How to Become an Electrical Engineer

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how to become an electrical engineer.


That light switch you flick, that flashlight you shine, even that smartphone you swipe – an electrical engineer played a role in bringing those products to market. The field of electrical engineering is a truly fascinating and one that is influential, as they’re uniquely involved in the development, design and manufacture of the electrical systems, and electronic devices people use each and every day. Individuals often take for granted the ease with which electric power is utilized, but it’s safe to say that the world wouldn’t be quite the same without them, as electrical devices are tools that consumers and business owners depend on for convenience and communication purposes.

With an online Master of Science in Engineering that specializes in Electrical Engineering, you can enter the field with confidence and chart a future that is quite bright. The University of California, Riverside – and the Bourns College of Engineering, in particular – has helped numerous graduates rediscover their occupational callings and find work in a plethora of professions, including power system design, substation integration, resource management and supply applications architecture. The robust curriculum and engineering courses can provide students like you with the tools you need to thrive in this vocation, as the starting salary for electrical engineers is more than competitive.

All this raises a key question: how to become an electrical engineer. Before getting into the specifics in terms of education, work experience and what the electrical engineer job outlook looks like, it’s instructive to know a little more about their responsibilities and how the profession distinguishes itself from similar occupations.

What is a typical day like for an electrical engineer?

Because electrical engineers apply their skills in a wide array of occupations, it’s difficult to say with precision what they do on a day-in, day-out basis. As detailed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, electrical engineers are employed in a host of different work environments, including engineering services, telecommunications, research and development as well as the federal government, just to name a few. There’s also a slight distinction between electrical engineering and electronic engineering. While the former are typically involved with the actual powering and use of electricity and the assurance that it’s reliable, the latter spend much of their time on the end product that require power to work, such as software, consumer electronics and hardware that people use to make everyday functions easier and less labor intensive. In short, electrical engineers focus on the delivery and electronics engineers concentrate on the execution.

Electrical engineers may also seek to come up with new ways of utilizing electrical power so that its leveraged more efficiently. Electronics engineers, meanwhile, may modify the products they’re involved in designing in order to improve quality and technical performance. Some of this may involve testing to see what works and what does not.

With a degree in electrical engineering from UC Riverside, you’ll gain insight into both of these similar yet slightly divergent disciplines to see which one is more relevant to your interests and strengths.

Electrician vs. electrical engineer: How do they differ?

Another profession that an electrical engineer may occasionally get mistaken for is anĀ  electrician. Similar to electronic engineers, they use many of the same control systems to come up with solutions for whatever project they’re working on. They also may have developed a passion for power back in high school and now use the same arithmetic they learned back then, such as math and science. It’s where in the cycle of electrical utilization that these two professions branch off. While electrical engineers are involved at the ground floor – such as design and manufacturing – electricians deal with the application, whether that’s wiring houses or buildings or connecting electrical systems to power grids and circuit breakers. Generally speaking, electricians’ jobs are much more hands-on than electrical engineers, although they both seek to identify ways to improve or modify electrical performance. Additionally, there’s a shortfall in these occupations, particularly among electricians. By 2026, there may be as many as 60,000 open positions that require filling, Ideal Industries CEO Jim James told FoxBusiness. This has the potential to make the role of electricians more lucrative, as driving up salary draws greater interest.

There’s a significant amount of overlap in engineering courses with electrical as a specialty, so those who initially set out to become electrical engineers may decide electrician is a better fit and vice versa. An online master’s degree in electrical engineering at UC Riverside, which is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, has a variety of resources available that can help you enter the profession that is most in line with your career goals and aspirations.

Electrical engineers aim to improve reliability of power grid

As previously referenced, you don’t fully appreciate the access that electricity delivers until it’s gone. Evidence of this is when lightning, heavy wind or other weather events knock out the power, and out of habit, people will turn on the light or plug an appliance in. Industry experts stress that the U.S.’ power grid is in a major need of an overhaul, as outages seem to be occurring with greater regularity and lasting for longer periods. For instance, in California – the nation’s most-populated state – over 22.2 million residents were affected by blackouts between 2008 and 2017, with nearly 4,300 outages occurring over that period, according to a study from Eaton. Their average duration was 133 minutes.

Improving the nation’s electrical infrastructure is something that utility companies and the federal government are working on. Achieving success requires a combination of investment and expertise, which is why the federal government and power distribution firms account as majorĀ  employers of electrical engineers. They often serve as consultants for how to design and develop control systems that can make outages shorter and improve the connectivity of electrical equipment.

How does one go about entering the electrical engineering field?

Becoming a professional engineer is much like many other occupations: It entails a combination of book learning and on-the-job understanding, meaning experience. As noted by the BLS, a bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite. There are an assortment of complex terminology and arithmetic involved in electrical engineering and in the classroom – online or otherwise – is the best place to understanding the basics. While a master’s degree in electrical engineering may not be a mandatory component for how to become an electrical engineer, it can give you a leg up on the competition, largely because the industry is highly competitive. There are approximately 330,300 electrical and electronic engineers in the workforce as of 2018, a total that is expected to increase over the next decade.

The online master’s program at UC Riverside builds upon material that you may have learned while getting your undergraduate degree. Core classes include Principles of Engineering Management as well as Introduction to Systems Engineering. Students who seek to enter different engineering specializations take these courses as well, but others geared more directly toward power systems include Power Systems Analysis, Electric Drives, Introduction to Smart Grid and Power System Steady State and Market Analysis.

Depending on the job you wish to pursue with an electrical engineering degree, you may need to take advantage of programs and opportunities where you can apply the skills you’ve learned. These help to build experience and establish authority in your chosen discipline. A great way to do this is through networking and seeing what resources may be available with your degree program. Even high schools make some of these opportunities available, as the Engineering Education Service Center has information on engineering summer camps that young people can pursue to gain experience early in life.

What kind of soft skills are needed to succeed as an electrical engineer?

Electrical engineering students attend college and university to obtain the hard skills they need to thrive in this dynamic industry. But soft skills are equally as important, in the working world, in general, but electrical engineering in particular. Here are some of the soft skills that are key to success in working on how to become an electrical engineer, as detailed by the BLS:

Ability to concentrate

From signal processing to instrumentation and microelectronics, there are many working parts to designing, investigating and managing electrical processes. These can’t be implemented haphazardly, as doing so risks safety and quality performance of communication, power generation and control systems. Therefore, electrical engineers must hone their focus so they can develop and improve upon complex electrical elements, modules and structures.

Communicate clearly

This profession is one of collaboration. Rarely do electrical engineers work in isolation, as whatever project that’s underway, there’s usually other professionals that must be kept abreast of the very latest. Thus, electrical engineers must be able to explain their findings in a clear, concise and straightforward manner so the next portion of the process – such as the manufacturing of a component – can be handled properly.

Critical thinking

Why are seemingly fully functional components shorting out? How can navigation systems be upgraded so they deliver a better end-user experience? What’s the best way to lengthen the life of portable power generators for home or business owners? These are all excellent questions that electrical engineers may face to develop, improve or troubleshoot systems that aren’t working as well as they ought to be or require an update. They must rely on their working knowledge to diagnose what’s happening and what solution is the best and most cost-efficient one to apply. This requires outside-the-box thinking and analysis.

Computational aptitude

Calculus, trigonometry and other forms of advanced math are key elements to electrical engineering. Understanding the material and the ability to utilize it on a situational basis is critical in this line of work.


The electronics and electrical industry is one of modification, evidenced by the rollout of numerous iPhones since their debut more than 10 years ago. These products more or less do the same thing – make phone calls and send text messages – but today, they perform these functions faster and include other features that make them in high demand. Electrical engineers may work in partnership with electronics engineers to come up with applications that can make existing products perform better so it’s in line with state-of-the-art technology.

Problem solving

The events of Hurricane Maria – a Category 5 hurricane that slammed into Puerto Rico, knocking the power out for most of the island nation for several months – is proof positive that the electrical grid is far from perfect. Problems such as these are the kinds that electrical engineers are often charged to look into to see what went wrong and what specifications can be instituted to rectify existing failings. As previously referenced, successful problem solving may involve the coordination with other professionals inside and outside the engineering profession, such as the local, state and federal government bodies, utility firms and power line workers. Electrical engineers must also be able to think ahead to see what potential problems may occur and how those can be mitigated before they occur.

How much money do electrical engineers make?

The role of electrical engineer is one that requires advanced skills, and as such, they tend to be very well compensated. Based on the most recent numbers available from the BLS, the median annual wage for electrical engineers in 2018 was over $96,640. Those in the lowest 10% of earners made more than the median household wage in the U.S. overall, at nearly $61,200. The top 10%, meanwhile, had a gross earnings of $153,240.

In terms of which employers of electrical engineers provided the most high-paying salary, the federal government was No. 1, compensating a median wage of $112,970. It was followed by navigational, measuring and control instruments manufacturers at $108,200 and engineering services rounding out the top three at $100,530.

As for the electrical engineer job outlook, BLS forecasts one of growth between now and 2028. Presently, an estimated 330,300 people in the U.S. are employed as either an electrical or electronics engineer, with the former outnumbering the latter by approximately 54,000. Combined, their numbers are expected to grow by an additional 8,000 within 10 years.

Why UC Riverside?

We know that you have a lot of options when it comes to pursuing a graduate degree in electrical engineering. You will be hard-pressed to find an institution that will better prepare you for this line of work than the University of California, Riverside. Aside from the fact that you can participate in the program entirely online and finish within 13 months, you will learn from the very best in the industry, many of whom have served in various electrical engineering capacities over their professional careers, including research and development, as designers and developers.

Additionally, the University of California, Riverside is routinely rated highly by several major publications, including U.S. News & World Report and selected as a “Military Friendly School” in 2018 by Victory Media. We’re also accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

Take control of your career aspirations and apply today. Let UC Riverside be the engine that can power you to a bright occupational destination.


Recommended Readings

Where a Master’s in Electrical Engineering May Take You

Earning an Advanced Degree to Obtain The Most In-demand Electrical Engineering Skills

University of California, Riverside Electrical Engineering Program



BLS – Electrical and Electronics Engineers – What is Electrical Engineering

Fox Business – Electrician Shortage

Eaton – Blackout Tracker