Electrical engineering affects a broad array of manufacturing systems, machines, communications networks, and transportation vehicles. It is hard to think of a machine or appliance without a microchip in it somewhere, and science fiction writers today have fun envisioning a time when we will have microchips implanted in our heads.
The oldest version of electrical engineering, the generation of power, is still a large field, but its size is dwarfed by the other specialties involving electronics. IEEE organizes its membership according to these categories:
•Division I: Circuits and devices. This includes microchips, the larger circuits that microchips are wired into, lasers and electro optics, and related solid-state devices.
•Division II: Industrial applications. This covers the manufacturing applications of electronics such as insulation devices, instrumentation and measurement, and electronic devices that control power.
•Division III: Communications technology. The fields included here are those most familiar to the general consumer: broadcast electronics, consumer electronics (radios, TV), communication devices (telephones, radio), and radios and similar devices in automobiles.
•Division IV: Electro magnetics and radiation. This represents the more advanced realms of communications such as those used for detecting aircraft. Subgroups include antennas and signal propagation, magnetics, microwaves, and nuclear and plasma sciences. Division V and VIII: Computers. The Computer Society is the single largest division and includes computer hardware and data storage, networks, and electronics for everything from handheld calculators to supercomputers.
•Division VI: Engineering and the human environment. Representing the outreach efforts of IEEE, this division includes engineering management, education, professional communication, and the social implications of technology.
•Division VII: Power engineering. These are the engineers at utility stations and those who design, construct, and maintain the generators and transmission systems.
•Division IX: Signals and applications. More types of advanced electronic transmission and detection are covered here, including acoustics, speech and signal processing, remote sensing, ultrasonics, and aerospace systems.
•Division X: Systems and control. Electronics are capable of controlling electrical and mechanical devices, even as electricity provides the power. Robotics, industrial automation systems, information theory, and engineering medicine are some of the subgroups of this division.
Currently, IEEE lists forty-one societies-specialized categories within these divisions. New divisions are formed all the time; some of the most recent include the Council on Superconductivity, the Sensors Council, the Nanotechnology Council, the Neural Networks Society, and the Components, Packaging and Manufacturing Technology Society. IEEE members can join one or several of these societies; each one publishes journals, holds meetings, and creates forums for like-minded engineers to exchange information.
Except for the computer and power engineering societies, the memberships are fairly evenly matched. But wait-there's more. IEEE isn't the only professional society managing the interests of electrical and electronics engineers. There is also the Instrument Society of America (ISA), which has about forty thousand members interested in industrial control and measurement. Not all of the ISA members are electrical/electronics engineers and some ISA members are also IEEE members. However, the existence of ISA indicates the great number of engineers employed in the electrical/electronics field. There is a Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, ten thousand strong, and an equally sized Illuminating Engineering Society of North America. There are at least half a dozen technical associations for computer specialists, with thousands of members (only some of whom have electrical/electronics backgrounds). Thus, the field of interest of electrical/electronics engineers is huge, and there are tens of thousands of them in most of the technical areas.
All engineering disciplines advance new technology, but for the past couple of decades, no discipline has been moving faster than electrical/electronics engineering. This trend will persist for at least the next decade. Computers and semiconductors are continuing to evolve, and the technology for both of these refuses to "settle down" into something predictable and well defined.
With so many avenues of technical development, the list of possible job titles for electrical/electronics engineers is lengthy. Some of the more common ones are as follows:
•Circuit designer. Whether it is a microcircuit etched on a silicon chip or a circuit board on a piece of green plastic, these designers apply engineering principles to building circuits that will accomplish the desired objective. Circuit design is one of the most active areas for automated computer design. Many engineers have written computer programs to figure out the optimum arrangement of circuit elements.
•Communications engineer. Most of the many mass-market, long-distance communication networks-such as telephones, radio, television, and cable television-rely on these engineers to develop the best ways to send and receive the communications signal. Signal fidelity and immunity to electronic "noise" are constant goals.
•Computer engineer. The design and construction of computers is one of the more prominent occupations of electrical engineers. These engineers must, of course, be familiar with circuits and microchips, but they must also have more than a passing knowledge of computer programming. For this reason many engineers interested in computer design major in that field (computer engineering), which offers more programming course work. (Employers appear to be evenhanded when choosing between the two specialties; the real distinction is the students own course work and interests.)
•Once a design has been completed and a prototype built, highly sophisticated tests are run to make sure that the computer can perform as expected. Usually problems are encountered that necessitate redesign. Similarly, each computer coming off the production line is tested for reliability and performance.
•Control engineer. The ability of computers and electronic devices to provide automatic control of appliances, machines, and manufacturing processes is generating high job demand for these specialists. One of the most dramatic possibilities is the use of artificial intelligence computer programming to make processes "think."
•Robotics engineer. Robotics suffered a downturn in business growth during the 1980s from which it is still recovering. But the long-term future is still bright. Robotics and control engineers share many of the same goals.
•Power systems engineer. The design and operation of modern utility plants is extremely complex, more so when nuclear energy is involved. A widening gap between the capacity of newly built power plants and the demand for electricity is expected to generate high job growth for power engineers.