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Master’s in Electrical Engineering vs. Computer Engineering

Master's in Electrical vs Computer EngineeringElectrical engineering and computer engineering are two of the most wide-ranging career fields of the digital era, with job opportunities in a number of industries. Finance, health care and energy are just a few of the large-scale industries that hire engineers regularly. Even socially oriented fields like politics and education rely on the technical and analytical expertise of electrical and computer engineers, whose efforts allowed for the rapid shift to remote work and learning in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Professionals in both electrical and computer engineering share knowledge and skillsets, and both have consistent employer demand and relatively equal competitive salaries. However, their similarities raise a question for the professional engineer who wants to advance his or her career. Which option would provide greater professional advantages: a master’s in electrical engineering or a master’s in computer engineering?

Understanding the similarities and differences between the two programs, as well as the advantages of a third option that combines the two, is necessary in order to pick the graduate program that aligns with one’s career goals. Here, we’ll compare the two options as well as their general job duties and required skills. We’ll also analyze why an electrical and computer engineering master’s program that combines both disciplines may be the best option.

Master’s in Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineering involves the research, maintenance, design and creation of electrical equipment. As such, the discipline encompasses and intersects with a number of other engineering specialties, such as computer, industrial and mechanical engineering. Electrical engineers also work in some of the most innovative research areas of today, tackling cutting-edge concepts like nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, electrochemistry and renewable energy.

Program Outcomes and Curriculum

Prioritizing advanced industry research and theoretical concepts, an electrical engineering master’s program builds upon the foundational knowledge of a related undergraduate program and prepares graduates to:

  • Identify, analyze and devise solutions to standard and complex engineering problems and projects
  • Take a leadership role within an engineering department or organization
  • Join research projects that advance the frontiers of engineering

Additionally, a quality program prepares students to meet professional standards as set by organizations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. The IEEE is the largest professional association for engineering, computing and technology in the world, with nearly 1,300 standards collaboratively devised by industry leaders from more than 160 countries around the world.

Courses and areas of specialization within engineering master’s programs may include:

  • Signal processing
  • Networking
  • Communication (radio, satellite, digital and/or wireless)
  • Power and control systems
  • Materials, circuits, and devices
  • Assembly line design (robotics, mechatronics and/or industrial controls)
  • Electromagnetics and photonics
  • Renewable energy
  • AI and machine learning
  • Micro/nanotech
  • Medical/bioengineering

Skills for Electrical Engineers

Foundational knowledge of engineering principles and practices are mandatory for electrical engineering professionals, but employers now look for an increasingly computer-oriented skill set. According to research from the job market analysis tool Labor Insight by Burning Glass, over the next two years, employers will look for electrical engineers with experience in computer engineering, simulations and wiring. These new hires will also need a thorough understanding of specific computer applications and programming languages, including Python, C++, MATLAB, Revit and HMI software.

Electrical Engineering Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that, with an anticipated 328,100 jobs added between 2019 and 2029, the field of electrical engineering will grow at a rate similar to the average for all professions. However, salary data suggests that employers may value electrical engineers more highly than other roles; the median pay in 2019 was $101,250 per year, much higher than the $39,810 median annual wage for all workers.

Master’s in Computer Engineering

Computer engineering involves the development of computer hardware and software and integration with other systems. Hardware engineers build computers and related devices for use in a variety of industries, while software engineers create the applications that run on such hardware.

Knowledge of computer science and electrical engineering principles are beneficial for professionals in both areas. A computer hardware engineer may rely on knowledge of electrical engineering principles or work directly with an electrical engineer when creating a new device. Similarly, knowledge of computer science or collaboration with computer engineers can help electrical engineers create products that best meet the needs of consumers.

Program Outcomes and Curriculum

After completing a computer engineering graduate program, students should be able to:

  • Analyze and create products that provide a supportive user interface and experience
  • Troubleshoot hardware and software malfunctions
  • Identify, evaluate and create algorithms and code written in various programming languages

Students may specialize or take courses in areas such as:

  • Computer systems, hardware and architecture
  • Mobile systems and applications
  • Software development
  • Hardware and architecture
  • Cybersecurity
  • Data and algorithms

Skills for Computer Engineers

Per Labor Insight, the computer engineering skills with the highest demand from employers over the next two years will be the same as those requested for electrical engineering jobs:

  • Simulations
  • Wiring
  • Python
  • C++
  • Revit
  • HMI software

Supplementing these in-demand skills with a solid understanding of electrical engineering principles can be advantageous for job-seekers in this competitive industry.

Computer Engineering Career Outlook

Competition for hardware engineering positions will likely be high over the next decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that only 1,100 new hardware engineering jobs will be added between 2019 and 2029, for a slower-than-average increase of 2 percent. Given that the median salary of 2019 was an attractive $117,220 per year, one can surmise that employers are looking for top-tier talent. A highly diverse skill set can maximize an engineer’s ability to build a successful career and advance into a leadership position.

Software development, on the other hand, is expected to add 316,000 new jobs over that same period–a much-faster-than-average growth rate of 22 percent. The median software development salary for 2019 – $107,510 – was slightly less than that of computer hardware engineering but still more than twice the median wage for all workers.

Electrical and Computer Engineering Master’s Programs

With overlapping skill sets and similar career outcomes, it can be difficult to choose between a master’s program in electrical engineering and one in computer engineering. Many professionals would find themselves best served by a single program that combines both disciplines. This way, they acquire the most valuable competencies from both programs, which can maximize their career opportunities not just in hardware engineering, software development or electrical engineering but also in related fields.

When choosing an electrical and computer engineering master’s program, prospective students should look for:

  • Distinguished faculty who have been recognized by professional organizations or received awards in either field
  • Courses in cutting-edge areas like diamond technology, autonomous vehicles, neural networks, genetic algorithms and quantum engineering
  • Flexible study pathways, such as thesis and non-thesis options, allowing students to pursue their specific interests and align their studies with their professional goals.

About Michigan State University’s Online Master of Science in Electrical & Computer Engineering

Michigan State University’s online Master of Science in Electrical & Computer Engineering program prepares students to excel in the field by expanding their technical knowledge and focusing on real problems spurring technical innovation. Courses in the online program are taught by MSU’s faculty of pioneering researchers and experienced educators. Online students can choose from two plans of study, selecting a thesis or non-thesis option as they complete a graduate education from an R1 research institution ranked among the Top 100 Global Universities by U.S. News & World Report.

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