Job Title: Consulting Engineer
Type of Company: A company that develops electronics and software.
Education: SB, Electrical Engineering, MIT SM, Aeronautics, MIT
Previous Experience: I worked as an advanced development engineer at a medical device company before starting my own consulting practice.
Job Tasks: I am responsible for all aspects of my consulting practice including marketing, client relations, technical proposal development, and design engineering. Sometimes I also team with other independent consultants to tackle larger projects or to get access to specialized expertise. In many cases, I work also work as a "general contractor" supervising other sub-contractors (circuit board fabricators, contract manufacturers, suppliers of specialized materials).
Consulting work is especially enjoyable because you get a wide range of technical challenges in a diverse range of application areas. I have done projects ranging from research satellites (http://chandra.harvard.edu/) to medical devices to arcade video games to military weapons. Some projects require the very latest high-performance semiconductor devices. Others are seeking to maintain very old equipment designs where the components may not even be available and I have to figure out ways of adapting current technology to an older design.
Another area where there is a lot of variety is in the features which have to be optimized. For aerospace applications power consumption and total weight requirements override cost. For equipment that may fly in orbit, the electronics have to tolerate extreme temperatures and high radiation. In contrast, a commercial handheld device will place a premium on low cost, small size and low power consumption but will not usually need to run at very high speeds or tolerate very wide temperature ranges.
Best and Worst Parts of the Job: Its never dull! Between the rapid pace of development in both circuit components and the tools used to develop software, consulting engineering requires a continuous process of self education. As a consultant you often have the opportunity to help solve problems in fields other than electrical engineering. This gives you a good chance to acquire multi-disciplinary experience.
Sometimes there is a lot of pressure to solve hard problems on very tight time/budget.
1.) Don't assume that because you are aiming for an engineering career you won't need to be able to read/write/speak effectively. You will need to be able to explain technical issues to non-technical audiences.
2.) Do take engineering courses of general applicability (math, physics, chemistry).
3.) Do take pursue summer/part time/intern work opportunities so you get some real world experience.
4.) Take a short course in engineering economics.
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