Developing a new electronic product absolutely requires that you hire the right electrical engineer(s). As with medicine, electrical engineering is a broad field of study with countless specializations.
Not all engineers are created equal. If you hire the wrong designer your project may take twice as long, cost twice as much, and not even work.
Regardless of the engineer you hire, one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself and lower your risk is to also hire a second independent engineer to review the work of the primary designer.
This strategy can also save you money by allowing you to hire a lower cost engineer with less experience. Normally hiring a low cost engineer is a recipe for disaster, but it can be a wise move as long as you have a more experienced engineer reviewing their work.
Most electrical engineers leave school with very little experience designing circuits. While at a university, engineering students spend most of their time analyzing existing circuits, but not designing new circuits.
Don’t get me wrong and circuit analysis is important and provides a fundamental understanding of electronic circuits.
However, becoming a good designer takes years of real design experience, and isn’t something that can generally be taught from a textbook. Of course, engineers require a lot of “book smarts” but it takes actual experience to get good at designing.
When I was hired as a microchip designer by Texas Instruments after completing my Master’s degree, my new boss told me that it takes about 4-5 years for a new engineer to actually become productive at designing microchips!
Granted, designing integrated circuits (i.e. microchips) has an exceptionally steep learning curve, but his comment holds true to some extent for all fields of electrical engineering.
The Types of Electrical Engineers
Electrical engineering can be broken down into numerous specializations. It’s important that you select an engineer that has experience in the areas needed for your project.
You wouldn’t ask your family doctor to do brain surgery, so don’t expect all electrical engineers to have the skills necessary to design your product.
Analog / Digital
The type of electrical engineer you hire depends on whether you need to design an analog or digital circuit.
An analog signal is one that can take on an infinite number of values, whereas a digital signal consists of only 1’s and 0’s. We live in an analog world. Only computers (and their associated circuits) operate in the digital domain.
Designing an analog circuit requires completely different skills than designing a digital circuit.
Generally, designing analog circuits is considered more complex than designing digital circuits. This is why there are so many more electrical engineers that do digital design but not analog circuit design.
In fact, these days many digital circuits are produced automatically by design automation software.
Whereas, analog circuit design is too complex for automation and must be custom designed. If your product is analog (almost all engineering projects have some analog) then make sure to hire an analog circuit designer.
Low Power / High Power
Designing a high power electrical transmission system for a power company requires completely different skills than designing a small mobile device. Most electrical engineers can only be an expert in one of these two areas.
For example, I have done some higher power design work early in my career, but overall my specialty is lower power systems, and by no means do I consider myself an expert on high power transmission systems.
High-level / Low-level
There are many different levels of circuit design.
This hierarchy is similar to software where the lowest level is 1’s and 0’s, and the highest level is a graphical programming environment.
Low-level circuit design usually requires a greater understanding of physics, while higher level design is more about the system.
Development Kits – The highest level of electronics design is the use of development kits such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi. Development kits are only for very early prototyping and proof of concept.
Electronic Modules – The next highest level of design is the use of electronic modules. Electronic modules are fully tested and certified solutions that can be integrated into other products.
Modules allow hybrid designs that use custom circuits along with modules for some of the more complex functions. For example, many products start off using modules for wireless functions.
Chip-level – Designs using existing microchips is the highest level of abstraction. All of the more fundamental issues have already been taken care of by someone else who designed the chips.
For nearly all products chip-level design is the level your product will require to be manufactured in high volume.
Device-level Design – A small percentage of products may require some discrete-level design. This level of design uses more fundamental components like transistors instead of integrated circuits (microchips).
This level of design isn’t as common today except for special cases such as really high-power circuits.
Integrated Circuits – This is probably one of the lowest levels of circuit design. When designing an integrated circuit (i.e. a microchip) the designer is using very fundamental devices like transistors and resistors while also being concerned with semiconductor physics.
Your product should not need any integrated circuit design. If it does, find a new product! IC design is incredibly expensive and not for the low funded.
Wireless (RF) Communication
If your product design has a wireless component to it, then make sure you hire an electrical engineer with experience designing RF (Radio Frequency) circuits.
In a non-RF circuit, electrical signals mostly follow wires (or PCB traces), allowing certain simplifying assumptions to be made.
But RF systems propagate outside of wires thus making the design much more complex. A large majority of electrical engineers have very little experience with or knowledge of radio frequency design.
Embedded Systems (Microcontrollers)
Many, if not most, modern electronic products require some “brains”. For example, a microwave has a microcontroller chip in it that detects what buttons you press and performs a certain function based on those button presses.
An embedded system is any product that has a computer chip in it (called a microcontroller unit or MCU).
These are a few of the more common specializations in electrical engineering, but there are many more. Some of these include power electronics (regulators, battery chargers, etc.), control systems (which generally also require embedded system design), sensor design, GPS system design, PCB design, etc.
The large majority of the projects I work on include a micro-controller along with analog circuits. Most projects require an electrical engineer with experience in embedded systems as well as analog circuit design.
By no means are all engineers equal. There are great engineers, okay engineers, and some pretty bad ones too. When hiring an engineer it’s usually best to do so based on the feedback from other engineers. It takes an engineer to judge a really good engineer.
Finally, regardless of the engineer you hire always be sure to get independent reviews from other engineers of the work that they do for you.
These two suggestions will protect you and drastically lower your risk of outsourcing product development.
Inside the Hardware Academy you get access to a team of experts, including myself, who can both review your design and recommend great engineers.
If you are looking for more details on designing a new electronic product be sure to check out my Ultimate Guide on How to Develop a New Electronic Product.
Other content you may like:
- 5 Steps of Product Development for a New Electronic Hardware Product
- How Much Does a Prototype Cost?
- Lesson 4: The Strategic Way to Develop and Sell Your New Electronic Hardware Product
- 7 Ways to Quickly Judge the Quality of Your Printed Circuit Board (PCB) Design
- How To Effectively Use Outsourcing to Power Your Hardware Startup
I am a regular follower of your blog. And the points you have mentioned over here are very essential in my point of view.
Thanks for sharing this valuable information. Nice piece of article.
I have a new project for which I’ve filed preliminary paperwork with USPTO. Is there a way that we could discuss this through a private venue?
You can contact me privately here.
low/power high/power low level and high level and other brief details are very useful thanks for sharing.
Your links are bad links. “15 Steps to Develop Your Electronic Product” and “Summary of the Costs to Develop Your Electronic Product” just link back to this page. Thx
Thanks John for bringing this to my attention! I have just fixed the links. Thanks again!
Nice Blog! thank you for sharing this kind of information.
I seem to be having a problem with getting an electrical engineer for RF wireless design setup to answer my adds. Have been posting on freelance sites for the USA and India but so far only a few responses but no qualified people have responded. How can I get someone that can do an RF wireless remote engineer for an auto related product that is similar to car door remote systems to respond?
Thanks for your question. RF engineers are a very specialized type of electrical engineer. Most new engineers will have little understanding of RF design. I would recommend you search for freelancers on sites like Upwork.com that have RF design experience and then invite them to apply for your job.
You may also be able to use pre-certified RF modules which essentially eliminate the need for custom RF design. For most all new products this is the best option.
You have done good research on this particular topic. I really appreciate your time and effort. Keep doing good work and thank you so much for providing this information.
Thanks for pointing out that when we are coming up with a new electronic product that necessitates the service of an electrical engineer. We are coming up with a new design for a modern type of flat iron gadget as our project next year and we will definitely need someone who can design something that will not use much electricity. So, we are currently searching for someone who can do the job as soon as possible.
Its really good website. Thanks for Giving complete details about Electrical Engineering.
Thanks for sharing this valuable information. It is very useful.
Thanks for this kind of awesome blog.It will be very helpful for peoples like me because it’s help us to hiring the right design engineer to develop your new product.
I really like your post because it will be useful for readers so thanks for writing a such useful information.
I completely agree with the statement that after university you mostly learn about electronics but not how to design products. In some jobs that’s OK because maybe they ask you to just to a particular part of the circuit and you can focus on that. However, having a global vision and the process of converting an idea into actual hardware will help you to make an overall better design.
Also really like how you divided our profession into categories of knowledge. One tries or wants to be good at all of them but it is so vast and the everyday work becomes so specialized that sooner or later you will be much better at one than the rest.
Hello’ I’m looking for someone that has the ability to design rgb pov circuit @ software so I can take a image- load it into the circuit ; then spin it & show image. I am hooked into the toy industry but having a hard time with this one. Possible partnership .
If you email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org I’ll be happy to help.
Analog and Digital are sort of the two main trunks. There are also many underlying branches.
Schools teach how to analyze circuits so you can check you own design and make sure it works.
It’s important to curious and keep an eye on all the new stuff that comes out around your area of experience.
If someone needs help with projects, feel free to send me a note. With what I know, or some of my colleagues, I’m sure we can tackle almost anything.
I was wondering if anyone would want to participate in the tv show Americas greatest makers for a chance to win the prize money here are the requirementsIntel® Technology Requirement
Each team entering the call for casting of America’s Greatest Makers Season 2 is required to
integrate at least one of the following innovative Intel® technology options defined below into their
product idea. The recommended team skills for each of the technology options are also provided.
Additional details about the specifics of the Intel technology hardware and software will be
unveiled at the beginning of the competition.
1. An Intel® Curie™ Compute Module powered board for contestants with smaller
form-factor, smart, connected or wearable product ideas.
One option is the Arduino 101* board. Available in retail today, this learning and
development board is easy to use and delivers performance with low-power
consumption. This board offers Bluetooth® connectivity and features a six-axis
accelerometer and gyroscope. With the Bluetooth connectivity feature, there is the
opportunity to communicate between the board and a phone or tablet. Learn more about
this product here: https://www.arduino.cc/en/Main/ArduinoBoard101 .
Recommended team skills- knowledge in Arduino* sketch and basic electronics.
2. A next-generation Intel® Atom™ processor-based platform providing advanced
display, graphics and high-speed I/O in a low-power, small form-factor
configuration for product ideas.
With an easy setup and friendly out-of-box experience, this highly-integrated compute
solution gives developers the capability to rapidly prototype design concepts. This high-
performance platform also offers excellent Intel RealSense™ ZR300 Camera integration.
Recommended team skills- C, C++, or Python*; Linux*.
3. The Intel® RealSense™ ZR300 camera offers a small form-factor solution for
contestants who want to add visual depth sensing and tracking capabilities to their
It features high resolution and accuracy depth maps, indoor and outdoor use, high frame
rate, in a compact design that easily integrates into embedded platforms. The Intel®
RealSense™ Software allows you to see and understand the world in 3D by building on
the depth and tracking information provided by the ZR300 camera hardware module.
Capabilities include: simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) with six-degrees of
freedom (6DoF) for the general camera motion, and object and person recognition and
Recommended team skills- Familiarity with computer vision and image processing APIs
Oh this content are very good and impotent in electrical engineering.I like your Analog vs. Digital very much.But I think you should post more interesting and essential topics.
Wow this is a very well written article showing me the importance of even hiring an electrical engineer! I have a few simple electronic projects that I want to get off the ground but don’t know what to do. I may look into that book and if that seems too complicated just hiring a professional.
It’s a piece of really great information on this site. we will definitely need someone who can design something that will not use much electricity. It will be very helpful for Us.