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What is Electrical and Computer Engineering?

An electrical engineer working on circuit boards and electrical systems in a technical lab environment

Electrical and computer engineering is shaping our digital world.

It combines principles of electrical engineering and computer science to develop cutting-edge systems and devices that enhance connectivity, efficiency, and quality of life. If you’re…

  • Passionate about using technology to solve complex problems and drive innovation 
  • Have a background in STEM
  • Want to make a tangible impact with your work

…exploring electrical and computer engineering is the perfect pathway to a rewarding career. 

But first, you’ll need to understand the field and which skills you need for success.

Unpacking the Definition of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Electrical and computer engineering encompasses the study, design, development, and application of electrical, electronic, computer systems and related technologies. It involves designing and improving equipment and systems that use electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism — from power generation systems and electric motors to radar and navigation systems.

What is Electrical Engineering?

Electrical engineering focuses on the study and application of electricity, electromagnetism, and electronics. Professionals in the field design, develop and test electrical and electronic components, circuits, systems, and equipment. Core concepts include:

  • Circuit theory
  • Signal processing
  • Electromagnetics
  • Power systems
  • Control systems
  • Telecommunications.

What do electrical engineers do?

Electrical engineers work across diverse real-world applications: power generation and distribution, telecommunications networks, industrial machinery control systems, electrical components for vehicles and aircraft, medical diagnostic and therapeutic equipment, and more. 

Their innovations range from power distribution grids to telecommunications networks and industrial control systems; whether the average person knows it or not, much of our modern life is shaped by their work.

What is Computer Engineering?

It’s a simple equation:

Electrical engineering + computer science = computer engineering.

To put it more broadly, computer engineering combines electrical engineering and computer science principles to design, develop, and integrate computer hardware and software systems. While closely related to computer science, it has a stronger focus on computing systems' physical aspects.

Computer Engineering vs. Computer Science

Though related, distinct differences exist between computer engineering and computer science, and if you want to go into computer and electrical engineering, you’ll need to understand them:

  • Computer engineering is hardware-oriented, focusing on designing and developing physical computing devices and systems. 
  • Computer science is software-oriented, emphasizing theoretical foundations, algorithms, programming languages, and optimizing software applications.
  • Key areas in computer engineering include digital logic design, computer architecture, microprocessors, embedded systems, computer networks, and hardware/software integration. 
  • Key areas in computer science include programming languages, data structures, algorithms, software engineering, artificial intelligence, and database systems.

The Intersection of Computer and Electrical Engineering

Computer and electrical engineering are deeply intertwined disciplines, with principles from electrical engineering applied to computer hardware and system design.

For example, developing embedded systems may involve electrical engineers designing power and control circuits while computer engineers focus on microprocessors and software. Their synergy results in systems performing complex tasks like controlling industrial machinery or executing real-time vehicle computations.

Collaborative Innovations of Computer and Electrical Engineering

Self-driving cars: Computer scientists create algorithms enabling vehicles to perceive their environment, make decisions, and navigate autonomously. Computer engineers design and integrate hardware like sensors, processors, and control systems to allow that software to function.

Smart home devices: Computer scientists develop AI algorithms for interpreting voice commands and automating tasks. Computer engineers create the hardware — microcontrollers, wireless modules and user interfaces — enabling devices to interact with the physical world.

What Do Electrical and Computer Engineering Careers Look Like?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for computer and electrical engineers is highly favorable. Between 2022 and 2032, employment is projected to grow 5%, with the 2023 median electrical and computer engineering salary being $109,010 per year for computer scientists and $138,080 per year for computer engineers.

Potential Electrical and Computer Engineer Jobs

Career satisfaction is generally high for electrical and computer engineers because they get to work on innovative, societally impactful projects. Potential jobs for those with the right skills include:

  • Hardware design engineer
  • Embedded systems engineer
  • Robotics engineer
  • Power systems engineer
  • Telecommunications engineer
  • Semiconductor engineer 

Professionals in these roles have given much to our modern world, including:

Internet and World Wide Web: Their contributions to networking protocols, data transmission technologies, and the creation of the World Wide Web have revolutionized communication, commerce, and information dissemination worldwide.

Mobile communication and smartphones: The invention and continuous improvement of mobile communication technologies by electrical and computer engineers has revolutionized many aspects of modern life, including communication, navigation, entertainment, and commerce.

Renewable energy technologies: Electrical and computer engineers have made significant contributions to the development and implementation of renewable energy technologies, such as solar power, wind power, and energy storage systems.

If you’d like to enter into a field with high earning potential, projected job growth, career satisfaction and positive impact, knowing what skills and qualifications you’ll need for ECE engineering is the next step.

Impact Innovation as an Electrical and Computer Engineer

To become an electrical or computer engineer, earning a degree in the field is crucial. Many pursue master's or Ph.D. in engineering to open additional opportunities, further their training in the field, and increase their earning potential.

That’s because electrical and computer engineers are highly skilled, and also in very high demand; If you want to be successful in the field, you’ll need top-notch skills like strong problem-solving, proficiency in programming and computer-aided design (CAD), knowledge of math and physics principles, and excellent communication and collaboration abilities.

Our advice? Look towards graduate programs to deepen your expertise.

Here are some options:

Electrical and computer engineers are more in-demand than ever before — and there is space for you.

Help shape the future in a field where extraordinary advances are announced every day and download our resource, A Complete Guide to Earning Your Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Get the Guide

Request more information about SMU's electrical and computer engineering graduate programs, or apply now to begin your journey in this impactful field.

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