Can You Be an EE Without a Degree?

Can You Be an EE Without a Degree?

Jobs are out there to be had, but if you don’t have a certain type of degree, it’s very unlikely you’ll land one. Lou Frenzel says it’s high time to look beyond that vaunted piece of paper.

Is it possible for a person to do actual electronic engineering work without a college degree? I say yes. It’s been done and is being done. Yet, most EE hiring companies don’t consider anyone without a “proper” BSEE degree. The result is that many jobs go unfilled without enough of the “necessary” degreed candidates. And good engineers without degrees are usually turned away. What’s wrong with this picture?

Shouldn’t knowledge, skill, experience, capability, and work ethic be just as important as a college degree that doesn’t necessarily offer or support these benefits? Apparently not. Just try to remember that the degree is only a credential certifying that you put in the necessary time at some academic institution. It’s no guarantee that you know how to do engineering.

The practice of automatically excluding non-degreed people is something that should require a second look. In today’s good economy, where the number of job openings now exceeds the population looking for jobs, hiring managers and HR departments should reassess their hiring qualifications.

Different Degrees of Degrees

The first consideration is degrees other than a BSEE. Examples are degrees in physics, non-electrical engineering, and a BS in technology. Two of the best electronic engineers I know have physics and mechanical engineering degrees. How did that happen? Somehow, they got the knowledge and experience and succeeded thanks to a more open-minded (or desperate need) hiring approach.

As for BS engineering technology graduates, they too are usually hired as engineers, yet many companies turn them down. The BSET degree is similar to a BSEE in content. However, it definitely favors a more practical and applied approach to engineering than the BSEE, which is more math/science-based and theoretical. BSET grads do more lab and hands-on learning, so they generally know more test and measurement and practical design than the BSEE grad.

Shame on those of you for not seriously learning more about this degree and considering the graduates for hiring. I have a Bachelor of Technology degree and worked my whole career as an engineer with companies that knew what it was or took a chance on it and me. I never felt handicapped, incapable of doing the work, or not being competitive with others with pure BSEE degrees.

No Degree? Good Luck!

Now what about those with no degree or part of a degree? Basically, they just don’t get hired much less get any serious consideration. Their applications are automatically rejected if there’s no indication of a degree of some sort. However, people out there do have the knowledge and skills to perform many engineering jobs—they just don’t have that degree. Some clues to finding a good one is to look for those who list electronics as a hobby. Or those who have an FCC ham or commercial radio license. Selected certifications are also good indicators of competence. These are usually dedicated and self-taught, experienced people.

I have worked with many very talented engineers without a degree. Some came from a military background; others were experienced high-end technicians. And a good number of them were embedded programming experts or had other relevant software knowledge. Most of you probably know of someone like that or worked with one. Every now and then, one of these no-degree outcasts slips through the cracks, gets hired, and does a great job but is rarely recognized. Outrageous….

The half-life of almost any engineering degree these days is probably only a few years at best. Technology and practices change rapidly, like daily. Thus, most engineers keep up to date on their own. Engineers are probably the best examples of self-learners (autodidacts) today. They have to be. You probably already know this anyway.

Thanks to the internet, webinars, books, manufacturer’s data, and magazines, most engineers keep themselves knowledgeable enough to do their jobs. All of those resources are also available to those without a formal degree, so chances are they may know as much as you, your experience not considered.

Anyway, I seriously recommend that you modify your hiring requirements to consider non-degree applicants as well as other technical degree types. Expand your interview techniques, do testing, or otherwise evaluate these candidates, but give them a shot. I have come to appreciate raw knowledge, skill, experience, enthusiasm, and a creative streak over a specific degree anyway. Some of the dumbest people I have ever worked with had PhDs. And many of the most successful tech personalities, like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates, did not have degrees.

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