Thursday, November 4, 2010

What exactly do you DO?

I get asked that question a lot. What does an engineer do? There seem to be a lot of common misconceptions about what I do as an ELECTRICAL AND COMPUTER ENGINEER (aka what I actually went to school for) and things I happen to know how to do that are electrical and computer RELATED (aka things I learned from my geeky friends/things I picked up on my own/ reading an instruction manual).

I'm really not joking about that last one.

So let me start with things that people seem to think I went to school for that I really didn't:

  • Setting up your TV
  • Hooking up your cable
  • Making your computer faster
  • Setting up a router (seriously guys, all I did was read the instruction manual)
  • Running a sound system (yes I know how to use the pretty knobs, yes I knew immediately what the problem was, no I don't need my degree to tell you which knob to turn to fix your problem- I've been running sound systems since I was in 8th grade)
  • Building a computer
  • Hooking up various game systems, DVD players, VCRs, etc to your TV or computer
  • Setting up your computer, plugging in your mouse and keyboard and monitor, reading the on screen instructions to set it up, etc.
  • Programming
What I actually do as an engineer: (this one is going to be difficult to explain so I'll try to keep it simple)
  • You know when you open up some sort of electronic for whatever reason, and there's that pretty green board with all that stuff stuck to it? I know what that stuff does- I make the pretty green boards.
  • You know things like MRIs, how the first word in that is "magnetic?" That's electrical engineering.
  • You know those flashlights that you shake and they magically light up? How you can see the crap inside the handle? That's electrical engineering.
  • Things like electromagnetic fields in space, radar detection, etc, is also EE.
Basically, anything that has the pretty green boards is what I went to school for. I know how to use electronics because I'm a technically savvy person and have been working with them for a long time,  but that's not what my degree is in. If you were to take that stuff apart, I could explain to you what everything on the boards are meant to do (but probably not how they fit into the system, that gets really complicated really quickly). I don't just plug the microphone into the speaker, I create the amplification circuit. I've worked with solar panels and wind turbines, and understand generally how they work to generate electricity.

Think of "electrical engineers" as "electricity manipulators"- we create things that make electricity do what we want it to do.

I know that a lot of my friends from school could probably help me expand on this post a bit, but I'm trying to keep it somewhat simple for my non-engineering friends and family so that they might finally have some sort of clue as to what I do. So engineering friends, feel free to post in the comments about what Electrical and Computer Engineering is.

I hope that this post helped clarify what exactly I do. Now I should go to bed, because I have an interview tomorrow!

-Nikki