Good side work for EE students?

For a computer science student, there are things he can do to get experience in his field and even make a few bucks. Could be as little as making web
pages for family and friends. He could do online databases for mom and pop stores. And eventually he lands a legit job doing embedded C++ for a large wireless company. But what electrical engineering students, what can they do in the meantime? My brother could get me work doing web development/databases. It's not much related to EE, but it certainly beats busting my ass for $6.50 somewhere!
Matt
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There isn't incredibly much. An EE student should be able to put together some useful microcontroller circuits, or some blinkenlights, but most people don't usually think in terms of solving their problems this way. Most people usually look for an existing product to solve a problem, rather than consider having a custom solution built.
Electronics repair is not difficult, but requires a good amount of experience and access to a lot of information and equipment that students typically won't have.
That's not to say that side work doesn't exist. I've seen small electronics project possibilities before; for example someone was interested in building an IR remote repeater for controlling equipment inside a cabinet (retail for similar devices is about $150), and another person wants to set up a home brewery in their basement with computer-controlled fluid levels and temperatures. You can run into this stuff, but it's hard to find a constant stream unles you get the word-of-mouth network going.
Another area to investigate would be local schools and tech colleges, or even your own school; talk with people in charge of the various labs, especially physics and beginning electronics. They often need some custom apparatus set up to demonstrate various principles, or acquire data into a computer. Stuff like plastic boxes with rotatable coils to demonstrate magnetic coupling, or break-beam detectors for acceleration calculations, or microcontroller demonstration boards, motor controllers, whatever. A lot of these things are built in-house to cut down on expenses. You could even team up with some instructors to develop lab instructions for various experiments, using the available equipment. It is very useful to build up your ability to produce lucid documentation.
A tougher option would be to develop something and then sell it. You'd have to find a niche, develop a solution, then try to market. The web and eBay makes this a bit easier these days.
Also, don't forget to investigate tax issues so nothing comes back to bite you later.
The web development job would not be useless. It is a handy skill to know how to whip up some PHP code and manage databases. You can even write pretty decent applications for yourself later on, to manage your datasheet stockpile, component inventory, whatever. Plus you can make some pretty neat web sites.
The last option, and one you should seriously consider, is merely using the extra time to concentrate on your classes and homework. It will be pretty competitive when you get out of school; if you know your EE principles inside and out and have the GPA to prove it, then the money you gain after school may be far beyond what you'd make by doing one-off projects in school. Use any extra time to hook up internships for the summer, or get an early start on the job search.
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If you think that students can study their way into being good engineers, then I have a low-mileage Yugo to sell you. Being able to spit back material on a mid-term or final exam is a far cry from being able to design and build electronic equipment that actually works. While most EE students of the 1950s and 1960s were electronics hobbyists, very few are today. Many people on this newsgroup have told stories of interviewing or even working with graduates with good GPAs who couldn't even remember Ohm's Law, much less get their work done on time, within the budget, and without requiring an endless amount of hand-holding. One person even had a story about a Caltech graduate who kept blowing up $100 parts and refused to even attempt to figure out what was wrong with his circuit.
Garrett, do you really think you're able to do good engineering work today simply because you managed to pass all your classes?
Jason Hsu, AG4DG
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You've really misinterpreted what I've said.
First of all, I specified that he should know his EE principles inside and out. That is very useful...you see, an engineer designs and is able to predict the behavior of something based on well-known principles. The person who merely knows how to connect dots is a technician. You cannot do well without a good foundation, and school is the time you are supposed to get started on that.
Then, I said he had to have the GPA to prove it. Note that I mentioned the principles first, as they indeed are more useful to him. But what use is any ability, if you never get the chance to use it? Despite what many engineers would prefer, ability is often judged by numbers on paper rather than a careful evaluation of a person's past experiences. It is very difficult to start off in today's job market without a good GPA. Maybe by the time the original poster has graduated, this will be different...it could be worse too.
Also note that I spoke of monetary concerns. The student mentioned that he could get more money by doing a web development job instead. While he would prefer an EE-related job, money is on equal footing with engineering experience in this student's mind. I stated that knowing your stuff (REALLY knowing it) and having a GPA that gives you a chance to actually get a job, will likely make back any money he could have made during college.
Then I said he should look for internships, or start looking for a job. OBVIOUSLY college doesn't give you valuable EXPERIENCE, as opposed to reusable principles. That's why I mentioned the internships, which DO provide valuable experience. Also, he needs to get a job as soon as possible, ideally right after leaving college, so starting the job search now is good advice.
I don't see what I said that could possibly imply that college alone makes you a good engineer. If you work at it, it can make you a good BSEE. But last I heard, many states don't allow you to title yourself as an engineer unless you have the license and experience. Not even doing odd jobs in college is going to turn this student into an engineer. Blowing off the importance of classes because "they don't matter, they won't teach me to be an engineer" is career suicide. You can't jump directly to the experience part without knowing the basics.
If all you want to do is copy manufacturers' application notes and solder boards together without knowing how they work, then I guess the book-learning isn't too important (that is, if you can still get a job with a crappy GPA).
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OK, but EE students who pass their classes don't necessarily know their stuff. And institutional pressure leads to such EE students. Most of the GPA is based on exams while most EE students don't have experience as electronics hobbyists. The result is EE students who can study and pass the exams in their classes but can't actually design and build something. My experience has shown that I don't learn things very well from the class - it takes experience using what I studied to understand or build something to cause it to make sense. For example, SWR meant nothing to me until I discovered ham radio. In fact, if I didn't discover ham radio, I would have absolutely no business in EE today.

I'm not sure what your definition of a "good GPA" is. If you say that every EE should have a GPA of at least 2.5 or 3.0 out of 4, then I agree with what you say. But if you insist that every EE have at least a 3.8 average out of 4, then I'll say you're on crack.
Also, what good is having a good GPA if you don't have the know-how that it's supposed to represent?
In my experience, being fixated on GPA has been counterproductive to my education. I used to assume that everything was OK if your GPA was high enough. As an undergraduate, I actually looked for classes that were supposed to be easy, and I shied away from classes I heard were tough. I didn't have ham radio or electronics-building experience, so I couldn't relate to the EE I was studying.
As a graduate student today, I have taken risks, and I have learned. If I approached my graduate education with the same attitude I approached my undergraduate education, I wouldn't have been able to study control systems. As an undergraduate, I shied away from signal processing and control systems because I hated convolution and only earned a C in the introductory signal processing class. My risk-taking attitude is also what enabled me to take on electronic circuits PROJECTS as a graduate student, something that I shied away from as an undergraduate.

I agree that all EE students should do internships. But prospective interns have to sell themselves. Don't you think that prospective interns should have experience? The advantage to a personal or hobbyist project is that one can get started without relying on things like the manager's budget/timetable, the manager's mood, the company's situation, etc. Everyone has to start somewhere.

I didn't advocate blowing off classes. Admittedly, I may be biased by my book-smart history. I've always been so good at studying that I could have earned my BSEE if I drank a beer right before each class.
Jason Hsu, AG4DG
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When I was studying at Auburn University, the engineering department allowed students to co-op. They alternated 3 months (one quarter) of class and work in their field.

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snipped-for-privacy@j.com says...

Are there colleges that don't "allow" cooping? We've had a ton of coops over the years. It's the best way to get hired after college! ...even in bad times we've hired the coops after graduation.
I didn't coop, rather worked for the EE department as a technician. ...lots of experience, keys to all of the labs, and a very good looking resume.
The point I think we're all trying to make is that one should do something other than worming books. Employers are impressed with engineers who can actually *do* something on day one.
BTW, I did blow off tons of classes to be able to work some more and did drink more than a few pints of beer in school. I was also married in my sophomore year, though that was 33 years ago. ;-)
--
Keith

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Major companies that perform engineering such as British Petroleum have summer hire or coop programs for students. Check the yellow pages for Engineer, or Architects and ask what they might have available. The federal government has summer hire, coop, step programs, such as Corps of Engineers. You might check some major construction firms as well. Coop and step are programs designed for part time employment during school and full time during summer.
Robert
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