Student testing a circuit board.

What is Electrical Engineering?

Electrical engineering is the study and application of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism. In simple terms, it is about understanding how electricity works in order to use the knowledge for engineering applications. Electrical engineers defined the 20th century with technologies that transformed society. They gave us universal electric power, telecommunications, radio, and television. Today, we have access to electronic surveillance, medical imaging, computers, and the internet.

Electrical engineers work on a wide range of tasks including designing circuits for smartphones and computers, developing power systems for buildings and cities, connecting society with wireless communication networks, and maintaining modern civilization.

Circuit design is a starting point of electrical engineering. Circuits are like highways that allow electricity to flow through electronic devices. Electrical engineers design circuits that amplify signals, convert power from one form to another, or control the operation of a device. Power systems are another important topic that covers generation, transmission, and the distribution of electricity.

Electrical engineering provides the foundational technology for moden society—electronics for aircrafts and automobiles, electric vehicular technology, medical diagnostic and surgical systems, wireless technology for a connected world (and universe), and semiconductor chips for computing and artificial intelligence.

What Do Electrical Engineers Do?

Electrical engineers study electric and magnetic phenomena and exploit their unique and malleable properties to the benefit of society. In particular, electrical engineers design, build, test, analyze, and document a full spectrum of simple to extremely complex electric and electronic devices, machines, systems, and sub-systems.

Electric Power and Energy

Electrical engineers design power plants, substations, and transmission lines to make sure that electricity is safely delivered and reliably available to consumers. They also work on improving the efficiency and sustainability of power systems by developing renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

Electronics and Circuit Design

Electrical engineers design and analyze electronic circuits that perform specific functions, such as signal amplification and processing, power conversion, visual display, and computing found in smartphones, computers, automobiles, etc. Designing the lastest advances in circuits, developing circuit equipment, and troubleshooting after installation are some of the tasks electrical engineers take on. They are also involved with supervising the manufacturing process in plants and factories.

Circuit boards
Electronic circuits are used every place of daily life including smartphones, computers, automobiles, airplanes, satellites, medical diagnostic systems, and nearly all household appliances.

Telecommunications

Electrical engineers design and build wireless and telecommunications networks like the internet, cellular networks, and satellite systems. They develop technologies for transmitting and receiving digital and analog data including voice and video signals over long distances using optical fibers, wireless radio waves, and copper cables.

Imaging and Signal Processing

Electrical engineers develop algorithms and techniques for analyzing and manipulating signals such as audio, video, sensor, and computer data. They design protocols to extract signals, suppress noise or interferences, and improve signal quality for applications in data transmission, speech recognition, image processing, and medical imaging.

Control Engineering

Electrical engineers create control systems that determine how machines, electronic systems, and devices operate. Information from various sensors that measure temperature, pressure, or position along with mathematical and computational algorithms is used in control engineering to finely tune the system's operations. Control is a key aspect in various areas including manufacturing, mobility, and robotics applications.

What Careers are There in Electrical Engineering?

There are many different sub-disciplines under the umbrella of electrical engineering. Individual sub-disciplines will determine the possible career path of electrical engineers. An abbreviated list of electrical engineering sub-disciplines includes:

  • Electronic circuit and system design
  • Microelectronics and semiconductors
  • Electric power systems, transmission, distribution, and maintenance
  • Control systems
  • Telecommunication systems
  • Signal and image processing
  • Optics and photonics devices and systems
  • Instrumentation
  • Embedded hardware/software systems
  • Automotive electric systems
  • Aerospace electronics
  • Remote sensing

What Skills Do Electrical Engineers Need?

Electrical Engineering requires a complete and thorough understanding of the theory and laws that govern electric and magnetic behavior. This understanding is most compactly and concisely communicated using the language of mathematics.

Computer simulations are increasingly helpful in predicting the behavior of how electrical devices, electronic circuits, or systems will behave without building a physical prototype. Therefore, experience in using computer-aided design tools is an asset.

Lastly, some knowledge of chemistry, physics, and materials is helpful to a greater or lesser degree, depending upon the particular specialty area within electrical engineering.

Along with the hard skills listed above, a successful electrical engineer must be persistent, dedicated, and detail oriented. They must be able to speak and write proficiently and possess the interpersonal skills to collaborate effectively with their colleagues.

What Tasks Do Electrical Engineers Do?

  • Design new, innovative electronic components, products, or systems
  • Conduct detailed mathematical calculations and/or employ computer analysis in the design process
  • Oversee and direct prototype construction
  • Utilize appropriate test equipment to measure performance
  • Analyze test data to benchmark performance and suggest design improvements
  • Work with lead engineers or project managers to ensure results are produced in a timely fashion, the results are not cost prohibitive, and the end product is safe and reliable

How Much Do Electrical Engineers Earn?

Electrical engineers are well paid, with above-average earnings in each stage of their careers.

As reported by IEEE.org, the average US salary for a person just starting their career in electrical engineering is $74,423 (not considering fringes and benefits). The average "senior electrical engineer" salary is $116,746 per year.

Electrical Engineering Salaries Mean Entry-Level Salary Mean Annual Salary Top 10 Percent

Electrical Engineering

  • National Labor Stats
$71,403

$114,050

$166,970
More engineering salaries and sources.

Is Electrical Engineering a Good Career?

If you are considering electrical engineering as a career, here’s a good reason to choose it: you’ll have the power to make a difference!

Electrical engineers lead the development of technology whose roots are in the physical phenomena of electricity but whose applications have gone far beyond. As a result, career opportunities in electrical engineering exist and are strong across all industry sectors: power generation, transmission, and distribution, robotics and automation, defense and aerospace, communication systems, biomedicine, environmental protection, and the vast field of computing and information science which is rapidly transforming our society and our relationship with technology.

The work of electrical engineers drives local, national, and global economies. Electrical engineers are needed in order to stay competitive and meet future demand. Technological innovations made possible by electrical engineers are also critical to the economic competitiveness of the US. Electrical engineers most often work in multidisciplinary teams. They work all over the US and around the world.

The Future of Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineering has transformed our daily life with the introduction of light bulbs, telephones, radios, televisions, personal computers, transistors, integrated circuits (ICs), electric motors, all home appliances, and others. Electrical engineering is the foundational technology for modern society, providing electricity and connectivity to everyone.

Continuous yet revolutionary transformation is anticipated with electrical engineering in the future, including renewable energy, smart girds and energy storage, electrification of transportation, the internet of things (IoT) and ubiquitous connectivity, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and healthcare innovation.

Electrical Engineering at Michigan Tech

Electrical Engineering Degrees

Michigan Tech’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) is a world leader in quality education— preparing students for careers in industry, academia, or government. Our bachelor's program in electrical engineering allows you to choose from concentrations or focus areas within your major to customize your degree experience, while providing you with essential technical and leadership skills that are in very high demand in industry. 

Our lectures are taught by faculty—all of whom have open office hours where students can seek homework help and additional academic support. We take pride in strong faculty-student interactions. Some of our faculty members are Michigan Tech graduates and have been instrumental in shaping the program from both personal and industry perspectives. All 20 members of the ECE Advisory Board members are from top levels of major US corporations.

Paige Fiet
Engineers do a lot of things, but there's one thing we do first and foremost: we help people. We use creative ideas and technologies to solve problems in healthcare, energy, transportation, hunger, space exploration, climate change, and more—much more. Become an engineer who is ready for what tomorrow needs.

MTU engineering

Real Engineering. Meaningful Work.

Get ready to contribute on the job from day one. Our students benefit from hands-on experiences ranging from our senior capstone design program to our Enterprise teams to internships and co-ops. Our students have the opportunity to:

  • develop their professional and leadership skills. Whether this is through coordinating participation in disciplinary conferences or leading an engineering team, our students practice both the technical and interpersonal skills needed for success in their future careers.
  • have access to laboratories that are regularly refreshed to reflect evolving industry trends. We strive to ensure the equipment and activities both reflect skills that companies are looking for in graduates. At Tech, each student works with their own set of equipment.
  • get exposure to projects covering topics such as electric vehicle design; design of safe, reliable, and greener power grids; autonomous vehicles; security systems; digital signal processing; wireless sensor networks; wearable technology; laser systems; robotics; remote control systems; airborne radar simulation; and photonics.
  • take part in internships, co-ops, and secure full-time jobs at a wide variety of companies including Calumet Electronics Corp., Consumers Energy, FCA, Ford Motor Company, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Plexus Corporation, Northrop Grummon Corp., Gentex, ArcelorMittal, Milwaukee Tool, Nexteer, Caterpillar, Black & Veatch, Honda, Waymo, and more. Placement for our ECE graduates is often known well before graduation, with many of our students taking full-time offers from companies where they have interned or taken a co-op experience.

Prepare for Graduate Study

Our undergraduate program in electrical engineering prepares you for advanced study in the field. Earn your PhD degree in electrical engineering or MS degree in electrical and computer engineering.