Can an electrical engineer do anything that an electrician can do?

Just curious. Would being an electrical engineer let you understand inherently almost anything that an electrician would need to do to fix or install something and let you do it yourself if you had the tools?

Is there stuff that an electrician would know that an electrical engineer might not know?

Electricians need to know electrical code requirements; an electrical engineer might not be up to speed on all of that. There’s also the practicalities of running wires and diagnosing electrical faults; an engineer may be booksmart on voltage and current, but may not know where to begin when trying to find a problem somewhere inside a real electrical system.

I’m a mechanical engineer. I do just about all of my own service on my cars, but I’ve met other mechanical engineers who had difficulty just using a screwdriver.

Agree with this. In addition, electricians have to know the current products and suppliers (and prices), things which a EE probably doesn’t have to be familiar with.

It’s not saying that an EE couldn’t do this stuff and couldn’t know it, just that he wouldn’t be familiar with it the way an electrician would.

On top of which, an Electrical Engineer probably wouldn’t be a Licensed Electrician unless he went through the procedure. I think that would keep him from working as one in most places.;_ylt=A0LEVztrD8dWtfMA93RXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTByMjB0aG5zBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzYw--?qid=20120101002456AAO7n1Z

I just want to add that when I was an undergrad I knew some EE majors that I wouldn’t trust with a toaster.

I’ve never met an EE who can drink, spit, or curse like an electrician.

Here in Oz (and South Oz to be more exact) the situation has changed form one side to the other.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s it was common for an EE graduate to get his electrician’s licence by just passing the code exam (a single written exam.) They were excused the traiing requirement, beening deemed to know enough having graduated as an EE. I know quite a few who did, and many wired their own houses, all legally. (And the legality here is seriously strict.) But back then, all work had to be inspected and signed off by the (government owned) electrical supply company.

Fast forward, and a new regime has come into force. electricians must till be licensed, but they now self certify. Legally, if you have wiring work done on your house (and this includes low voltage fixed wiring) you must have it certified. The electrician who does the work will issue a compliance certificate. The big change is that in order to be able to issue a compliance certificate you must carry professional indemnity insurance. That instantly wiped out all the EEs who were previously licensed. Nobody could afford to carry the insurance for doing the odd job about the house.

As usual, issues of liability and following the money changed things.

My wife is a Ph.D. electrical engineer and she calls maintenance when a light bulb goes out. :slight_smile:

(Of course, she doesn’t call maintenance when the cache subsystem of certain high-end microprocessors develop faults. Engineers specialize.)

My wife is similar except she’s got a Ph.D. in computer science, and when anything goes wrong with her computer or our home network, I’m the one fixing it. I’ve always just assumed that there’s often a divide between the engineers and tradespeople–not that there isn’t overlap, but someone who is, say, a mechanical engineer I would not expect to be a good mechanic, nor an electrical engineer to be a good electrician.

I’ve been a machinist for 20 years mainly working in factories (toolroom, R&D, etc.) and have seldom met an engineer that had practical skills. While not necessary to do their job this often can lead to really poor designs.

There are some engineers out there that can do it all. Quite a few of them hang out at and do some nice work. Much like a mustang officer (someone who has gone from enlisted to comissioned) they are much better at their jobs and working with the guys doing the work.

My experience working in the trades including as an electrician has taught me electrical engineers shouldn’t be allowed to work on thier own homes. In theory and in practice can be miles apart. When engineers in general can be dangerous, EEs go above and beyond.

A friend of mine regularly hires electrical engineers for automotive research, typically as student interns or as fresh graduates. One of the interview questions he asks is how they would measure the voltage of a car battery if the sensor they had only went up to five volts. He says many can’t recall the basics of building a voltage divider, but the really astonishing thing is how many of these engineers don’t even know that a car battery is 12 volts.

I’m a mechanical engineer and that’s trivial even for me. Put (3) 200 ohm resisters in series. Measure voltage drop across 1. Times that number by 3.

But to answer the op’s question. No. In general two different skill sets. Codes aren’t something engineers would learn in depth or at all in a typical engineering curriculum.

Engineers design, tradesmen build. It’s the natural order of things. I’ll also say that I held jobs that were advertised as requiring someone with an engineering degree.

Any residential electrician has stories about electrical engineers that have done their own wiring. Its a practical skill set not just theory.

On the other hand there is a pretty good crossover between civil engineers and structural carpentry. Civil engineers do know code, visit job sites, and have as good or better product knowledge as a builder or framer for structural materials. They are generally not interested in picking up a hammer though, I think they see enough of what goes on and know the field well enough to have that interest satisfied. Sometimes they decide to do their own finishing though. Sometimes I fix it for them.

Would an EE know what a “hole-hog” is and why one should avoid hitting nails with it? Some things in the trades just come from the experience of five years as an apprentice.

I hate design flaws, like cars where you need to remove the air intake to replace the headlight, or impossible-to-reach oil filters.

I was a power generator mechanic in the Army, and used to do repairs on my own home. My FIL was a contractor and did a lot of wiring when he did remodels and additions, and he taught me some more practical things.

I also worked in a garage for a while after I got back from the military. Half of doing a job right is knowing which tool to use. There’s just no substitute for practice. I think if an EE watched an electrician at work, he (or she) would understand everything the electrician was doing, where a layperson might not even follow the process, but an EE wouldn’t do the job as well, or at all, because even if he had a general idea of what to do, he might not know which tool to grab.

I remember in the early days on working on stuff at my Guard unit, I had to figure out why a small gas engine was stalling a lot. I figured out pretty quickly that it must have a problem with spark, and I wanted to check the gaps. I couldn’t figure out how to get out the deeply recessed spark plugs, because even the deep well sockets didn’t work. I was introduced to the clawfoot wrench.

I also know how to diagnose front end problems on cars, which is pretty simple, but not intuitive. I wonder if people who design those parts know how they behave when they are on the verge of failing? A mechanical engineer at Ford may build a better ball joint, but will he know how it behaves after 15 years of wear when it needs to be replaced? A Master Mechanic does.

An appliance repair person once gave me a fix for something that involved putting a slow-blow fuse in place of a fuse that kept blowing because of some intermittent problem I could not trace with a multimeter is one of my movie projectors. A slow-blow lets you have a a surge for a second, instead of a millisecond before the fuse blows. She said that either the fuse would solve the problem, or it would allow a surge that would cause enough damage that the problem would be obvious. As it was, it fixed the problem. I wonder whether an engineer would have thought of that?

It should also be noted that these days, most EEs only deal with voltages below 12v. Their entire universe of experience is battery voltages or less.

Electricians, on the other hand, generally work with voltages from 120v up to 480v or higher. And, or course, many hundreds or thousands of Amps. The gulf between the two regimes is substantial - knowing how work with signal-levels is much different than knowing how to wire a 3-phase transformer without causing an explosion.

They should. Loads that have a large capicative or inductive load can draw extra current. Sounds like your appliance probably has motor which is inductive on it. Proper fix is generally, iirc, a capacitor on the motor to balance the inductance.

As an experimental scientist I know my way around electronics - designed and built many simple circuits, wired up various sensors and measurement equipment in our lab, etc. But I have no idea how to work on a house - where the wires are supposed to run, how to install a conduit, how to crawl around the attic safely, etc. I once tried to install a ceiling fan and gave up - replacing the bracket on the ceiling was beyond my skill set.

I’ve met many electrical engineers, but not a one of them had anything to do with designing electrical systems you would see in a home or business!

Rather they worked daily on designing electronic “gizmos” and “widgets”. Like medical testing equipment, aircraft instrumentation, satellites, security systems, etc.

With that said, there are electricians who may not know much about certain specialized electrician work! Say the wiring for a nuclear power plant or hospital. Or grounding requirements for the wiring in certain military installations (EMP). Or even the differences between “commercial” [3-phase] and “residential” [single phase] wiring.


Hospital Grade…

Gas Station Wiring…

Three Phase Wiring (commercial)…

I guess that’s a good point, and speaks toward knowing, and HAVING the right tool. Electricians need a certain amount of basic carpentry skills, or if they repair appliances, good fine motor skills, and good visual skills-- good at spotting a tiny thing out of place, or finding the little screw they dropped.

I think it really takes a different sort of personality to prefer one kind of electric work over the other. My FIL was a great contractor. He was smart enough that he could have been an engineer, but he would have gone stir-crazy behind a desk.