EE Student Seeking Career Advice


#1

CE Community,
I am a second year EE student pursuing a minor in CS at Clemson University and am hoping you may be able to provide some career advice or possibly refer me to a career resource. Though I am still learning EE basics, I have learned quite a bit about the engineering industry through reading and interviews. This past year I worked on the electrical systems of an engineering robotics challenge. I am hoping to end up in hands on automation, controls, testing, or R&D. To be completely honest, I am scared of ending up in a paper pushing job where I never leave a desk. Do you have any advice for careers to look into or possibly some interesting people to connect with? I imagine Chris and the community will have a wealth of advice. Thoughts?
Jake Ammons
Sophomore EE/CS Student
jakeammons[dot]com
jake[at]jakeammons[dot]com


#2

Hey Jake!

First off, I think you’re going down the right path by asking for advice early on. I know I didn’t ask until much later in my career.

The first thing I usually suggest to people is to find ONE person with a job you think you might have. This might be someone high profile like my co-host Dave or it might be someone you just happen to know in the industry. From there, I usually start to trace backwards in their LinkedIn history (they don’t have LinkedIn? Might be worthwhile choosing someone else to start with). Then I look at where else they have worked in getting to their current position, because it starts to give a feel for other types of companies that are out there in a similar field. You can start piecing together larger companies in the industry and what might be a good fit. Then I’ll go search for engineers at those companies and look at their experience. It might be a bit limited on what you’re able to see if you don’t have a lot of connections on LinkedIn yet, but you can also pay to see more stuff. This also works to a limited extent with other job boards like Angel List. What you’re really trying to do is get a feel for whats out there.

From there, you might find an engineer at a company that has a particularly interesting background. Sometimes it’s worth it just to write to them, explain your situation and see if they wouldn’t mind answering a question or two. It’s very possible you’ll get ignored by many of them. But if you keep trying I’m sure you’ll find someone willing to write back or call you to talk about their experience. Since you’re at Clemson, they probably have an alumni list as well that you could cross reference with some of the companies you identified in the industry. Having a shared interest like (your future) alma mater also increases the likelihood they’ll take some time to talk to you. Always try to keep your request for their time to about 10 minutes or so. You should be prepared to only take 10 minutes, but they might want to keep talking or write you more in-depth answers.

When you do talk to them, ask them about their past, because this is going to be a good indication of what allowed them to be successful and what they were interested in. You can gauge what about their past was interesting besides their choice of employer. You want to learn about the skills you need to have to eventually get where they are, but also places that will help you to cultivate those skills. Each young engineer I talk to I encourage to focus on skill building. That is the capital you can use throughout your career. The more base skills you can develop before being asked to specialize, the better.

Finally, no matter whom you talk to, follow up and show gratitude. I was always sure to not only tell them thank you for their time, but tried to write back later and keep in contact. They spent some time helping you, so even in the smallest way they are invested in your success.

This is my Networking 101 lesson. If you do these things, I think you’ll start to get a much better picture of the industry.


#3

Thank you for the advice! I have done a bit of LinkedIn research, but have not thought of looking into specific skills for careers/persons of interest. What I have come to notice is that, for my schooling at least, I have to take building a resume of applicable skills into my own hands. For example, I don’t believe my EE program teaches any CAD. If you or anyone else has suggestions on how to get started (tutorials, etc.) on some basic Eagle or Altium, I would appreciate the tip.
Thanks again for the help. I will definitely use your advice to hopefully begin making some connections.


#4

Well boy oh boy did you come to the right place :slight_smile:

We use KiCad around here though. Absolute beginner course (20 minutes for a layout):

https://contextualelectronics.com/courses/shine-on-you-crazy-kicad/

And a more in-depth but more inclusive look at KiCad:

https://contextualelectronics.com/courses/getting-to-blinky/


#5

A comment about LinkledIn. I deleted my LinkedIn account. Why? Some reasons.

One: it was an open invitation to idiot recruiters looking to place bodies in positions to just spam you. They’d call me at the office during business hours, and invariably the jobs offered were sales gigs, completely uninteresting to me. The occasional engineering job was either entry level, or just nothing to do with what I listed as my skills. They obviously just pull names from the site and do zero reading about each person.

Two: it was an open invitation for sales people to cold call. “Hello, I represent XX and we are VARs for {mechanical engineering software package}.” “I’m an electrical engineer, why are you calling me?” “Do you use {software}?” “I don’t know what they use.” “Can you give the name of someone in your mechanical engineering group?” “I will not.”

Three: it really does seem like it’s a platform for consulting/contract workers to look for the next gig and much less something a full-time salaryman would need. One of my cousins is a sales guy for a big office-machine company, and he says he needs it for work, although honestly I can’t figure out why.

Four: every manager or business owner, if s/he is honest with her/himself, knows that no employee is married to the company and will jump ship if the right offer comes along. But the employee maintaining an active LinkedIn account might be looked at as someone more active in the job search. (This is the number one reason why most of my engineer friends of a certain age do not have a LinkedIn presence.)


#6

Interesting take on the whole thing. What happens when you start looking for a job and suddenly sign up for a LinkedIn account? I’d think that’s more of a signal of getting ready to jump ship.

Agree about the recruiters and the cold callers. One thing I did that inadvertantly stopped them from doing that is changing my title to something that won’t come up in their searches. My headline is “electronics devotee”. Could also do the same for experience, instead of “electrical engineer” could put something like “electron wrangler”. But yeah, recruiters are annoying, especially when they take the “spray and pray” approach. I usually report them for spam on linkedin, but alas, they are the true customer of the service.


#7

Well, yeah, that’s the obvious point.

But, remember, people were able to get jobs before LinkedIn, and people will be able to get jobs now without it. Maybe the kids who’ve lived their entire lives online think it’s important to have a totally public online profile, but my guess is that employers might prefer discretion.

Like I said, for a consultant who is always in search of the next gig, LinkedIn might have value. But the consultants I know who are successful already have established client networks they’ve built the old-fashioned way, and they get work through them. For the salaryman, LinkedIn provides no value.


#8

That’s funny, I feel the exact opposite… Keeping LinkedIn up to date keeps the network fresh and keeps you in the mind of previous co-workers that may have opportunities and in an industry with ups and downs and layoffs it’s nice to have everything ready to go if needed.


#9

I think overall, people are going to have different opinions about the best way to maintain their networks, which is fine.

Jake’s original question was more about how to figure out how to get ahold of networks, so if @Andy_P is in some other mode of maintaining a network, I think it’d be worthwhile hearing about how someone like Jake could tap into it.