July 9th, 2020

planet

Why choose electrical engineering?

For my birthday I asked my lj friends to ask me questions to inspire future entries.

asphaltcowgrrl asked what drew me to electrical engineering?

I could philosophize about this a LOT. The very short story was... I got a scholarship. But let me do a longer story.

In high school my favorite class was physics. I loved how black and white it was. Chemistry and biology were full of curveballs, exceptions, weirdness that meant your equations needed to change based on your ingredients. Physics had none of that, it was pure "math is how the world works". Gravity, acceleration, the speed of light.

But I did not feel smart enough to be a physicist. I was not in the advanced math classes, I didn't take calculus in high school. The market for physicists seemed narrow. I did not want to be an astronomer, standing out in freezing middles-of-nowheres to look at stars, even though I liked stars very much.

My second favorite class was computer programming, but I did not feel advanced enough to go into that either. The computing world moved so fast in 1998 I didn't know how to keep up. I was in classes with boys who bragged that they learned BASIC when they were 8 and already had jobs lined up out of high school. I was going to go to college - how far ahead of me would they be when I got out? Lots of insecurities in that question I realize now, as well as a lack of understanding about industry depth, but it was enough then to scare me away.

Engineering seemed like a nice compromise where I could use my interest in physics in a less competitive field with more economic potential. I also knew that not many women went into engineering, which is a reason why I HAD to do it just to prove I could.

I'd been visiting lots of colleges, and one of them offered me a full academic scholarship, so that's where I'd go. My high school GPA wasn't a 4.0 but I had a 30 on my ACT, some decent SAT score, a lot of activities and I like to think I'd written good entrance essays.

I told them I'd major someplace in the engineering technology school but wanted to go undecided for a year. But a few months before I started there, a professor from the electronics department called and said they'd give me another $1200 to spend on whatever I wanted (housing, books, life) if I'd declare electronics. I'd have to take their 101 class that first semester. If I hated it, I could change, no harm done.

So I took the money.

And I LOVED the class! It was intimidating, I didn't really think I'd be the only girl and hadn't thought out the social implications of that, struggling with lab partners who'd take over projects, getting left out of study groups, feeling eyes on me accusing favoritism if I got decent grades. At first I worried I wouldn't have the hands-on background, like I couldn't get through this class since I hadn't built my own computer or car from scratch. But as the paper assignments and test rolled in, my grades were ahead of the curve.

I drew great satisfaction from making lights blink and signals amplify and measuring voltage drops across resistors that were exactly like I'd predicted in calculations. This was the logical, black and white, math-matching physics world I'd dreamed about.

As life went on I kept finding reasons why I'd made the right choice, maybe self-validation but it matched up:

1) Electronics requires no brute strength, you're not bending metal to weld together, you're putting tiny leads in a breadboard. You don't have to lift heavy things. I am not a strong person, so this is great.

2) Electronics does not involve many machines with big moving parts that need fuel and lubrication. This came in darn handy in aviation. I've talked to other technicians and mechanics who went into avionics for the same reason - the avionics techs are wearing polo shirts, everybody else is wearing whatever they can throw away when the brake grease doesn't wash out. If something is leaking, spurting or dripping, that is NOT an electrical problem!

3) Electronics is broad enough that we go everywhere. Our graduates were hired quickly. See also: life advice: pick a versatile degree.

4) Electronics is hands-on enough that you have to physically be in places to fix your designs, unlike computer programming, which is getting outsourced all over the place. Some engineering design work can be outsourced too of course, but when you work on big things - airplanes, towers, tractors - there's some job security that comes with required proximity.

So that's why I picked electrical. It was a little bit luck and fate, a little bit just being the right thing, a little bit just being in the right place. If I had it all to do over again, I'd do the exact same thing.