DiversityJobs network is now part of Circa. Learn More.
find jobs
job title, keywords or company
city, state or zip code
Have you ever considered a career in engineering but wasn't sure specialty you wanted to pursue? In this interview, an electrical engineer candidly shares his experience in this line of work.

Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?

A:I am an electrical engineer working for one of the largest electric utilities in the Midwest. I have been on the job for five years. The three adjectives that best describe me are detailed, confident, and productive.

Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?

A:I am a white male, age 45 years old. I don't know whether that has ever hurt or helped me, though I certainly haven't experienced any discrimination for it.

Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

A:I am a power engineer and my job is to design and build power distribution systems for consumer electricity. I design electrical substations and perform maintenance on the power grid as well as work to connect new alternate forms of power to the existing infrastructure. I am not a household electrician and I cannot run wiring in people's homes, although friends will occasionally ask me to do so.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

A:I give my job satisfaction an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. I feel that I enjoy my job well enough, although those late night emergency calls are never any fun. If those could be avoided, I think I could be fully satisfied. Unfortunately, they are a necessary part of the job that must be done.

Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

A:I can't say that my job moves my heart or is my sweet spot in life. I do enjoy my work but at the end of the day I am happy to leave the office to go unwind.

Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

A:My situation is not unique. I got my job through the usual channels and it's something I like to do.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A:I was always interested in reading about inventors such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Nikolai Tesla. I always found their exploits to be both fascinating and inspiring. I became hooked on electricity after a visit to a science center that featured a huge Van de Graaff generator. The huge lightning bolts that it created were awe inspiring.

Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?

A:I learned that safety is of the utmost importance around electricity by learning that a colleague of mine had been electrocuted because he had failed to properly ground himself before working on some equipment. That was a very sad day but I never forgot the lesson.

Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

A:I learned that you don't stop learning after school. You have to keep your skills relevant to new technology and new techniques in order to succeed.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?

A:I went to a substation to do some site work and I surprised a homeless man who had moved into the mobile office trailer that was kept there. He had it pretty good since the trailer had electricity and even air conditioning. I was startled at first but he ran away when I confronted him. Now someone visits the site every few days to make sure no one else has moved in.

Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

A:I go to work each day with the knowledge that I am helping supply an important, sometimes vital commodity to the community. People with severe medical conditions need their equipment to work reliably. The high heat means people need their air conditioning to work. I'm proud to be able to make that happen.

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?

A:The clean up after a severe storm is always a huge challenge. We are out fixing transmission lines in less than optimal conditions which can be dangerous to us. Blizzards are the worst. If anything could make me want to quit its working all night after a blizzard.

Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?

A:My job is normally not that stressful unless there is a power outage. Hundreds of people get angry very quickly without power. In those situations, I just concentrate and make the repairs as fast as possible. I like to unwind by hitting the trails on my mountain bike for a few hours or by going out with friends.

Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

A:A power engineer can earn anywhere between $45,000 and $90,000 per year, depending on the employer, location, and your pay grade. An Electrical Engineer V will earn much more than an Electrical Engineer I. My salary is enough for me to live on comfortably and even to allow myself a few little indulgences.

Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

A:I have two weeks of vacation time each year; I'll get another week in five more years. It's enough for now but I'm looking forward to the extra week!

Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

A:To become a power engineer, you need to have a Bachelor's Degree in electrical engineering. A focus on power distribution is a plus. After that, you will get 2-3 years of on-the job training once you are hired. Business classes in budgeting and time management are also helpful. You need to be good with your hands and physically fit for the maintenance aspects of the job.

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A:Power engineering is a great field to enter if you don't mind the emergency calls. People will always need electricity; it's a job sector that isn't going away. The pay is good and there is job security. You just have to want to work for it.

Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

A:If I had my way, in five years I would be working more with alternative sources of electrical power. In my area, there are no hydroelectric facilities, so I see myself working to improve the technology of wind power. Solar energy would also be an option, but there is currently a sizable infrastructure of wind turbines in my home state and a new wind farm is currently being built. I believe that, in this area anyway, wind power is the future of power generation and I want to be there to help make that happen.