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When you decide to become an electrical engineer, you’re committing yourself to a profession that involves developing, designing, testing and supervising the manufacturing of electrical devices and equipment, including navigation systems, electric motors and power generation equipment.
Therefore, to be able to handle such complex concepts and theories, and understand how to apply them to real-life projects, you need to possess a very unique and tailored skillset. Indeed, it’s no secret that a high proportion of engineering students drop out or change course, with a lack of preparedness often cited as the biggest reason for this unusually high attrition rate.
So, to see if you have what it takes to stay the course and develop a promising career in the field, here are the top 10 electrical engineering skills that you will need.
1. Problem solving
Regardless of their discipline, engineers are, at their core, problem solvers. This is particularly true in electrical engineering, where you are often required to think logically and apply a particular rule or concept to a problem in order to solve it.
This is easier said than done, of course, but there are numerous techniques that can improve your approach to problem solving. It’s pointless, after all, having all that expertise if you don’t know how to troubleshoot issues or approach a new project in the right way.
Wan to sharpen your problem-solving skills? Join the University of Minnesota’s Creative Problem Solving course.
2. Critical thinking
Critical thinking is a broad skill that can be applied to a wide array of situations, but it’s just as important in electrical engineering. Possessing the ability to approach things differently or take a different view to the norm can make a big difference when you’re trying to achieve a certain goal with your project.
This includes analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the project or the problem in front of you, and offering alternative solutions, approaches and conclusions — all key aspects of critical thinking.
3. Basic circuit knowledge
Electrical design can become a very complex topic, especially where large installations are concerned (such as energy grids) or even within highly advanced pieces of small hardware (such as those used in smartphones). Therefore, if you’re to have any hopes of getting to grips with it all, you need to first have a solid understanding of basic circuit design.
If you struggled with the fundamentals during your physics lessons in school, then you need to ask yourself if electrical engineering really interests you. Meanwhile, working on small (and safe!) projects at after-school clubs or in your own time can develop your knowledge and dexterity.
There’s barely a profession in the world where the ability to communicate isn’t important, and electrical engineering is no different.
Whether it’s understanding the needs and requirements of a client, working within project teams to develop or improve a piece of hardware, or working with other departments and stakeholders, communication skills are an essential part of the role.
Are you a skilled communicator? Join the Wharton School’s Improving Communication Skills course on Coursera.
5. Electronic troubleshooting
This is a must-have skill for every electrical engineer.
Electronic troubleshooting involves fault establishment, location and correction through the use of measuring and diagnostic equipment. The level of difficulty can vary depending on which device you will need to work with and repair; in some cases, you might need to test each device component individually to make sure that everything works properly.
Knowing how to analyse, approach and repair electronic circuits is the bread and butter of this profession, so this is a skill that needs to be perfected in order to progress within your field.
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The ability to organise and manage your time is important for an electrical engineer, as much of your work will likely be time-sensitive or project-based, regardless which area of engineering you specialise in.
It’s not just in the workplace that these skills will come in handy, though. They will also prove invaluable during your studies, where you will be learning and comprehending complex topics on top of everything else that higher education demands. Being able to manage it all and stay on top — especially during exam season — will stand you in good stead.
A common issue for electrical engineering students is that their mathematical background is not strong enough. Therefore, it’s important to focus on calculus at school, as well as taking as many maths-related electives as possible at university.
8. Creative thinking
Engineers are not just problem-solvers — they are also pioneers. Whether it’s on a grand scale or a simple one, the solutions they provide change the way we live; therefore, to be able to explore and implement such radical ideas, you need to be able to think outside the box.
This is especially true in the commercial sector, where electronics giants are constantly competing to develop new and exciting technologies; it’s also an essential quality that top engineering schools look for in potential candidates. Remember: you can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you don’t know how to be creative and explore new possibilities with it, then you’re going to be left behind.
Although the importance of coding is higher in some areas of electrical engineering than others, it’s still a very useful skill to possess, particularly when working with low-level embedded systems or when analysing data.
Java, C, C++ and Basic are the most useful languages to learn in this field, although any programming knowledge that you can bring to the table is valuable. In the long run, it will certainly make your job easier as well as boost your CV, so if you haven’t already, invest some time into picking up some coding skills.
Interested in programming? Get started by enrolling in the Learn to Program: The Fundamentals course by the University of Toronto on Coursera.
Engineers are often required to work within multidisciplinary teams throughout the duration of a project. Other than their core engineering duties, they may also have to guide their peers, make strategic decisions and optimise each stage of an ongoing project. As a leader, you will be tasked with seeing entire product lifecycles, implementing new processes and setting goals for your entire team.
Having good project management skills and the ability to lead a team, if not an entire organisation, could be a must as you advance within your role and pursue managerial opportunities within your field.
As you can see, the career of an electrical engineer — as with many STEM professions — is demanding.
Apart from possessing the requisite technical knowledge, it is also mandatory for you to incorporate other key soft skills into your employability repertoire, such as decision-making and attention to detail.
The rewards are high, though, with electrical engineering being one of the highest-paying sectors in the industry.
Join the conversation! Are there any other skills you would recommend for a prospective electrical engineer? Let us know in the comments section below!
This article is an update of an earlier version published in April 2015 and contains contributions by staff writer Melina Theodorou.