Electronic products are so entrenched in society and our everyday lives that they are literally unavoidable. For example, you’re using one right now, aren’t you?! Whether it’s your laptop, iPod, phone, key swab or anything else with an electrical current running through it, it has been designed, built and manufactured by the great people working in this industry.
Pretty much everything we do would become either impossible or incredibly difficult without electrical and electronic engineering. Want to get in touch with your friend about meeting up tonight? Well, your phone is out, email isn’t going to work and even faxing them won’t do. Perhaps you could post a letter? In short, the contraptions that depend on electricity are extremely important.
What’s the difference between electronic and electrical engineers?
Let’s firstly separate the two. So what is the difference between electronics and electrical engineers? Well, electronics engineers are responsible for all of the gadgets and gizmos we have in our lives, whereas the huge pylons, national grid and those gigantic power stations you see dotted around the country fall under the electrical engineer’s remit.
Electronics engineers are the geniuses behind the iPad, the MacBook Air, the wind-up radio and any other remarkably cool and innovative product. They work hand-in-hand with product designers, manufacturers and consumer experts to dream up the next big thing.
Coming up with an incredible idea isn’t ridiculously difficult. The issue arises when somebody needs to figure out how to do it. This is the domain of the electronics engineer.
As for the ‘electrical’ chaps, this can involve any old tiny task, from powering the whole country, to making sure the way electricity is distributed to homes and businesses is as efficient and as safe as possible.
I want to get into electronic/electrical engineering…
So where does it all begin? If you’re looking to become a fully-fledged electronics or electrical engineer, university is usually the call of the day. However, there are also several other routes, whether that’s via an HND or an apprenticeship. Whatever route you take, you’re going to need a mathematical brain and a natural ability to solve technical problems.
It’s not just engineers we’re talking about here, however. There is also the electrician, the electrical technician and a variety of operatives (especially within factories and production lines) getting involved with this line of work. In short, when it comes to jobs revolving around electricity, there are a lot of options!
Electronic engineering 101
So how does it all work for the electronic engineer? Are they constantly huddled in a lab with mad-professor hair, a white coat and a massive urge to scream out ‘eureka’?! Well, not exactly.
As with most professionals, a lot of time is spent liaising with clients or the people who are looking to have a problem solved. It’s all about understanding what they are looking to achieve, providing suggestions of what can be done and outlining the processes involved.
Following this stage, it comes down to planning. You’ll disappear back to the office, get investigating and work on possible solutions. You will be exploring the different electrical components required, making sure they reach the specifications requested and ensuring that everything meets rigorous safety standards.
At this point, it’s time to test! A prototype is built, put through its paces and every eventuality is investigated. After everything receives the thumbs up, you’re off to production. You will be liaising with the manufacturers, advising them on how everything needs to be produced, what material would be best and producing a ‘lead time’ or product delivery date.
Electrical engineering 101
Electrical engineers will follow much the same process as electronic engineers. However, they are usually working with things on a much larger scale, such as finding a way to power a particular region via a power station that is 300 miles south or figuring out how to distribute electricity to an area without causing any shortages. It’s a lot less gadgets and a lot more ‘access to power’.
If this article has sparked your interest and you’re feeling particularly switched on, you should probably consider a career in electrical and electronics engineering. The best place to start is either by gaining some work experience or diving right in and applying for a few graduate roles!