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!
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
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
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.
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
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
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).
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
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
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.
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.
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