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What Does an Electrical Engineer Do?

An electrical engineer designs, develops, tests and manages the manufacturing of electrical equipment and systems, such as electric motors, smartphones and power generation equipment.

A female electrical engineer using a soldering tool to build an electronic component.

In today's digital age, electricity truly keeps the world running, from basics of maintaining our homes to the more complex systems of traffic lights, transportation and technology that keep our cities running.

Electrical engineers are the innovators and designers that create these systems and keep them running smoothly, working on everything from the nation’s power grid to the microchips inside our cell phones and smartwatches.

"It spans areas such as semiconductor devices, electronics, industrial control, power, sensors, wired and wireless communication, computers and signal processing," said Tim Monk an assistant professor in electrical engineering at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). "It’s the practical use of physics and mathematics to create products that make electrons do useful things."

With today's reliance on electricity and technology, an electrical engineering bachelor's degree can lead to diverse career opportunities.

What Electrical Engineers Do

Tim Monk with the text Tim Monk

Electrical engineers design, develop, test and manage the manufacturing of electrical equipment, from electric motors and navigation systems to power generation equipment and the electrical components of vehicles and personal devices.

Electrical engineering is an immensely broad field with job roles in a dizzying array of industries. Whether through electric power generation or the distribution of power to machines such as cars and smartphones, electrical engineers are integral to thousands of companies.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), electrical engineers typically:

  • Design new ways to use electrical power to develop or improve products
  • Develop manufacturing, construction and installation standards
  • Direct the manufacturing, installation and testing of electrical equipment
  • Manage the production of electrical projects to ensure work is completed well, on time and within budget

While the basic electrical engineer job description is fairly standard across a wide range of electrical engineering jobs, where an electrical engineer works can vary significantly.

"What’s common to engineering roles is that you’ll end up facing some problem with no known solution. Perhaps something stopped behaving as it usually does, a customer decided to use your product in a new way, you need to improve an existing design or even develop something completely new," said Monk. "There’s not a step-by-step procedure that you can follow to address every problem. Instead, engineers use experience, judgment and creativity to move forward."

How to Become an Electrical Engineer

While communication and project management skills are important when applying for electrical engineering jobs, a strong educational and professional foundation is key.

Earning an electrical engineering degree is the first step to ensuring you are prepared to work in the critical role of an electrical engineer. A master’s degree in electrical engineering can also provide further learning and help you to specialize in a specific area of electrical engineerings, such as electronics development or renewable energy, or an MBA in Engineering Management online could help you advance as a leader in the industry.

After earning a degree, you can also seek licensure and certification as a professional engineer (P.E.). Becoming a licensed professional engineer can help you stand out in the applicant pool when becoming an electrical engineer and help you join a growing field that is vital to today’s technology-driven world.

"There’s a spectrum of focus from more theory to more practical skills, though both are important," said Monk.

He also states the importance of having communication and presentation skills in the electrical engineering field, "it’s one thing to come up with a great new idea, it’s another to convince your boss to use it."

Entering the field of electrical engineering means that you may not only play an important role in the development of innovative new technology but also have a profound impact on the electrical systems that we rely on in our everyday lives.

Where Do Electrical Engineers Work?

BLS reports electrical engineers earned a median salary of $101,780 in 2021With so many varied opportunities available, jobs for electrical engineers are continuing to grow. In 2021, electrical engineers made a median salary of $101,780 and the field is expected to grow by 7% through 2030, according to BLS. 

The continued fast-paced growth and advancement of technology means that electrical engineers with a strong background in electronics and computer systems will be in demand for research and development of new technologies, according to BLS.

In fact, a 2022 study from the employment site Glassdoor ranked electrical engineering in the top 50 best jobs in the United States thanks to the growing demand for skilled engineers with electronics experience.

"Electrical engineers can get jobs designing products, testing products, helping customers either from the office or at their site (or from home these days), defining new products," said Monk.

Demand is also high for electrical engineers with well-rounded skills that go beyond the technical work of engineering, including communication skills, writing skills and project management.

Developing Renewable Electrical Power

One of the largest areas of work for electrical engineers is in the development, design and management of the world's electrical power systems. Today, that includes a growing number of jobs in the evolving renewable energy field.

"There are a number of notable areas that continue to evolve in electrical engineering," said Monk. "Electrical engineers have a lot to contribute to recent pushes in clean energy and electric vehicles and the evolution of the electrical grid."

A 2021 report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that renewables–including sources such as solar, wind and hydropower–will account for 95% of power demand by 2026.

As demand for renewable energy grows, so too do jobs for electrical engineers, who work to design, build and manage electrical power systems.

Powering Technology

Another important role of electrical engineers is in the development of the computers, smartphones and more advanced technology that power our personal and professional lives.

We’ve seen waves of devices spread to most of the world, first with PCs and now smartphones owned by most people," Monk said. "The continuing improvement of technology will enable new electronic devices."

The use of technology has continued to grow and evolve in recent years, creating many unique job opportunities for electrical engineers. According to a 2021 Pew Research report, more than 96% of people ages 18-29 are smartphone owners, and more than 95% of people ages 30 to 49 own smartphones.

In the professional world, automated technologies continue to boom, from robot-assisted surgery to self-driving cars that may one day transport us around major cities. In fact, according to a 2022 report from the International Federation of Robotics, sales of industrial robots reached a new record of 486,800 units shipped globally in 2021. This is an increase of 27% compared to the previous year.

This growth of digital technology would not be possible without the innovative work of electrical engineers, who design and develop the electrical components that power these machines.

Electrical engineering continues to evolve as the world does. Monk said the field is broad and all about leveraging our understanding of electricity for the good of humanity.

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU engineering program that can best help you meet your goals.

Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer focused on higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.