Electrical engineering fuels innovations that expand people’s lives and increase functionality. Manufacturers can experiment with product designs using virtual reality before investing in expensive product prototypes. They can also produce electric cars that emit fewer emissions. Doctors can practice new surgical techniques using virtual models before operating on real bodies. All of these advancements are the result of engineering. Succeeding in the profession, however, calls for a specialized skill set.
Electrical engineers have expert knowledge that allows them to design, develop, and test electrical equipment. Their work requires both technical and soft electrical engineering skills. Additionally, to stay relevant, electrical engineers must keep up with evolving technologies that advance the field. Earning an advanced degree, such as an online Master of Science in Electrical Engineering (MSEE), can help build these skills.
Skills Needed to Be an Engineer
To build complex designs and systems, engineers rely on their understanding of scientific principles and applications. However, soft skills needed to be an engineer also help them maximize their technical skills and knowledge.
Technical know-how alone doesn’t determine the success of an engineering project. Managing one’s time, collaborating, communicating effectively, and receiving feedback, among other things, also play a crucial role in engineering success. Developing these soft skills enables engineers to have productive interactions with their colleagues and clients.
Engineers tend to work in teams, so collaboration is an essential electrical engineering skill. Whether designing products, maintaining infrastructure, or building electrical systems, they must cooperate closely with other engineers, project managers, contractors, clients, and so on. This involves sharing ideas and taking collective responsibility when problems arise.
Collaboration in engineering also requires that professionals in the field respect and value different viewpoints. This can facilitate greater innovation. Additionally, engineers often need to coordinate with other departments, such as marketing and sales, to help them understand the technical aspects of products or projects. If engineers fail to effectively collaborate, these departments may lack the explanations they need to do their jobs, or they could inadvertently misrepresent the capabilities of a product.
Tips for Building Collaboration Skills
Effective collaboration often starts with a common vision. Engineers can improve their ability to collaborate by setting clear objectives with their team members when working together. This may involve discussing short- and long-term goals and ensuring that everyone understands the purpose behind the project.
Compromising with others can also strengthen collaborative efforts, as it takes varying opinions and ideas into account. Additionally, engineers must analyze challenges when they arise rather than assigning blame, which can erode trust and break down the collaborative spirit.
The complex designs and systems that engineers create need clear explanations. This means that engineers must know how to effectively communicate technical ideas to those with and without technical backgrounds. Additionally, to bring their project ideas to life, engineers need to clearly explain their visions. This may involve breaking down technical language into more accessible terms, as well as using a bit of verbal persuasion.
Communication typically involves providing reports laying out clear plans that detail the reasons behind their designs, what purpose their designs serve, and why they’re worth investing in. Engineers also need to precisely communicate the material, staffing, and time requirements of their projects. When engineers effectively articulate their ideas, they can gain the support of their fellow engineers and supervisors.
Poor communication in engineering can result in small issues turning into big problems. This can lead to engineering projects that go over budget, miss deadlines, and frustrate clients.
Tips for Improving Communication</h4>
Good communication is multifaceted. To improve communication, engineers can work on developing their speaking, listening, and writing skills, as well as their nonverbal communication.
Engineers should aim to write and speak concisely, distilling complicated information into digestible bits. To avoid misunderstandings, they should ask for clarification. During conversations, they can try paraphrasing what they’ve heard to demonstrate their engagement and help clear up any confusion in the discussion.
Engineers must possess excellent analytical skills to assess the needs and requirements of their projects. Whether developing computer chips or redesigning electrical systems, engineers must use inductive and deductive reasoning, forecasting, and other reasoning skills. These electrical engineering skills allow professionals in the field to identify problems, determine their root causes, test prototypes, and evaluate the results.
The entire engineering design process demands adept analysis. The first step — identifying a need or a problem — involves making assessments. Researching the identified problems and developing potential solutions for them also requires capable analysis. Without these skills, engineers may arrive at false conclusions. They may also struggle to effectively evaluate their designs or find ways to improve them.
Tips for Strengthening Analytical Skills
To expand their analytical skills, engineers can seek expert mentors who advise them on efficient ways to solve problems and new ways of visualizing solutions. Mentors can also help engineers frame problems and make connections.
Many think of the engineering process as strictly methodical. However, innovating new ways to apply math, science, and technology to solve real-world problems takes a good deal of creativity as well. Finding new solutions can require engineers to think unconventionally.
Engineers often need to imagine alternative scenarios to make improvements in systems or designs. For example, the engineers who invented the high-speed bullet train didn’t rely solely on conventional methods. Instead, they took their inspiration from the kingfisher, a bird whose long streamlined body and wedge beak allows it to dive into the water at high speeds without making a splash.
Tips for Inspiring Creativity
Exposure to new ideas and information sparks creativity. Engineers looking to expand their imagination and ability to think outside the box can therefore benefit from researching the field. By investing time and energy into studying engineering innovations old and new, engineers can learn about creative approaches that may lead to exciting innovations.
Engineers may listen to podcasts, attend conferences, or join local meetup groups to discover new perspectives and ways of doing things. Additionally, when addressing familiar problems, engineers can pause and consider alternative methods that may solve those problems more efficiently.
Openness to Feedback
Feedback can play a vital role in maximizing an engineer’s potential. It can also facilitate successful engineering projects. At each stage of a project, constructive criticism and feedback can offer invaluable guidance to engineers about their designs and performance. Being open to feedback is an electric engineering skill that can help them identify their strengths and weaknesses.
Feedback from clients allows engineers to make needed adjustments. Engineers need to therefore remain open to constructive feedback and view it as an opportunity to become more self-aware. Additionally, learning to receive and give constructive feedback can help engineers develop their skills and celebrate their successes.
Tips for Embracing Feedback
Some engineers may feel a little wary of feedback. Within feedback exists an evaluation that can trigger defensiveness. However, engineers can help reduce any discomfort they may feel by reminding themselves that feedback can help them grow and by not taking it personally.
When receiving feedback, engineers benefit by first listening closely and resisting any temptation to interrupt. After hearing the person out, people receiving feedback can ask clarifying questions. Then they can take a moment to reflect on what’s been shared and assess its value.
Electrical engineers often manage large projects with multiple layers to keep track of. They’re also responsible for developing strategic plans that achieve the goals of their engineering projects. This too requires electrical engineers to stay on top of many tasks and effectively manage their time.
During the course of designing an electrical product or system, electrical engineers must manage resources; meet deadlines; and collaborate with other engineers, architects, and others to accomplish their goals. They also need to effectively delegate tasks and monitor progress. All these responsibilities require strong organizational skills.
Tips for Maximizing Organization
Effective planning and time management can optimize the organization of any electrical engineering project. By making daily plans tied to short- and long-term goals, electrical engineers can make headway more quickly.
Projects tend to thrive under a well-thought-out plan. Electrical engineers can maximize their efforts by prioritizing and allotting time for individual tasks and mapping out realistic timelines. This not only improves workflow but also reduces stress and supports better time management.
Skills Needed for Electrical Engineering
In addition to the many soft skills needed for electrical engineering, specialized skills and knowledge are required to excel in the field. Electrical engineers play a part in all things that create, use, and harness electricity. This may involve designing, testing, and maintaining systems such as:
- Electrical telecommunication systems
- Radar systems
- Satellite communication systems
- Navigation systems
Engineering may also involve designing electrical equipment, such as power generators and electric motors. Often, electrical engineers invent ways to use electrical power to create or upgrade products. They should possess expert knowledge of electricity that allows them to design everything from household appliances to electrical wiring in buildings.
Specific electrical engineering skills and areas of knowledge include the following:
Mathematics, Electrical, and Electronic Circuit Theory
Electrical theory covers laws about electrical charges, currents, resistance, etc. This provides an understanding of the use of electricity to power devices and machines.
Electronic circuit theory, on the other hand, deals with basic electronic components, such as diodes, transistors, and resistors, as well as their applications. While electrical circuits simply carry electricity to provide power, the more complex electronic circuits interpret electrical signals and then perform a task.
For example, an electrical circuit allows for the flow of electricity to power a microwave. An electronic circuit, however, can interpret electrical signals as instructions and perform tasks accordingly. When the user presses a button on the microwave control panel, the electronic circuit processes those commands as instructions and then transmits those instructions to the electrical circuit.
To build circuits of any kind, electrical engineers must have an in-depth understanding of electrical and electronic circuit theories. The projects that electrical engineers work on typically call for very complex electrical and electronic circuit design.
For example, large installations, such as energy grids, contain layers of intricate circuits working together. Electrical engineers must therefore have advanced knowledge of all the circuit components, how they function, and how to manipulate them to achieve desired results.
Additionally, advanced knowledge of mathematics, especially calculus, makes it possible for electrical engineers to understand the components of circuits, such as inductors or capacitors. Electrical engineers also use math in performance testing, as well as calculating electrical requirements when designing products or systems.
Computer-aided design (CAD) is software used to design and evaluate electrical systems. At some point, most electrical engineers will come across CAD, so becoming proficient in its use is a critical electrical engineering skill.
In the past, electrical engineers drew diagrams of circuits by hand. However, with CAD they can create 2D and 3D representations of circuits, allowing them to visualize their plans more clearly. This makes it easier for electrical engineers to simulate and analyze their designs and make modifications.
The software allows electrical engineers to conduct checks that determine the quality of the signals passing through a circuit. It also helps them evaluate whether their circuit designs can sustain voltage and current requirements.
Additionally, CAD has constraint checking capabilities. This means that the software can highlight if the design of a circuit violates any industry or company rules that may limit its manufacturability or performance capacity.
Mechanical engineers, architects, and other professionals with whom electrical engineers work also use different types of CAD. Electrical engineers must therefore know their way around the software so they can collaborate smoothly with their colleagues.
Programming is another skill needed for electrical engineering. Typically, electrical engineers benefit from learning at least one programming language. For example, C++, which electrical engineers commonly use, allows the programmer to generate applications that solve complex math problems. This can prove very helpful to electrical engineers.
As an example, determining how much electrical current to load onto sections of a power grid may require complex calculations. Electrical engineers may write code to help them get the answers they need. They may also use programming to configure hardware or integrated circuits, key components of almost all electronic devices, including televisions, computers, and radios.
Additionally, competency in programming helps electrical engineers work faster and more efficiently. C++ enables electrical engineers to automate routine tasks, improving their productivity. Other programming languages that electrical engineers can benefit from learning include Java, C, and BASIC.
Electrical Engineering Trends
Several trends have emerged in electrical engineering that are likely to shape the future of the field. These trends, which technological advances are driving, expand the possibilities of how electrical engineers can generate, store, and use energy.
Electrical engineers need to keep up with these developments. They can not only enhance one’s electrical engineering skills but also help in career advancement. Some of the most influential trends transforming what’s possible in electrical engineering are the following:
Smart grids allow for a back-and-forth exchange of information and electricity between a utility and consumers. This lets power supply companies manage and moderate electricity usage. It also gives consumers valuable information about their electricity consumption so they can make choices that create less strain on the electrical grid and, in turn, save money.
The setup of most electrical grids simply delivers electricity. With smart grids, utilities can operate more efficiently, reducing costs and outages. The technology also makes it easier for utilities to integrate renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, onto the grid.
As power supply companies adopt smart grid technology and new construction projects increasingly incorporate this technology into their utilities, electrical engineers will play an indispensable role in their innovation and development.
Wireless Power Transfer
Still in its early stages, wireless power transfer shows great promise. This technology transmits electrical power through the air, avoiding the need for wires. This allows wireless charging pads to power up smartphones, but it has many other possible applications.
As the electric vehicle market expands, so will the demand for charging stations. Wireless power transfer technology can offer more convenient and economical methods for charging electric vehicles.
The current charging system for electric cars requires bulky plug-in chargers and large energy storage system packs. Wireless power transfer technology could eliminate these inconveniences, making it easier to expand charging systems. The technology could also be used to create dynamic charging stations that transfer power to vehicles in motion.
Dynamic charging stations installed along highways could increase electrical vehicles’ access to power, making it possible for them to use smaller battery packs. Vehicle sensors would establish connections with in-motion charging stations, and the power transfer would begin.
Today, organizations rely on the expertise of electrical engineers to develop a host of innovative applications of wireless transfer technology. For example, electrical engineers and other experts are looking for ways to replace conventional wired power with wireless power transfer, eliminating electrical cables and poles from view and improving efficiency in the process.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
Augmented reality overlays digital images and information onto a picture, while virtual reality software creates entirely artificial environments. Proficiency in both technologies is a useful electrical engineering skill to have, as they can significantly help them through the construction process.
For example, electrical engineers may wear augmented reality headsets that project key information onto a job site, helping to guide them in repair and maintenance work. Electrical engineers may also use virtual reality to create lifelike representations of their projects.
This way they can see problems, such as incorrect electrical configurations or obstacles to installing air conditioning, before they begin to actualize their work. In short, the technology helps catch potential issues before they evolve into actual problems.
Electrical engineers may also find augmented reality in CAD applications. This allows them to visualize conceptual designs and test their specifications. Augmented reality in CAD also allows electrical engineers to present their designs in full scale to clients or show them several variations of a product.
Robotics is another electrical engineering trend making waves. The technology has the capacity to improve electrical engineers’ working environment by enhancing their safety.
Drones, for example, have become widely used in electrical engineering. They survey potentially hazardous electrical zones before electrical engineers enter them. The images they provide help electrical engineers determine the safety of a location. When addressing fallen power lines, for example, data that drones have collected can inform electrical engineers of unsafe conditions.
Another robotics-based technology used in electrical engineering is remote-controlled cable cutters. This tool makes it possible for electrical engineers to cut underground cables without taking any safety risks.
Build Essential Electrical Engineering Skills
Building the right skills and staying current with the latest trends in the field is key to succeeding as an electrical engineer. Whether sharpening their programming skills or developing their knowledge of smart grids, electrical engineers stand to gain by cultivating expertise in key areas.
With courses such as Computational Tools for Engineers, Embedded Systems, and Electronic Navigation Systems, Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Electrical Engineering program can help graduates build the electrical engineering skills needed to achieve their professional goals. Discover how you can become an electrical engineer with Ohio University today.