work with PLCs and PLC programming, that would partly be office based, since programming a PLC is mainly working with a computer to enter and upload the program. On the other hand, commissioning and troubleshooting would require working on site, and again perhaps long hours, but this would be not be the whole time. Some people can find the travel and site work enjoyable, as it provides a break from routine.

There could be a middle ground, since I think in the industrial world there could be an overlap between maintenance or instrument technicians and electricians. I don't know which pays more, but working with PLCs, factory automation and instrumentation might provide more opportunities for career growth.

only a big factory runs 24/7 plenty of smaller factories run normal hours. its all about volume.

the drudgery you are thinking about is usually for extreme mass production of nearly disposable items. you can get a job at a factory that does less but you need more skills because there you end up having to do more (these are conscientious about head count. you also might not be paid very well). If you wanna really just do what is on the resume then thats more true for a big factory but it comes with the other factory troubles, but you probobly won't find high use of PLC in many of them (though for very high tech products they might exist)

chances are if its in your house, and its a factory, you will be working alot. if its in high end factories not so much but harder to get a job because they want swiss army knife

when people say factory they usually mean like making shaving cream cans. but plenty of things that no one has in their house are somewhat mass produced

I've worked in Industrial Automation as a PLC / HMI / SCADA Programmer for over a decade. Here's my perspective:

1. It's somewhat of a difficult industry to get into due to the high cost of hardware / software. You should have access to these at the college - take advantage of it.
2. You should focus your efforts on the most utilized platforms - in North America, on the PLC side that's Allen Bradley (Rockwell), in EU that's Siemens. On the robotics side, focus on Fanuc.
3. There are many different jobs in manufacturing / automation - if your goal is to move up / make good money, strive to program / be an engineer. As you gain experience, try to upskill on other tools beyond plc programming - SCADA, MES, etc.
4. You should be trying to learn as much as you can on your own; there are many resources online that will provide you with more up-to-date materials than your college.

Best of luck...

I'm a student too, and I faced a similar dilemma between choosing a program in computer science and another in business management. I went for computer science because it aligned more with my interests, even though the workload was intense. Regarding work-life balance, it's true that technical jobs like PLC programming can demand long hours and travel, depending on the company and the projects you work on. Electrician roles might offer more regular hours, but it really depends on the job and the employer.

Lately, I've been looking for good part time jobs to balance with my studies and found a position in software developer. It's been great for gaining experience related to my university course and managing my time better. If work-life balance is a priority, exploring part-time jobs in your field of interest could be a good strategy to gain experience while keeping your schedule manageable.


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