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Is Electrical Engineering Right for ME?

Students working on solar power

Here students are measuring the voltage versus current curve of a 400 Watt sunpower solar panel. The Electric Power Industry is stronger than ever as we transition from fossil fuel sources to renewable energy systems. These students are using our outdoor laboratory that is attached to our 5 interior power system laboratories.   

What do Electrical Engineers Do?

EE students with project

A senior project presentation that highlights applications of Field Programmable Gate arrays to perform signal processing on radar system signals.

Electrical engineers study and apply the physics and mathematics of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism to both large and small scale systems with the purpose of processing information and transmitting energy. To do this, electrical engineers design computers, electronic devices, communication systems, test equipment, electric power networks, and improve systems through problem solving techniques.

What kinds of jobs and projects can I work on?

Electrical Engineering students gain the most diverse set of skills in the world of electronics, computation and software. They are the only group of students that get full training in digital hardware, analog hardware, and software skills (The whole package of skills needed to build a complete intelligent cyber-physical system). With this background, Electrical Engineering students can steer their career path in a wide range of industrial, scientific and academic careers.  

The Electrical Engineering field encompasses many sub-disciplines including:

a. Electrical Power systems.  Be part of the group that re-designs our electrical power system infrastructure as we move away from fossil fuel sources to renewable sources.  We will all own electric vehicles in the future. We will also solve the problem of energy storage systems as an industry. Finally, our cities will develop a intelligent data-intensive power system infrastructure. Electrical Engineers are also involved in the construction industry where the power and communication systems of buildings, hospitals and airports are designed.   Here is a document about Career Professional Curricular Planning for EE-Power Systems Engineering concentration.

b. Control Systems.  Start out with basic training in feedback systems with a single input, single output and feedback. Learn how to make these simple systems stable or make them oscillate. Answer questions regarding topics such as how a Segway scooter remains stable. They work towards understanding Machine Learning, Neural Networks and Artificial Intelligence.    Here is a document about Career Professional Curricular Planning for EE-Systems concentration.

c. Electronics, Microelectronics and integrated circuit design.  Learn how to design the integrated circuits that are the foundation of all computing and communication system infrastructure. Electrical Engineers are unique in that they are able to understand electronic systems from holes and electronics at the transistor level, to high-level systems engineering concepts where everything is treated as a functional black box.  In the EE curriculum you have the option of designing a fully functional integrated circuit and have it fabricated in a foundry some where in the world.   Here is a document about Career Professional Curricular Planning for EE-Computer Engineering concentration

d. Computer Engineering and Design.  In the early stages of your education, you will design custom computers that are optimized to perform specific tasks very efficiently.  Students will get a new appreciation for the complexity of designing a computer at the gate level and programming in assembly language. The group will then work with general purpose computers and design custom input and output interfaces to peripherals. Electrical Engineers are unique in that they get to understand the digital design fundamentals and how analog concepts become very important as computer clock speeds work in the GHz frequency range. They are also exposed to hardware-software co-design at all levels of the computer design and application process. Continuing employment opportunities include creating computing environments that are secure and that can run Artificial Intelligence Control algorithms efficiently.  Here is a document about Career Professional Curricular Planning for EE-Computer Engineering concentrations

Signal Processing at the Boundaries of Digital, Analog and Software skills.   Electrical Engineers will learn how to design Analog sensors that work in small signal environments with man-made and natural noise sources. Signal processing engineers then take these signals in to the digital world with high resolution analog to digital converts that they design. In the digital world, software algorithms are used to filter, demodulate, modulate or convert to other signal formats. Finally at the output of the system, signal processing engineers will generate analog signals if necessary to complete a control system.

Radio Frequency and Microwave Systems.  Cal Poly has an extensive set of course work and laboratories to train you in the discipline of designing systems at frequencies above 1 GHz.  At these high frequency, new design methods are needed and state-of-the-art electronic devices and systems are needed.  Here is a Professional Career Curricular Planning Document on EE-RF/Microwaves and Photonics concentrations

Biomedical Instrumentation.  Companies like Boston Scientific, Medronic and St Jude Medical ( to name only a few of many) have pioneered implantable electronic systems that are used for controlling heart beat, administering controlled doses of medication or controlling chronic pain. In addition, students work in fields such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Acoustic Imaging, Optical Imaging, or Radiation Sources for cancer suppression. Electrical Engineers in this field gain a much deeper understanding of Electronic Systems and how they interact with the body.  

Wireless and Wireline Communication Systems.  Electrical Engineers have transformed the world dramatically between the 1980's and 2010's.  A phone call in the 1980's to the UK might cost $5 per minute.  Today it is virtually no cost for that same call. Electrical Engineers  helped implement the global fiber optic networks that make our present communication systems possible. Backhoes trenched the terrestrial communication fiber bundles and ships put down the inter-continental fiber optic cables that form the backbone of our wired communication systems.   

In the 1990's and 2000's Electrical Engineers pioneered smart wireless phone systems and a network of towers across the continents. These systems morphed into third, fourth, and now fifth generation wireless systems that make voice and data communication effortless where every you may travel. Think of Electrical Engineers when you are streaming your next Netflix movie for such a low cost.

Measurement Instrumentation.  Many companies such as Keysight Technologies and Anritsu are the groups that form the foundational equipment that allows Electrical Engineers to build and verify performance of their electronic and computing systems. You may end up working as a designer in a test and measurement company as a result of the opportunities granted by the "Learn by Doing" Environment found at Cal Poly. The labs at Cal Poly are second to none in the US in terms of test/measurement capability and the sheer number of labs offered.

Software Engineering.  Many students in the Electrical Engineering Department choose to pursue careers in software development industries after graduation. The key advantage of this approach is that Electrical Engineering students have a much deeper understanding of the computing platforms that are used in software development. In addition, software engineers often times need to be intimately tied to hardware problems and the Electrical Engineering background really shines when hardware/software connections are present. Computer Science students generally do not take significant computing hardware coursework. Software development and application software tasks are integrated into the curriculum both in lecture and laboratory. In addition, the Electrical Engineering Department allows you to take classes offered by our computer science colleagues.  If you want to add a minor in computer science, or just to take a few extra classes, we have straightforward path to taking these classes while working on your Electrical Engineering degree.    

Consumer Electronics.  Companies like Apple and Amazon Lab 126 heavily recruit at Cal Poly because our hands-on "Learn by Doing" curriculum fits well with their design philosophy.

Audio Engineering:  This is a smaller field, but we have a dedicated and passionate group of Cal Poly engineers in the Audio Engineering Society that put together a Audio Engineering job fair and technical conference each year. 

As an electrical engineer, you can work in offices, labs, or industrial plants of various industries including: the manufacturers of electrical components and computer equipment, industrial machinery, medical and scientific instruments, transportation, communication, computer related sectors, the federal government, electric utility and engineering consulting firms. The projects you may work on can range from designing a telecommunication system or the operation of electric power stations to the lighting and wiring of buildings, the design of consumer electronics, and the electrical control of industry machinery. The opportunities are endless.

How much money will I make?

Race car

Electrical and Mechanical Engineers working on a Formula Electric racing competition car.

A listing of Cal Poly electrical engineering employers and salaries is available on the Career Services website.

Electrical Engineering

The electrical engineering (EE) program had its first graduating class in 1949. The graduating class pictures for each class are proudly displayed in our department hallways. We hope to see your picture here in the future.

The professional society for Electrical, Electronic, and Computer Engineers is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The theme of the IEEE is “Advancing Technology for Humanity”. This group constitutes “The World’s Largest Professional Association for the Advancement of Technology”. The IEEE-affiliated engineering disciplines form the largest branch of engineering in the United States with over 375,000 employed engineers as documented by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The breadth of career opportunities for Cal Poly’s Electrical Engineering graduates can be illustrated by reviewing the IEEE-affiliated professional societies listed below. The field of electrical, electronic, and computer engineering impacts almost all aspects of the modern world. Graduates can serve humanity by enhancing personal communication tools such as smart mobile phones that are now so pervasive. The energy infrastructure changes needed of the 21st century will be centered on new methods of electrical power generation and distribution. The Biotechnology field requires electrical engineers to invent new interfaces between biomedical and electronic systems. Most technology based industries utilize the skills of electrical engineers.

  • IEEE Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society
  • IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society
  • IEEE Broadcast Technology Society
  • IEEE Circuits and Systems Society
  • IEEE Communications Society
  • IEEE Components, Packaging, and Manufacturing Technology Society
  • IEEE Computational Intelligence Society
  • IEEE Computer Society
  • IEEE Consumer Electronics Society
  • IEEE Control Systems Society
  • IEEE Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation Society
  • IEEE Education Society
  • IEEE Electron Devices Society
  • IEEE Electromagnetic Compatibility Society
  • IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society
  • IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society
  • IEEE Industrial Electronics Society
  • IEEE Industry Applications Society
  • IEEE Information Theory Society
  • IEEE Instrumentation and Measurement Society
  • IEEE Magnetics Society
  • IEEE Microwave Theory and Techniques Society
  • IEEE Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society
  • IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society
  • IEEE Photonics Society
  • IEEE Power Electronics Society
  • IEEE Power and Energy Society
  • IEEE Product Safety Engineering Society
  • IEEE Professional Communications Society
  • IEEE Reliability Society
  • IEEE Robotics and Automation Society
  • IEEE Signal Processing Society
  • IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology
  • IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society
  • IEEE Systems, Man, and Cybernetics Society
  • IEEE Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics, and Frequency Control Society
  • IEEE Vehicular Technology Society

Electrical Engineering is a broad discipline that has many career outcome possibilities. At first, many perspective students primarily think of traditional roles in the areas of research, development and manufacturing. Many of our graduates' careers move toward technical management and business management areas as their careers progress. Marketing and Sales Engineering are also very compelling areas for electrical engineers. Graduate degree programs available in electrical engineering also enhance career options. In addition to electrical engineering graduate degrees, biomedical engineering, computer science, materials engineering, industrial engineering, aerospace engineering, systems engineering, technical business administration, law school, and medical school are common career paths after a B.S. in electrical engineering.

Cal Poly's Department of Electrical Engineering curriculum offers coursework and laboratories areas that support the IEEE societies listed above. At the undergraduate level, students gain a broad engineering foundation both in theory and practice.  Senior year involves 12 units of degree specialization enabled by technical electives. Engineering support electives allow EE students to expand their knowledge in adjacent disciplines to EE. Students can continue their program at Cal Poly by entering the 4+1 Master’s program in electrical engineering. The EE web site contains the graduate student handbook that outlines this program. A MS degree allows for an extension of the student’s engineering foundation along with further specialization and research work.

What Makes the Cal Poly Electrical Engineering Program Unique?

  • Theory AND practice.  The curriculum consists of a mix of theoretical lecture courses and practical laboratory courses.  Most of our undergraduate courses have companion laboratory experiences to complement the lecture experience. Many other universities might have a "sophomore lab" or a "junior lab". At Cal Poly it is common to have multiple laboratories each quarter. We also have department seminars EVERY Friday all year long. This gives students the opportunity to sample a wide range of topics. We especially encourage first and second year students to attend these seminars in order to get exposed to current topics in electrical engineering and related fields. 
  • Design labs. You will find a laboratory-intensive curriculum here at Cal Poly.  The EE department has 35,000 square feet of laboratory space - amazing. Download the EE flow chart by searching "Cal Poly Flow Charts" on Google for a detailed listing of the extensive set of hands-on laboratories. EE students will be asked to put together significant design tasks during all stages of their curriculum. In fact, during their first quarter on campus, students will take EE151. In EE151, students design a complete robot from scratch (hardware, software and mechanical construction). We have students of all experience levels beginning their college education here, and our curriculum will guide you through the necessary skill development to be highly successful- so don't be too intimidated.  
  • Project-Based Learning.  Many of our laboratories have you build hardware and software solutions for real-world problems that need your solutions.  Collaboration with industry partners is common on these projects. We have a required senior project, but in fact students go through a whole series of projects of similar complexity as a senior project throughout the curriculum. 
  • Great student-faculty interaction. The faculty strives to know you on a first name basis. Our Electrical Engineering building 20A lobby is an example of this interaction. Building 20A has a large open lobby with tables and chairs for studying and is surrounded by the faculty offices. Faculty are constantly walking by students in the lobby and conversations accidentally start up all of the time. Many times faculty hold their formal and informal office hours in the 20A lobby. The department also has several open laboratories that are available for doing homework, catching up on laboratory assignments or generally catching your wind from the day's activities. Maxim Integrated recently donated a department ping-pong table as another venue for blowing off steam. 
  • Our EE-affiliated clubs are energized and want to pull you into their co-curricular educational mission. See our club listing page and get involved. We have several club offices around building 20. The IEEE has its office/lounge in 20-115. The Computer Engineering Society uses 20-144. The Audio Engineering Society uses 20-130. The Photonics Club uses 20-135. The Amateur Radio Club has its W6BHZ radio station and outdoor antenna range in one part of our "Big E" building. Our Power and Energy Society student group has meeting space in 20-101. Cal Poly has a strong club culture! The EE department realizes that they can only do so much in direct education. Student-to-student teaching and interaction with industry partners is integral to our educational strategy.
  • Broad network of alumni dating back to 1949.  We have annual Alumni events for Electrical and Computer Engineers annually in Silicon Valley, the Los Angeles area, and in San Diego. Each year, the 50th year anniversary Alumni group comes back to speak to us during our annual department banquet in May.
  • Access to numerous scholarships.
  • Help in finding internships and job opportunities.   
  • The department communicates to you on a weekly basis through email so that you are aware of all of the activities and opportunities available.
  • 35,000 square feet of undergraduate lab space in building 20 (This is a lot of space!).  You won't find a better equipped set of laboratories for undergraduate students anywhere. Our most recent efforts have gone to establishing an advanced communications systems laboratory with a suite of vector signal generators and vector signal analyzers.  We are also advancing our power systems area with a small micro-grid intelligent power systems network.
  • We are a large EE program in California that draws employers from both the Bay Area and LA-Area metropolitan areas. Our employers are fully aware of the high-caliber students that are attracted to our program.  
  • Join us for our annual Electrical Engineering Alumni Events across the state after graduation.

Electrical Engineering Versus Computer Engineering

The Electrical Engineering (EE) department is closely aligned with the Computer Engineering (CPE) Program. Both EE and CPE majors share much of the same curriculum and facilities. The department offices are located adjacent to each other. EE and CPE additionally share the same professional society, IEEE. Computer Engineers take more required coursework in the Computer Science Department than will the typical Electrical Engineer. Computer Engineers do not take the advanced electronics, communication systems, control systems, signal processing or electromagnetic courses that an Electrical Engineering major would take. Electrical Engineers can choose to take essentially the same curriculum as computer engineers by choice of Engineering Support Electives and Technical Electives.  EEs can take Engineering Support Electives CPE202, CPE203, and CPE357 to have the identical first two years as a computer engineer.  In the second two years, EEs can take their technical electives on computer design topics.    Here is a document about Career Professional Curricular Planning for the EE-Computer Engineering concentration.

Electrical Engineering Degree with Computer Science Minor

Electrical Engineering (EE) students can obtain a minor in computer science to augment their Electrical Engineering courses. Electrical Engineering students use their Engineering Support Electives to take CSC classes and thus double-count requirements within the EE flowchart. If students come in with significant AP credit, it is possible to complete EE plus a CSC minor in a 4 year period, but more often 4 years plus one quarter. This option allows Electrical Engineers to graduate with a strong software background along with the standard electrical engineering hardware foundations. The Electrical Engineering department has designed its curriculum so that EE student can easily track down the computer science minor path if so desired.  The EE department hires instructors with the specific goal of making sure that a computer science minor path is easily in reach of students. The EE major and a computer science minor are a great path toward having a complete set of skills in digital hardware, analog hardware and software engineering.  You can build anything with this set of skills.

Electrical Engineering Degree with Computer Engineering and Software Emphasis

Electrical Engineering (EE) students can obtain additional exposure to computer design and computer science topics to augment their Electrical Engineering coursework. Electrical Engineering students use their Engineering Support Electives to take CSC classes and thus double-count requirements within the EE flowchart. The most common additional courses would be CSC202 and CSC203. This option allows Electrical Engineers to graduate with additional software background along with the full electrical engineering hardware foundations. Senior Level Technical Elective choices could include the very large scale Integrated Circuit Design Sequence, Advanced Embedded Computing Electives, or more software systems courses.  We make getting CSC202 and CSS203 easy by reserving class space for EEs and hiring instructors specifically for EE sections of these classes.

Electrical Engineering versus Computer Science

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science are related disciplines. The department buildings are adjacent to each other. Computer Engineering forms a intermediate major between Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Cal Poly. Electrical Engineers often emphasize more of the electrical, electronic and computer hardware aspects of modern electronic systems. Computer Science often emphasizes a higher-level approach to electronic systems with software development responsibilities and abstraction from the electronic hardware. Computer Science students do not take any required Electrical Engineering coursework.  Electrical Engineers can take the same introductory software sequence as computer science majors (CSC101-Python, CSC202 Python Data Strutures, CSC203 Object Oriented and CSC357 C-systems programming ) by choosing these courses as your engineering support electives in the first two years of the program.  Once students have completed CSC357, the entire computer science catalog of upper division electives is available since CSC357 is the key prerequisite.

Electrical Engineering with Biomedical Emphasis

Many of our Electrical Engineering students are interested in the world of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society career path. Cal Poly has an entire Biomedical Engineering department that covers a broad range of topics in Biology, Materials Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical Engineering. Another option is to get foundational Electrical Engineering knowledge in the EE department and use 9 units of engineering support electives and 12 units of technical electives targeted at the biomedical area. Your EE senior project can also be targeted in the biomedical field. The Biomedical Engineering Department at Cal Poly has a Biomedical Instrumentation Concentration that includes a significant number of EE classes in its required course list. Professor Ben Hawkins is jointly appointed with the Biomedical Engineering department at Cal Poly, making him a great resource for more information. 

The 9 units of engineering support courses and 12 units of technical electives can also be used to meet all of the required courses for transferring into an M.S. program in  Biomedical Engineering as part of a fifth year at Cal Poly.  The option of a B.S. Degree in Electrical Engineering and an M.S. degree in Biomedical Engineering is a compelling set of coursework to enter this exciting field.  Here is a document about Career Professional Curricular Planning for EE-Electronics and Biomedical concentration;

Electrical Engineering with Power Systems Emphasis

A significant fraction of our Electrical Engineering student are interested in the IEEE Power and Energy Society field. Cal Poly Electrical Engineering has a very strong technical program in this area. At the sophomore level, students take a required Engineering Conversion Electromagnetics lecture and laboratory course. Here, they learn about single phase and three phase power systems, as well as Electric Machines. At the senior level, students in this area would normally take EE406 (Power Systems I) and EE407 (Power Systems II). They might also take the power electronics series EE410 (Power Electronics I) and EE411 (Power Systems II). We have so many other electives in the power systems field that students often decide to stay for an extra quarter to complete more electives or to stay on for an extra year as part of their M.S. degree.  If you are interested in the Electric Power System you will not find a better set of undergraduate laboratory facilities anywhere.   With our new REC solar power systems laboratory opening in 2021, we will greatly expand our hands-on project area with another 2000 square feet of outdoor power systems construction area.  We are actively constructing both a room-scale microgrid and a building scale microgrid and you could easily join the research group that is making this all happen. Here is a document about Career Professional Curricular Planning for EE-Power Systems Engineering concentration;

Electrical Engineering with Communications/RF/High Speed Electronics/Microwave or Photonics Emphasis

A significant fraction of our Electrical Engineering students are interested in the IEEE Microwaves Society, IEEE Communication Society, IEEE Antennas and Propagation and IEEE Photonics Society. Cal Poly has well equipped laboratory facilities and curricular offerings in this area. Our 20-116 high frequency design laboratory is one of the finest in the U.S.. Please stop by, as you will be impressed. The pictures on our EE facility web page really don't do it justice. We also have a new communications systems laboratory in 20-113 that underwent transformational changes due to large investments by our corporate sponsors. Our new communications systems laboratory was opened on May 6th, 2016. The Photonics Lab in 20-134/135 is also an outstanding example of our departments commitment to superior teaching and research laboratories. Key undergraduate courses include EE415 (Communication Systems Design), EE416 (Digital Communications), EE405 (Microwave Amplifier Design), EE456 (Digital Communication Laboratory), EE412/456 (Advanced Analog Design Lecture Laboratory). Many students will take an extra quarter to take additional electives beyond what is required or decide to take an extra year to get their M.S. degree in this area.   The 2020 International microwave symposium is in Anaheim, CA this year and we will be taking a bus load of students and student projects to this symposium.  Please join us on this trip in June.  Here is a document about Career Professional Curricular Planning for EE-Computer Engineering concentration;

Electrical Engineering with Your Emphasis

The Cal Poly Electrical Engineering department can give you a foundational hands-on Electrical Engineering experience with many options to pursue your interests in this broad engineering discipline.  Give the department a Call at 805-756-2781 to discuss how we can help you plan out your customized EE experience at Cal Poly.  We are happy to correspond by email or phone.

For more information, visit the below websites:

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