To continue capitalizing on my most popular post “Life as an Electrical Engineer”, I thought I’d give a bit more insight on what my career entails. And yes, I’m after more page views. I may consider myself the JR Smith of electrical engineers, but I’m still the Ricky Davis of blogging. Here goes nothing!
1. All your friends and family will think you’re an electrician…or some sort of electronics engineer
Every time there’s a power outage, or a TV stops working, or a car’s battery is dead, etc. someone will inevitably say, “Hey, you’re the electrical engineer! Why don’t you fix the (generic thing that runs on electricity)?” Listen folks, just because something runs on electricity, doesn’t mean that I know how to fix it. And also, I’ve never wired a house before. I can tell you what the code says you should be using for the correct wire sizes and how many receptacles should be powered by that one circuit, but I don’t have the tools or expertise to invent a generator when our utility power gets knocked out. I design circuits for pumps and fans all day, okay?
2. You use what you learned in English class far more than what you learned in math and science
Don’t get me wrong, you’ll take more than your fill of math and science courses throughout your education if you want the engineering degree. But day to day, I’m composing/reading emails from clients and fellow consultants, reading and editing specifications, and talking on the phone far more than I’m actually crunching numbers on my calculator. You need strong written and verbal skills in most jobs these days, and engineering is no exception. Honestly, algebra is the highest form of math I’ve ever used on the job, and I don’t think I’ll ever touch calculus. I’ve seen the integrals they use to calculate arc flash incident energies, and I’m thankful for the software that does those for me.
3. Everyone makes fun of Civil engineers
What exactly do they do anyhow? I learned at my first job that mechanicals and electricals like to rag on each other, but they both enjoy ganging up on the civils. I think it’s because so many of our clients were civils who thought they knew stuff about our fields and really didn’t have a clue. Now I work for a company crawling with civils. I better watch my back.
4. …But not as much as the architects
But even the civils get to join in and make fun of the architects. Unfortunately for them, we engineers don’t hold architects in as high regard as George Costanza. After all, aren’t they just art school dropouts with tilted desks and big rulers?
5. You’re the last to know
Perhaps all this teasing is rooted in something deeper than who thinks who had the toughest classes to get through back in college, but rather it’s because there is a pecking order in consulting, and unfortunately for us, electricals are at the low end of the totem pole. It goes as follows:
Architects plan the layout of the building
Civils do site work or whatever it is about the process that they design within the building (these first two may vary in order depending on the project)
Mechanicals size the pumps/fans/other stuff that carry out the process and lay them out in the building
Electricals get whatever space is left to place our panelboards/MCC’s/transformers and then design the circuits that power everything.
As you can see, each step is reliant upon the step before it, so oftentimes we’re stuck twiddling our thumbs waiting on everyone else so we can begin our design. But the architectural firms are often driving these projects as lead consultants and don’t care about details like that, they just want their deadlines met. Also, when you ask them to move a door or window so you can have some wall/floor space to place your panelboard, you can practically hear them rolling their eyes as they let out a sigh and agree to “help you out”.
6. You’ll get to travel, but you won’t be planning your next vacation to the locations
You’re going to have to make some site visits every now and then to either gather information pre design, or to inspect the implementation of your design after it’s been built. If you’re in my field, you’ll find that these plants/facilities aren’t put in glamorous locations, because let’s face it, nobody wants to live next door to the wastewater treatment plant. Even the coolest trips I’ve gone on (Fairbanks and False Pass) were neat experiences, but I wouldn’t go back on my free time.
7. It’s a rollercoaster
Construction is seasonal, at least in the climates I’ve worked in (Alaska and Minnesota), so therefore design work tends to be seasonal as well. There’s usually enough work to get you through lean times, but sometimes firms face big hiring sprees and then layoffs if the work fluctuates too much. It’s the nature of the beast, so you have to find other ways to bring in business for your company if the design jobs aren’t materializing. I personally find power studies/arc flash hazard analysis work and hazardous location studies for some of our clients to fill in the gaps.
8. You’ll begin to notice…everything
My very first day on the job, my boss took me for a walk down the street near our office. He pointed out the cabinet that contained the controller for the traffic lights. He showed me the junction boxes in the sidewalk that contained the power cabling for the street lights. Suddenly, I wanted to know where everything got its power from. I wanted to know how everything was controlled. It was as if my eyes were opened, and I could go on seeing the world in a far more vigilant way. I’ll give you an example: At my first job, I got to design airport runway and taxiway light configurations. Now every time I fly I look out the window to pay attention to the patterns of the taxiway and runway lights, comparing them to what I remembered when I had to learn the FAA’s codes and standards for airport design. It’s pretty cool…in a nerdy, engineering kind of way.
Well, there you have it. I hope you learned something.