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Do Electrical Engineers Code? How Much?

Are you contemplating a career in electrical engineering and are wondering whether you will need to learn and apply coding skills at your job? Trying to find an answer to the question “Do electrical engineers code”?

The short answer is yes; coding plays a significant role in many areas of electrical engineering. As an electrical engineer, you might find yourself working in various interdisciplinary domains where both coding and electrical engineering principles are used.

For instance, electronic engineering often involves programming languages such as C, C++, and Python to program microcontrollers and processors. The use of programming languages is necessary because almost all electrical machines have some form of code embedded in them.

Think of your regular coffee maker, a calculator, or a washing machine. They are all programmable and thus required the use of code to make them functional.

Additionally, fields like manufacturing testing, hardware system design, and circuit troubleshooting frequently require a combination of coding and electrical engineering skills.

So, as you pursue your career in electrical engineering, it will be necessary for you to familiarize yourself with programming concepts and various programming languages. By doing so, you’ll actually become a well-rounded professional in your field who can take on any electrical engineering task.

What Do Electrical Engineers Do, Anyway?

As an electrical engineer, you’ll have a wide range of responsibilities and roles. At the core of your job, you’ll apply the physics and mathematics of electricity, electromagnetism, and electronics to design and develop new electrical equipment and systems. In addition to designing, you’ll also be responsible for solving engineering problems and testing equipment.

Electrical engineering is an exciting field, as it has applications in many industries, from designing household appliances to large-scale electrical infrastructures. The following are some typical day-to-day tasks you might encounter as an electrical engineer:

  • Designing and developing electrical systems and components
  • Upgrading and maintaining existing electrical systems and equipment
  • Working on small and large projects, such as appliances or renewable energy power grids
  • Collaborating with other engineers and project managers
  • Managing tasks and ensuring projects finish within deadlines and budgets

There are several subfields you may choose to specialize in as an electrical engineer, such as:

  • Power systems
  • Communications systems
  • Controls systems
  • Electronics
  • Digital systems
  • Signal processing

No matter which subfield you choose, you’ll be playing a critical role in shaping the world’s technological landscape.

The life of an electrical engineer is both challenging and rewarding. Not only do you get to make a tangible impact on the world around you, but you also have the opportunity to grow your skills and abilities within a vast and ever-evolving field.

Do Electrical Engineers Code? How Much?

As an electrical engineer, you might wonder how much coding is involved in your profession. Let’s start by saying that the majority of electrical engineers do, in fact, code on the job, but the amount varies depending on your job responsibilities and the specific industry you work in.

As a rough estimate, it is common for electrical engineers to spend from 20% to 60% of their work time on coding-related tasks.

Coding can be a significant part of your job if you are involved in electrical simulations, hardware configuration, or industrial automation. In these situations, you’ll find it helpful to be familiar with programming languages like Python, C++, and MatLab.

When designing and developing electronic systems, you may need to write code for embedded systems or firmware. This may involve working with low-level programming languages such as Assembly or C.

In some roles, coding might not be a daily task, but it’s always a valuable skill to have for an electrical engineer, because you are bound to need to use it sooner or later. Being proficient in coding will open up more job opportunities and make you a more versatile professional.

It’s important to remember that coding is just one of the many skills you’ll need as an electrical engineer. Other typical hard and soft skills for electrical engineers will also play a key role in your success. Also, you should definitely try to stay up-to-date with industry trends and advancements in technology.

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What Exactly Do Electrical Engineers Need Coding for on the Job?

As an electrical engineer, you might wonder why coding is a valuable skill for your line of work. While it may not be the main focus of the profession, having programming knowledge can enhance your career and broaden your scope of expertise.

Here are some tasks electrical engineers use coding for:

  1. Developing and testing control algorithms for electrical systems
  2. Designing and simulating circuits and systems
  3. Analyzing and visualizing data from sensors and other sources
  4. Automating testing and measurement processes
  5. Developing firmware for microcontrollers and other embedded systems
  6. Developing software for user interfaces and control panels
  7. Developing and testing communication protocols for networking and data transfer
  8. Developing and testing power management systems
  9. Developing and testing signal processing algorithms for audio and video applications
  10. Developing and testing artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms for various applications.

While coding may not be the primary responsibility of an electrical engineer, it can significantly boost your career. By learning programming languages like C/C++ and Python, you’ll be able to interact with hardware efficiently and participate in building complex systems.

electrical engineer using macbook pro
Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng @ Unsplash

Do You Have to Take Programming Classes as an Electrical Engineering Major in College?

As an Electrical Engineering major in college, you can expect to take a few programming courses. These courses may vary in difficulty depending on your experience with programming and the specific requirements of your college’s program.

Common Programming Classes for Electrical Engineering Majors

Different colleges have varying requirements for their Electrical Engineering programs, but you’ll typically come across some common programming classes. Here are a few examples of what you might expect:

Introductory Programming Course

Regardless of your prior experience, you’ll usually encounter an introductory programming course. This type of class aims to teach the basics of programming languages, such as C++ or Python. It covers fundamental concepts like variables, loops, and conditional statements that you’ll use throughout your Electrical Engineering courses.

Data Structures and Algorithms

Another essential course is data structures and algorithms. In this class, you’ll learn about different types of data structures and how to use them efficiently in your programs. Additionally, you’ll explore fundamentally important algorithms and how they apply to real-world problems in the context of electrical engineering projects.

Embedded Systems or Microcontroller Programming

As an Electrical Engineering major, you’ll probably take a course on embedded systems or microcontroller programming. These courses delve into the intersection of software and hardware, allowing you to program actual devices and learn about the low-level operations of microcontrollers and microprocessors.

Digital Systems Design

In digital systems design classes, you’ll deal with the building blocks of digital circuits, like logic gates and digital components. You’ll learn to design and analyze digital systems using programming languages like Verilog or VHDL, which are crucial when designing integrated circuits and field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs).

It’s important to remember that your college’s requirements may differ from the examples given. Be sure to consult your specific program’s guidelines and course offerings to get a better understanding of what programming classes you’ll need to take as an Electrical Engineering major.

What Programming Languages Do Electrical Engineers Need to Know?

As an electrical engineer, you’ll often find yourself working with various programming languages throughout your career. Knowing these languages can significantly improve your problem-solving skills and help you be a more qualified and in-demand professional. Let’s dive into some common programming languages you should consider learning as an electrical engineer.

C/C++

C/C++ is a popular choice among electrical engineers due to its ability to handle complex, hardware-related tasks. This versatile language allows you to write efficient, low-level code that directly deals with microcontrollers and register configurations. Additionally, the object-oriented features of C++ make it ideal for handling large applications, such as Linux-based projects.

Python

While C/C++ will likely be your go-to language for hardware-related tasks, Python is an excellent language for other programming tasks. Python’s user-friendly syntax and readability make it an easy language to learn and use. It’s a great option for rapid prototyping or automating tasks, and you might find it helpful when creating test firmware for your hardware designs.

Java

Java is a versatile language you might encounter while working on various engineering projects. It’s platform-agnostic, meaning it can run on a wide variety of systems, including Linux, Mac, Windows, and even Raspberry Pi devices. Java’s popularity and widespread usage make it a valuable language to have in your skillset.

In conclusion, mastering programming languages such as C/C++, Python, and Java can significantly enhance your value as an electrical engineer. Each language has its strengths and purposes, so choosing which to learn ultimately depends on your specific engineering goals and projects.

Can You Be an Electrical Engineer without Knowing How to Code?

Yes, it’s possible to pursue a career in electrical engineering without being an expert coder. There are subfields within electrical engineering which don’t require coding at all.

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However, knowing how to code will definitely give you an advantage in the field. As an electrical engineer, you may encounter situations where programming skills are required, such as designing and writing test firmware or configuring registers. Still, this doesn’t mean you can’t be a successful electrical engineer if coding isn’t your forte.

There are several subfields of electrical engineering where coding might not be a daily requirement. For example, if you find yourself working in power systems or analog IC design, you may not need to write code on a regular basis. In these areas, your focus will be more on the engineering aspects, such as circuit design and system analysis.

One way to navigate your electrical engineering career without heavy coding involvement is by specializing in a field where programming skills aren’t essential. Some of these fields include:

  1. Power Systems Engineering: This field focuses on the generation, transmission, distribution, and utilization of electrical power. While some knowledge of programming is beneficial, the emphasis is primarily on designing and optimizing power systems, conducting power flow analysis, and ensuring reliable operation.
  2. Control Systems Engineering: Control systems deal with regulating and manipulating the behavior of dynamic systems. While coding knowledge can be helpful in implementing control algorithms, many aspects of control systems engineering involve mathematical modeling, system analysis, and design of feedback control loops.
  3. Electromagnetics and RF Engineering: This subfield focuses on the behavior and applications of electromagnetic fields and radio frequencies. While some coding might be involved in simulations or signal processing, the main emphasis is on understanding electromagnetic phenomena, designing antennas, RF circuits, and systems.
  4. Analog Electronics: Analog electronics deals with the design and analysis of circuits that process continuous signals. While some programming knowledge may be useful for data analysis or simulation purposes, the primary focus is on circuit theory, designing amplifiers, filters, and analog integrated circuits.
  5. Power Electronics: Power electronics involves the study and design of electronic devices and systems that convert and control electrical power efficiently. While coding can be relevant for system control or digital control of power converters, a significant portion of the work involves understanding and designing power electronic circuits.

While non-coding branches of electrical engineering certainly exist, having a basic understanding of programming can help you communicate effectively with colleagues who do code and will open up new opportunities for you in the future. Plus, you might find that you actually enjoy coding, and it could become a valuable skill set in your electrical engineering career.

So, while knowing how to code is not an absolute necessity for all electrical engineers, acquiring some programming skills can certainly benefit your career. Remember, it’s essential to be adaptable and open to learning new skills in this ever-evolving field.

person holding green and black circuit board
Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng @ Unsplash

How Much do Electrical Engineers Make?

As an aspiring electrical engineer, you might be curious about the salary prospects in your field.

The annual median salary for electrical engineers in the US is $101,780, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Keep in mind that this figure can differ depending on your location, experience, and job position. In fact, the average salary for an electrical engineer in the United States ranges between $71,970 and $174,210.

If you choose to specialize, your earning potential can grow even more. For instance, Hardware Design Engineers, who are required to have a bachelor’s degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program, have an average base pay of $137,931, with the top 10 percent earning as much as $209,000.

Are Electrical Engineers in Demand?

If you are thinking about becoming an electrical engineer, you might naturally be wondering about the demand for your profession in the job market. After all, your biggest concern is likely getting a job as soon as you finish your training.

Good news is, your skills are indeed needed. Not only in the tech industry, but also across multiple industries. Electrical engineers are sought after in research and development, engineering services, manufacturing, telecommunications, and the federal government.

While the demand for electrical engineers is pretty much universal, it’s essential to know that the employment growth rate might not be as robust as you’d expect. Between 2021 and 2031, the demand for electrical engineers is projected to grow only by 3% due to the sluggish growth rate in several industries.

However, don’t let that slow growth discourage you. The engineering profession as a whole is expected to grow by 15% in the coming years to meet the increasing demand and replace retiring baby boomers.

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To sum up, your skills as an electrical engineer will continue to be valued in the job market, even if the growth might be slower than in some other professions. Keep working on your skills and exploring new tech to ensure you stay ahead of the curve.

What’s the Difference between an Electrical Engineer and a Computer Engineer?

The two occupations that are quite similar to each other are electrical engineering and computer engineering. As you explore possible careers in the field of tech, you might want to consider both. There are, however, some stark differences you should be aware of between the two fields.

As an electrical engineer, you’ll primarily focus on designing, testing, and overseeing the development of electrical equipment. This can include anything from power systems and circuits to radio-frequency components and control systems.

In contrast, a computer engineer mainly deals with computer hardware and software, designing systems like microprocessors, operating systems, and networking infrastructure.

Education in both fields is also quite different. While both electrical and computer engineers generally require a bachelor’s degree in their respective disciplines, the coursework varies.

Electrical engineering courses emphasize physics, math, and circuit design, whereas computer engineering courses delve deeper into computer architecture, algorithms, and programming languages.

Also, computer engineering often requires more coding on a daily basis.

Here are some of the topics you’ll encounter in each discipline:

Electrical Engineering:

  • Circuit analysis
  • Electromagnetism
  • Analog and digital electronics
  • Signal processing
  • Control systems

Computer Engineering:

  • Computer architecture
  • Data structures and algorithms
  • Operating systems
  • Networking and communication
  • Embedded systems

Interestingly, computer engineering is also projected to experience a slow growth of only 5% between 2021 and 2031. Salary for computer engineers averages at around $128,170 per year.

Now that you understand the differences, consider your interests and strengths when deciding which engineering path best suits your career goals. Both professions offer exciting opportunities, so it’s essential to choose the one that resonates with your passions and skills.

electrical engineer holding green and blue plastic toy
Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng @ Unsplash

Can an Electrical Engineer Become a Software Engineer?

Yes, as an electrical engineer, you can definitely transition into a software engineering role. In fact, a considerable proportion of electrical engineers leave their main fields and switch into software engineering every year.

You may already have some coding experience since electrical engineers often work with embedded systems and low-level programming languages. Your background in electrical engineering will provide you with a advantage of having a heavier background in understanding the interaction between hardware and software.

To start your journey toward becoming a software engineer, you would need to begin by strengthening your coding skills and perhaps learning a few more high-level programming languages. You can do this by taking online courses or attending workshops related to programming languages commonly used in software engineering, such as Python, Java, and C++.

Since electrical and software engineering fields can often overlap in areas like embedded programming, it is helpful to understand the similarities and differences between the two. You might find embedded programming to be a great stepping stone, as it requires both knowledge of hardware components and software development. Learning about this area can help bridge the gap between your current expertise and the skills needed for a software engineering position.

With your electrical engineering background, you might be an ideal candidate for firmware development positions, which often require adeptness in reading schematics, using oscilloscopes, and working with low-level hardware components. By pursuing opportunities in firmware development, you can gradually shift into more software-centric roles.

In all honestly, however, you could transition into more classical software development positions directly as well, as long as you have had coding experience in your past, which you could show on your resume, and perhaps a few projects on your coding portfolio.

Conclusion

As an electrical engineer, you might wonder if coding is a necessary skill. It turns out that having coding skills can indeed be beneficial and even necessary in your profession. Being able to code helps you develop both hardware and software solutions, allowing you to excel in a variety of projects that often require both skills.

When you possess coding skills, you’re also better equipped to communicate your ideas to teammates and can create innovative solutions to tackle various engineering challenges. Moreover, coding knowledge can give you a competitive edge in the job market.

So, as an electrical engineer, having coding skills to your skill stack is definitely a smart move.