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I've been working in software for way too long, dislike it for a number of reasons, and would like to shift completely into electronics engineering work. I'd prefer analog, microwave, optoelectronics or maybe some specialty yet to be invented, but any electronics is better than any software. I have more talent and interest in electronics, and my love of herding electrons goes back to when I was a kid. I read IEEE publications and understand them far better than anything coming out of the software development or computer science world.

Unfortunately I have no formal degree in EE, only in Physics, a fine subject but apparently not sufficient to land an EE job, so I've found over the past several years.

The question is whether it's best to somehow get into a full time job first, with my existing experience, enthusiasm and education, and then perhaps earn a Master's to further my career, or to go full blast studying for a Master's in EE while continuing work in software, and only then try to land a job.

I'm currently employed, live next to a reputable tech school, and my employer depends heavily on electronics although there aren't any opening right now.

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In my experience the usefulness of the person decreases with the level of degree above Bachelors. The problem is that to get the higher degrees the candidate has to specialise in a narrower and narrower field and as a result loses their general spread of skills that will always be required in a real work environment. Having a Masters degree specialising in the dielectric properties of PCB materials really does not help when trying to debug the memory interface on the processor or designing the switch mode power regulator.

I would try to get some hardware practice with a processor, or design yourself an audio amp, anything that you could point to to show your enthusiasm.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I am with you on this one, build stuff and bring it into your interviews and demonstrate it working. Bring the schematics, and the detailed design documents too, to show how you calculate all the values of the circuit. This is important as it will show that you actually designed the stuff and understand the design trade-offs of each component in the circuit. Some employers in the UK science parks around cambridge will take on people with physics degrees as an alternative the EE degrees. \$\endgroup\$ – smashtastic Nov 2 '10 at 9:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ btw I do have a masters in EE and bachelor in software/communication engineering - made bugger all difference having the masters :) \$\endgroup\$ – smashtastic Nov 2 '10 at 9:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I certainly am not going to get a PhD - it would be good mostly for an academic career. Teaching and research make a fine career but making something of practical value excites me more. Ideally I'd be part of the design and manufacture of stuff for researchers. \$\endgroup\$ – DarenW Nov 2 '10 at 14:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ There are several projects from the past I can trot out to show skill and enthusiasm. But these seem to not suffice for getting interviews. Making more projects can't hurt, for sure. I like the idea of bringing schematics etc - I'll put together a "my projects" notebook, like an artists' portfolio. \$\endgroup\$ – DarenW Nov 2 '10 at 15:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think that the masters varies in value. It has helped me a large amount in job search. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 3 '10 at 2:55
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If you can manage to get a job doing what you want to do without a degree, do it.

In the longer term, a Master's is a good investment, but you'll get more out of it if you have a year or two of experience first.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Many jobs can get you started in electronics with a physics background. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 2 '10 at 22:21
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I agree with pingswept, that if you can get a nice job without that extra education so go for it.

But the jobs you get with formal education tend to be more advanced.

And don't forget that formal education makes it easier to get to the job interview, but to land then job is up to you.

But to stop working and go back to school is a huge investment, in both time and money, but if you feel that it is right then go for it since you would probably regret it if you did not do it...

Good luck.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Unless a wealthy girlfriend comes along, I won't be quitting my current job to study. It will be the job + classes. \$\endgroup\$ – DarenW Nov 2 '10 at 14:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ The more interesting jobs - the keepers to stay in - on the job hunt sites all seem to want a Master's for equivalent industry experience. \$\endgroup\$ – DarenW Nov 2 '10 at 15:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ But you are heading for a double with both physics and EE... \$\endgroup\$ – Johan Nov 3 '10 at 7:15
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I think getting my Masters was a great idea, and I studied with several students coming from a physics undergrad degree.

It gives you a foot in the door to any EE job, takes only about 18 months, and will often be paid for by the school if your grades are decent. It's true I don't end up using what I learned for my degree for my day-to-day, but it's a fun party trick to explain exactly how heterojunction bipolar transistors work.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Getting a foot in is the trick. \$\endgroup\$ – DarenW Nov 2 '10 at 15:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Paid for by the school"? o_O Do you mean "paid for by your employer"? \$\endgroup\$ – endolith Nov 2 '10 at 15:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Nope, paid for by the school. Lot's of jobs these days have the auto-sort or the HR wall, and if you don't list an EE degree, they don't even look at you. Sux, I agree. \$\endgroup\$ – ArielP Nov 2 '10 at 16:40
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If you're not quite sure what you want to get into as far as electronics goes you should start working on a hobbyist level and see where it takes you. It will give you actual experience and help you refine your goals, plus it looks good to employers. It's one thing to say you love electronics and are very interested in it, but another thing to end the sentence with '...and this is what I did with it.' A masters' degree can make you seem too expensive and unless a company is looking for candidates with a masters' they are more likely to see it as a liability than a benefit.

Watch job openings and see the words they use, then try to figure out what they mean. You may already have experience with 'mixed-signal board-level design' and not know it.

But I honestly don't know what employers are looking for. I got my first job because of my masters degree in controls. Nowadays it seems to be buzzword bingo with HR and otherwise soft skills like 'working well with others', 'self-motivated','good at solving complex problems'. And it's not easy to get feedback from them either - the last employer I tried to apply with flatly said 'No inquiries' when I called to ensure they got my application email.

A good cover letter tends to work wonders when applying for jobs. It certainly doesn't hurt to address your lack of EE degree - in fact hit it head on and say something like 'Despite the fact that my degree is in physics I'm a good electrical engineer because...' Then you have to practice the heck out of interview questions. A fairly good (and free) interview guide from a blog I like is here: http://www.askamanager.org/2010/08/ask-manager-guide-to-preparing-for-job.html

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If you are are bachelor in software, then its OK to have associate or bachelor level in electronics. Don't overspend your time on master degree, unless your current education was poorly sourced and you are questioning it.

I had 3.5 years in electronics, then switched to computer sicence. Stayed in boring financial industry doing software for 20 years, then returned to robotics and industrial automation with some luck in job search.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Robotics is always more fun than finance! \$\endgroup\$ – DarenW Nov 4 '10 at 3:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ My education was fairly good, but others coming upon this question - YMMV. My bachelor's and graduate eduation was all physics. I did some electronics lab instruction, design and troubleshooting as part of that. 20 years in software - and I've never had even one software class! \$\endgroup\$ – DarenW Nov 4 '10 at 3:46

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