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Career Story: Electronic Design Engineer

Electronic Design Engineer

Job Title: Electrical Engineer

Type of Company: My company provides engineering design services for clients who need help in designing products for the consumer, medical, and communications markets.

Education: BS, Electrical Engineering, Iowa State University •• MS, Electrical •• Engineering, Stanford University

Previous Experience: I worked for a major telecom company for 19 years, before becoming part of a group of engineers that formed their own product development company.

Job Tasks: As part of an engineering design services firm, I design the electrical hardware for consumer, medical, and communications products. We begin the proposal process by presenting an estimate of the cost and time for our services to our prospective client, along with a detailed description of our activities and deliverables during the development process.

Once a client accepts our proposal, we work with them to specify the detailed requirements for their product. This is probably the most important step in the development process, since a client has seldom thought through his product requirements in sufficient detail to make it possible to start the design. Other times, the client may have unrealistic expectations regarding product cost, performance, or development time, and trade-offs will have to be made during development of the requirements.

After the requirements have been agreed to, a product architecture gets developed. This involves choosing an approach, developing system block diagrams, researching applicable technologies, selecting major electrical and mechanical components, identifying the hardware and software interfaces, and generating an initial product cost estimate. The architecture is reviewed with the client, and once agreement is reached, the detailed design can begin.

During the design, electrical schematics are created that support the features defined in the product requirements, and printed circuit boards are laid out, assembled, and tested. Further 'integration' testing and troubleshooting occurs when the initial software is loaded into the assembled board, and problems are identified and solved.

Once the electrical, software, and mechanical systems are working well enough so that a functional prototype can be fabricated, further testing (to meet industry and governmental regulatory standards) takes place. At the same time, work to transfer the design to a manufacturing facility occurs. This involves developing factory test specifications, making sure that the design can be manufactured efficiently, and educating the manufacturing engineers on how the product works and how to troubleshoot possible problems that may occur.

Once the product is being manufactured, continued electrical engineering support is often provided to answer questions, investigate problems that are found 'in the field' by real users, and to find substitutes for components that may become obsolete.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of the job is seeing the product that you worked on being used by customers.

The worst part of the job is finding design problems late in the development process (or worse yet, 'in the field'), that can be expensive to fix.

Job Tips:
1.) After your formal electrical engineering education, your most valuable learning experience will probably be 'on the job' as opposed to continuing education courses, since this learning is immediately put to use. Use your job to branch out within the EE discipline, so that you don't become 'pigeon-holed' in one area. This will also make you a more valuable resource and add to job security.

2.) When telling your manager about a design problem, also try to present some potential solutions (i.e. 'go to your manager with solutions, not problems).

3.) Make an effort to find a good, willing, technical mentor when starting out, even if a formal mentoring program doesn't exist within your company.

Additional Thoughts: A rigorous attention to detail is a necessary personal quality for an engineer, if that engineer is going to produce quality designs.

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