Careers as an Electronics Engineer vs. Electrical Engineer

19 June, 2021

careers as electronics engineers vs electrical engineerElectrical and electronics engineers are often at the forefront of modern technology together. In a 2018 US Black Engineer and Information Technology article, Dr. Michael Spencer notes that we have reached the practical limits of how small we can make semiconductors. The problem isn’t that we can’t make them smaller — it’s that the physics of metal-oxide semiconductors would no longer function the same way at that scale.

In the case of the semiconductor problem, the solution may be to leverage materials capable of maintaining positive physical properties even at far smaller sizes. One group of researchers from Stanford discovered that other materials may be capable of making computer chips as small as a few atoms in thickness. However, there are numerous complex challenges facing nearly all areas of electrical and electronics engineering. Trends such as wearable technology may cause engineers to reconsider circumstances like how embedded electronics can be designed for and built into cloth.

Electronics engineers and electrical engineers may both help design devices with new materials and come up with solutions to the next generation of technology challenges. In this article, we’ll examine some of the overlaps between these disciplines as well as the differences, including education and career paths and the types of skills needed to be successful.

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Electrical vs. Electronics Engineering

While an electrical engineer and an electronics engineer may often do the same type of work, the differences in these disciplines are a matter of scope. Electrical engineering is the broader field, and it includes electronics engineering as well as other areas, such as power systems, signal processing, and communications.

Electronics engineering is typically more focused specifically on the design, optimization, and management of electronic devices. While knowledge of networks and power systems can be valuable, these are not as commonly areas of focus for electronics engineers.

PayScale data also shows that the median salaries for electronics engineers and electrical engineers are comparable with a less than 3% difference between the two. Where the career paths diverge, however, is in some of the specific engineering skills that are common for each role.

Electronics Engineer vs. Electrical Engineer Skills Summary

The skills in highest demand for electrical and electronics engineers will vary based on their area of focus. The summary below lists the top three skills with either a strong impact on earning potential or high popularity for each discipline.

Top Electronics Engineer Skills Top Electrical Engineer Skills
Project Management Project Management
Engineering Design Engineering Design
Test Engineering Autodesk AutoCAD
C, C++ and HDL Programming Languages Matlab
Electronic Troubleshooting Programmable Logic Controllers/Automation

Source: PayScale

While there are common skills for engineers in each discipline, electronics and electrical engineers face an increasing challenge to develop multidisciplinary knowledge. With the growing number and variety of embedded electrical systems, different areas of engineering increasingly intersect with each other. This has put more emphasis on building both extensive domain knowledge and a broader familiarity with other areas.

“Professional engineers in industry not only have to work frequently with those from other disciplines and professions, but often have to develop working skills and knowledge beyond their original discipline due to the requirements of their employment,” wrote David S. Strong, Design Engineering Chair at the Natural Sciences and Research Council of Canada.

Related Content: Top Skills for Electrical and Electronics Engineers

Electrical Engineer Job Description

Electrical engineers work on projects in areas ranging from 5G networks to climate change and energy conservation. They may work on projects like designing power distribution and storage networks for renewable energy, or designing better control systems for other critical infrastructure. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top employers for electrical engineers are in these industries:

  • Engineering services
  • Electric power generation, transmission and distribution
  • Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing
  • Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences
  • Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing

PayScale shows that electrical engineers make an average salary of $74,785, while those with a decade or more of experience make $97,000-$106,000 per year on average.

Related Content: Electrical and Computer Engineering Career Outlook

Electronics Engineering Job Description

Electronics engineers design and optimize components for electrical devices and systems in a vast range of industries. In addition to designing components for consumer hardware, they may also be involved in projects for government, healthcare, and military initiatives. In a healthcare setting, for example, they’re often responsible for inspecting and troubleshooting electrical equipment to ensure regulatory compliance.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top employers for electronics engineers are in these industries:

  • Telecommunications
  • Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing
  • Federal government, excluding postal service
  • Engineering services
  • Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing

PayScale shows that electronics engineers make an average salary of $76,840, while those with a decade or more of experience make $95,000-$108,000 per year on average.

Electronics and Electrical Engineering Degree Programs

Both electrical and electronics engineers can benefit from earning an electrical engineering degree — PayScale shows that software, electrical and electronics engineering are common career paths for M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering graduates.

However, it’s also important to note that these programs can vary widely in regard to the material covered, especially at the graduate level. Some programs offer specializations in areas like signal processing, artificial intelligence and more, allowing you to customize your plan of study.

At UA, we recommend studying a broad range of topics to ensure you have a boundless set of skills that you can apply to your research as well as to industry applications. This approach also guides the design of our online M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering master’s degree, which offers considerable flexibility in the coursework that you complete, focusing in on areas such as high-performance computing, artificial intelligence, wireless communications, and more.

About UA’s Online M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering

The University of Arizona’s online M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering program offers advanced practical and conceptual knowledge required in today’s job market while still giving you the flexibility to specialize in an area that aligns with your career interests. In addition to core electrical and systems engineering knowledge, you can gain advanced skills by focusing in one of the following areas:

  • High-performance computing
  • Digital signal processing, communications, and control
  • Computer networks
  • Software engineering and artificial intelligence
  • Detection and estimation
  • Holography and diffractive optics
  • Simulation modeling and heterogeneous systems design
  • Wireless communications and networks

As one of the top 40 schools for both electrical and computer engineering, according to U.S. News and World Report, the University of Arizona’s online engineering programs offer one of the highest quality engineering educations in the country with the flexibility of online learning. A degree from UA can give you a considerable competitive edge in the career market.