Electronic Systems

Electronic Systems are the general term for the smart technology products that pervade our lives. These are microelectronic based, which when combined with sophisticated software, deliver the advanced functionality that we expect from our 'tech gadgets' today ... Phones, tablets, booking systems, autopilots, smart TV's, navigators, stability-control in vehicles, smart cruise controls, Alexa/Siri, medical equipment, AI, etc. are all Electronic Systems. But not only them, also the smart systems that qualify, manufacture and test them; and the infrastructure systems that enable them to work. To the unenlightened, the working of these is indistinguishable from magic; yet the people involved in their creation know they are the result of the hard work of many skilled individuals, applying their knowledge and know-how. These are the creations of real people networking globally; engineers, technicians and scientists and who have requisite knowledge and expertise. Clustered into businesses to create high-value 'components' for these systems, many can be found in the UK and its universities ... Doing leading international work, but under-recognised and undervalued by society, the media and our leaders; the immense strategic and economic value they create is dismissed because it is easier to believe in magic.

So I believe that EngX offers a platform where the Electronic Systems community can share its experiences and its understanding. Also where it can inform those who wish to develop a better understanding of the roles and opportunities that a career in Electronic Systems can offer today. What do you think ...?

  • Is there any career opportunities these days in companies making Electronic Systems? Would I recommend it to my son/daughter who is interested in this kind of thing? Where would they start? I guess some good A-Levels in Physics and Maths then an appropriate Degree ... But what about Apprenticeships and BTEC courses? Would they have to move away from home to follow this kind of career ... To London, or maybe to Europe or the States? If there are jobs in local companies, how would they find out about them? Are these jobs only for really brainy people (so not applicable to people like me)?

  • There are plenty of careers in electronics.  But maybe stay away from the big famous companies who are currently laying off staff having massively over-expanded during the pandemic.

    For actually building things, then that's likely to be Apprenticeships, BTEC, etc.

    But for engineering, you'd be much better getting A levels then a relevant degree.  From my experience, the exact degree you get isn't so important, as people shift around between hardware, firmware, systems and software.  To a large extent, if you can get a degree that looks good enough to get your first job, then after that employers don't really care.  They see that you have a degree, then they look at the experience you have.

    That said, there are people who work their way up into engineering without a degree.  And people who do a degree part time once they have the job.

    This is the sort of specialised field where you almost certainly have to move (or commute) to wherever the work is.  My experience is in the defence industry, where there are a few big players, and a whole bunch of smaller companies supplying subsystems to the big players.

  • Agree, mostly - a good scientific degree, i.e. physics, compski, maths, even electronics itself, is a huge advantage, if not essential,  at the design authority level.  Less so for the technicians, installation  and  service type folk, where the main requirements are an interested attitude, a steady hand and calm nature, and a good memory. Good maths to A level or so is essential to understanding though.

    There are a huge numbers of niches,but unless you live on the south coast, Cambridge or the M4 corridor, yes for clever electronics, rather than musical socks and Arduino  level stuff, if you want choices of more than one or two employers  you probably need to be ready to move or commute. Though with modern working from home, not perhaps every day.


  • Simon (and mapj1) I think you are (society does) downplay the role and career opportunity of Technician. These are skilled people, often very skilled; and in senior positions able to test, certify and approve systems and repairs that degree qualified engineers cannot! Yes they will tend to be more in the hands-on repair, install and commission end of Electronic Systems; but that doesn't have to be oily-rag, it can also be software, optical, medical, test, production equipment. Further to the point, how many degree qualified engineers (and CEng's) are actually in hands-off engineering roles of management, marketing, sales, project-management, etc.? This is why it needs to be discussed, because Technicians really are Engineers! ... Your basic qualification just gives you the entry-point to your career. Your career is what you make it thereafter! The courses you pursue, the experience you get, the certifications you aquire, the specialities you pursue, the promotions and career changes you get. They all add up to your value as an engineer at that point in your life. 

  • See reply to Simon and you above...

  • Well you did ask about engineering, not support to engineering !! But perhaps I was not clear - I do agree with your point there are plenty of well paid responsible roles in engineering organizations that are in effect senior technician roles,  -  and yes also there are some more abstract engineering types, and some very senior, who you would not want to be too close to the coal face, (*) just as there are some managers who you wonder how they found that role..

    Now I work for a reasonably large consultancy, and I specialise in conventional electronics, RF and power, but that spreads out into software a bit. As it happens I am a physicist by first degree but the PhD is Electrical and Electronic engineering,  However, that is all some way back into the last century, and it is fair to say that no one cares very much or asks about that when I am lining up my next project. The  really important thing, is what has been done more recently before, what the issues were, and how that went. When I joined (late 90s) quite a few of the old sweats, mostly now retired, had far more complex histories. But how to start is another matter, and these days I suspect that newer folk are expected to have a more structured CV. Certainly the ones joining us all do seem to be following the sort of route I suggested.


    (*) my jokey test is 'could this person be left in charge of a post office?' If the answer is no then there are probably other roles away from which they need to be politely steered. Like any sort of management...

  • I like these definition: Engineers use technologies and methods that exist, to make things that have never been made before. Technicians use documented methods to reproduce, install, maintain and repair things that Engineers created the first of.

    It doesn't seem right to classify Technicians as 'support to engineers' when their role is complementary to that of the engineer, and thus just as important in the life-cycle of the creation of (Electronic System) End-Products!

  • I am a STEM Ambassador and one of my preferred activities is careers fairs. Generally I go along to give general information rather then representing any specific company.

    I would argue that the term "Electronic Systems" predates smart technology by many decades. But yes, I would agree that there is a myriad of these in our lives and most people will not understand how they work. Even engineers struggle to understand how some of these complex systems work (which is one of the reasons for my domain, Systems Engineering).

    There are lots of routes into any form of Engineering - some of which are outlined here [Career route map for engineering in England | Career Resources | Neon - Brilliant inspiration (neonfutures.org.uk)]. Everyone learns differently and has different preferences. Someone who doesn't like maths and doesn't like exams might not like the A-level/Degree route. The thing is here, just because you start on one route doesn't mean you can't change later.

    Where you find the opportunities? Well that's down to location. If you live in the Scilly Isles you might struggle to find some types of engineering employment. If you have a very specialised interest, you may find yourself moving to follow it. It's not always easy to figure out where things are. For example, if someone asks about automotive engineering then you might think of Oxford for BMW Mini. But they will (and do) have suppliers dotted globally. Those suppliers will have their suppliers dotted around also. Ultimately you can have a large web of companies and it could be just down the road from you. But it' very difficult to find this out.

    There are roles that can be performed remotely, but these exist mostly at the more experienced levels (not exclusively). Things that need a hands on approach are definitely going to need the person to be on-site.

    Note that I've stayed well away from a technician/engineer discussion because it's not really relevant. Both roles are needed and fit into most organisations.