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How do I Become an Instrumentation Engineer?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2016
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Instrumentation engineers design complex controls systems for various consumer products, robotic instruments, vehicles, and industrial machinery. They have expert knowledge of mechanical and electrical engineering principles as well as modern computer drafting programs and physical construction techniques. A person who wants to become an instrumentation engineer in most settings needs to obtain at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited university. In addition, on-the-job training and success on professional engineer exams is necessary to establish a career in the field.

A four-year bachelor's degree program in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, physics, or math can be very beneficial for a person who wants to find work as an instrumentation engineer. Most future professionals opt for mechanical engineering programs, but relevant techniques and information can be learned in the other majors as well. Students typically enroll in a number of advanced science and math courses to study the principles of electricity, chemistry, and magnetism. An undergraduate can also take classes in drafting, blueprint design, and computer science to develop practical skills.

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A college student who wants to become an instrumentation engineer can look into internship opportunities at local manufacturing plants and research and development firms. Entry-level work as an assistant or junior engineer provides important hands-on experience in the field and can significantly improve a person's chances of finding a position after earning his or her degree. Near graduation, a student can take the first of two written professional engineer exams and begin applying for full-time work.

When applying to become an instrumentation engineer, a person should emphasize his or her practical skills and computer knowledge. Employers generally like to hire new engineers who are capable of quickly mastering various unique software applications and working well with other engineering team members. Once a person is offered a job, he or she can expect to spend between six months and four years working under supervision. Ongoing experience allows a new engineer to take on more responsibilities and independence in his or her work.

The second professional engineer exam can typically be taken after gaining four to five years of experience. Success on the test means that a worker can officially become an instrumentation engineer and earn the right to start leading original projects. Professionals who work for several years in the field and build strong reputations are generally rewarded with very good pay and opportunities for advancement. Some engineers eventually open their own consulting firms or become competing private manufacturers of instrumentation equipment.

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David09
Post 4

@everetra - It’s interesting that you can’t take the second exam until you’ve been on the job at least four or five years – and only on passing that test can you begin working as an engineer in a leadership role. That fact alone should tell you that jobs for instrumentation engineers are rigorous and no less specialized than other engineering careers.

everetra
Post 3

@SkyWhisperer - I doubt that flat panel systems are the future for every sector. I don’t think that you’ll find them in the industrial field, where dust particles and debris could ruin the surface of your touch pad control system.

Also, not everything is a keyboard. Instrument panels can have dials and valves and stuff. That doesn’t mean it’s any less “advanced” than a touch pad system – you still need to know computer software and engineering principles to design an effective system.

I don’t work as an instrumentation engineer myself but I do work in the software industry. I can tell you that in our industry, “interface” is everything. So many people complain because a software interface is not user friendly.

I think instrumentation engineering is just as important – and that’s why you need advanced math and science skills. Really, it’s as much engineering as anything else you’re developing in my opinion.

SkyWhisperer
Post 2

@nony - Well, we’re glad to help out. If you wanted to be an instrumentation engineer, college would have been a better career path. One thing I wonder about is the future of instrumentation jobs as technology keeps changing.

I watch shows like Star Trek where they have these flat panel instrumentation devices and I think that’s where we’re heading. We already have that touch panel technology in place already, but I think it will become more widespread and we’ll get away from the tried and true keyboard and other mechanical devices for instrumentation panels.

nony
Post 1

Years ago I saw a program about a child prodigy who built his own robot. At the tender age of sixteen, he built this device, which was a marvel of electronics and instrumentation engineering.

The instrumentation part was rather clever. This teenager had disassembled a telephone and ripped out the control pad. He used the control pad as the instrumentation panel for the robot! I was so inspired that I tried to do the same thing at home.

I took apart a phone to get at its panel. At that point, I was lost. There was no robot, and so I didn’t know what to do. All I had was a broken phone and my dad yelled at me when he came home.

I never could explain to him why I did what I did. I’m glad I can finally tell you all about it thirty years later.

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