An electrical engineer focuses on designing, maintaining and improving products that are powered by or produce electricity. Sometimes, an electrical engineer will dedicate his or her time to a single electrical product or type of product, such as motors, generators, wiring or communications systems. He or she often will design, assemble and test new devices. An electrical engineer might work on a single project for more than a year before it is completed and a new project can begin.
Although the terms "electrical engineer" and "electronics engineer" often are used interchangeably, some distinctions can be made. Electrical engineers typically focus on products that supply, generate or transmit electricity. Electronics engineers generally focus on products that use electricity as a power source for their electronics. For example, electronics engineers might design a car's computer system, and electrical engineers would design the car's electrical system that supplies power to the computer system. Sometimes, however, both types of engineers are referred to as electrical engineers.
When beginning a project, an electrical engineer usually starts by determining the intended purpose of the product. He or she will then plan the circuitry and wiring of the electronic components. A prototype generally is built, and extensive tests are conducted on it to make sure that it works as designed and that all of the components work well together. An electrical engineer might test existing products that have malfunctioned or broken to determine what went wrong and whether any design flaws can be corrected. He or she also might test other existing products to identify any problems and determine how their designs can be altered to improve the products.
Often working in a group with other engineers, an electrical engineer must be proficient in the use of a wide array of engineering and design software and a variety of laboratory equipment. He or she also must be able to provide detailed instructions for the manufacture and use of the final product. The engineer often is responsible for overseeing the installation of the product to ensure that it is installed properly and safely. He or she often must create technical drawings, instructions and specifications that can be followed to ensure that the product will be properly installed and correctly operated.
An electrical engineer might spend a significant amount of his or her time meeting with fellow engineers to discuss projects. They often work together to try to come up with solutions to the problems or challenges that they face while working on projects. The engineers might also discuss their research and testing procedures to determine whether they can be improved.