Engineer Survey: Engineering Vs Engineering Technology

Calling all you engineers & engineering students out there. Here is a quick question for you that is a spin off of another thread from a few weeks ago. Over the last few years I’ve been in FIRST I’ve noticed that there were a lot of Engineer Technology graduates along with Engineering Graduates involved. So here is your question:

Engineers, did you graduate (or students majoring in one of the two) with a degree in engineering or engineering technology? Also if you care to share why you chose one over the other that would be great. Finally, if you were going to college again, would you have made that same decision?

I graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Evansville (go Aces!).

From what I can tell, the main difference between engineering and engineering technology is that an engineering degree is considerably more calculus-dependent. Courses in the engineering cirriculum depend more on upper level math (differential equations, calculus, etc.) while courses in the technology department focus more on practical applications.

UE did not offer any technology degrees, so I had no choice. The benefit to going to a large engineering university is that you do get that choice. Many small engineering schools don’t offer technology degrees.

If I were to do it again, I probably would’ve done the same thing. While I don’t really use high-end math (diffy-q, etc.) at my current job, it is nice to know that I have the background to use it if needed.

Andy B.

I have a bachelor and masters degree in Mechanical Engineering (dynamic systems and control), both from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

I think what Andy said is correct. Here at TRW, the people with engineering degrees are more involved in the product development, while the engineering tech degreed people are working on the practical side (prototypes, testing, trouble-shooting, etc). This may be different at other places.

I chose engineering (as opposed to engineering tech) because I’m good at math, and I like it. Control theory and dynamic systems is about the most math intensive area of mechanical engineering, so that worked out well for me as well.

For my job, I use my advanced math skills (calculus, differential equations, linear systems) quite a lot. However, I would say that this is NOT true for the majority of engineers here (or anywhere). I would say that 80% (or more) of the engineers that I know never use anything more complicated than algebra or trig.

Therefore, if you want an engineering degree and the math is freaking you out - I wouldn’t jump off a bridge just yet. Once you graduate, you should be fine. You will mainly use algebraic formulas (formulas that were created thanks to calculus). The main way you will use calculus in college is to derive the algebraic formulas, so you understand how they were created and how they work. (Once again, that’s not to say that once you graduate you won’t use calculus, there is still a chance that you will, but there are plenty of jobs out there that won’t require it).

I hope this helps.


I just graduated form the University of Maryland at College Park (GO TERPS!) last spring with my bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. UMD does not offer and Electrical Engineering Technology program. At my company, we have over 85% Electrical Engineering type people. The people with engineering degrees do more design work than those with Technology degrees.

I also chose an engineering program because of my love for math. Like Chris, I use higher math on a daily basis (advanced calculus and linear algebra) and I also use a significant amount of EM theory beyond the intro physics classes. Most of EE is very math intensive and the combination of systems theory and EM is one of the things I didn’t really see until I was out in the real world.

I love my job developing computer models, so it was well worth struggling through the math specifically in the EM classes to have this opportunity. Your choice really depends on what you want to do with your future.

I recently graduated from Miami U. (the original…Go Redhawks) with a Bachelor’s degree in Electro-Mechanical Engineering Technology. The tech degree is much less theory oriented, which as Andy pointed out has less Calc requirements, nice in my opinion. The tech degree would be described with words like modify, analyze or assemble. Even with the differences, there can be cross-over from one to the other. Many tech degrees can take their respective PE exam.
I enjoy the tech degree, and as a teacher try to guide my high school students toward the program that they will most likely enjoy and be successful.

I graduated from the University of California, Irvine (Go Anteaters, ZOT!!) with a Mechanical Engineering Degree. The University system did not offer an Engineering Technology degree but the Cal State schools did, so I could have easily transfered if I wanted.

I went to Engineering school to learn how to design things that wouldn’t break. Either curriculum would have provided that. But at the time my perception was that ET was more of a “cookbook” approach. They taught you what formulas to use or what books to look in to find the approach to a given problem. This is fine as long as you stay with stuff that’s in the book. But if you want to go beyond the book, then you have a problem.

Since I was interested in doing things that weren’t likely to be in the book, I took the harder way. The only time I regretted it was my sophmore year, when I was struggling with the math and almost flunked out. Fortunately an upper classman in my dorm cleared up a few things my professors had apparently forgotten to mention and saved my butt. It is amazing how much you can learn in a conversation that takes less than an hour. Once I understood the math things went better.

Now I’ve been in industry for better than two decades. I rarely if ever use the math I struggled with, most of the figuring I have to do relates to volumes, weights and masses. The “analyze” function on CAD systems is a wonderful thing. But it is reassuring to know I could do it the hard way if I needed to. If I do any “higher” math, it is related to building BeachBot.

One thing I’ve noticed is that ET graduates, the few we have where I work, seldom rise to management. The highest they ever seem to make is lead, and usually because they are the person people go to for help in that department. There seems to be an invisible ceiling above which ETs are not allowed to go. That may or may not be important to you. It isn’t to me personally, I’m not a management type. But it is something to consider for the future.

I like to keep options open as long as possible, and an ET degree may be closing some off prematurely.

I graduated with a degree in electronics engineering technology a very long time ago. At the time it seemed the right way to go - as others have posted, ET’s generally spend more time doing hands-on work, which is what I was most interested in. I have gradually worked my way up to engineering management (which I found I also like), but my progress would have been much faster with an EE degree.

Though I have been successful with my ET and have gotten to do more hands-on engineering than the EEs and MEs I worked with, if I had to do it over again, I would definitely go for the full engineering degree. It gives you much more room for growth and more respect from management. Basically, I have had to work much harder to get where I am than if I had the “real” engineering degree.

As with most things, there is a qualifier here: if you really like working with your hands and really hate paperwork, meetings and project management, the ET degree may be the way to go. Just be aware of the professional growth limits which may confront you down the road.

I received my Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of South Carolina (Go, 'Cocks!). I liked the math and there was not Technology alternative.

I went on to pursue my Masters in Controls (MIT) where the math was quite beneficial. After a stint in industry where I actually did occasionally use the calculus, I went back for my PhD (RPI, again in Controls with a little mechanics and acoustics thrown in for interest).

If you want to go to graduate school, you had better pursue the engineering path. Almost ever graduate program is going to hit you pretty hard with the mathematics.

If you think you might want to do advanced development or research, then engineering is your best path.

We do have some ET people pursue graduate degrees in the program where I’m working. They mostly do fine. However, many have to go back and take the calculus sequence in order to be successful.

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I’m pursuing a bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University, (Go BOILERS!!). I think that this question you asked was an excellent one, because it seems that few truly understand or appreciate the difference between an engineering degree and an engineering technology degree.

Here at Purdue, we have both schools of engineering and the school of technology, which offers an engineering technology in almost all engineering disciplines. There is a minor, but most definitely present ‘rift’ between the schools of engineering and the school of technology. Namely, “technology students are just the ones that just couldn’t handle engineering”, and “engineers can’t tell the difference between a screwdriver and a hammer.” Neither is completely true… though sadly there is a hint of truth to both.

As has been alluded to in previous post, the engineering students do have a more rigorous course load, rooted in advanced mathematics, which is further compounded in higher level courses. To make up for that, there is a ‘high horse’ that many of the engineering students ride on while speaking about engineering vs engineering technology degrees. Admittedly the conversation often takes place during finals week or large projects, and actually turns into wishing to hop off the horse and take “the easy way out and just switch to technology.”

I think that many posts here have put it well when they said if you want to be doing what has never been done, then you want an engineering degree. If you want to climb a corporate later or go into engineering management, you want an engineering degree. If you’re thinking about grad school, you want an engineering degree. If you want to go to med school or law school, you can do that with an engineering degree.

Something that hasn’t been mentioned, (and is important to some) is dollar signs. Here at Purdue, which I think is not a national trend, the starting salaries are rather similar for both engineering and engineering technology degrees, ranging from 45k to (rarely) 60k a year.

I guess another topic for another thread, which will surely spark some much more lively (FUN) debate is…

Does it matter which college you graduate from, or is an engineering degree an engineering degree?


I am currently in my second year at Purdue University going for my Bachelors in Electrical Engineer.

This is the classic discussion between which is “better” than the other. Honestly, I think you should go to the major/school that best suits you. If you like advanced math and its applications then engineering is your gig. It is often said that technology students are more hands on oriented than engineering students. This is somewhat true and somewhat false. I have heard that some ME students could not identify nuts and bolts from each other, and that technology students can not apply anything. Obviously these are two extremes and most students fall somewhere in the middle of knowing everything and not knowing anything.

I would say that if you want to be on the cutting edge of new developments and such, that engineering would be the route to go. It gives you a very strong fundamental background and application ability to do such things.

I have both Electrical Engineering and Computer Science degrees. At the time I went to school, the field of Computer Engineering was new enough not to have it’s own degree, but that’s probably what I would do today given my interests. I really wish there wasn’t so much difference in the approaches, they both have their advantages.

If forced to generalize, a two year technical degree will severely limit your career to being a technician. A four year technical degree is more usefull in manufacturing, especially in the process or quality engineering roles. An engineering degree is understood by more people, and will likely prove for easier entry into design and research positions. In my experience, it’s how a person applies themselves more than the degree that determines success.

In regards to the math. If you choose to avoid engineering, never tell a potential employer that you couldn’t handle calculus. They’re looking for people to solve problems. Many engineers believe that any problem can be solved with enough effort (managers are even more so). That colors their opinion even though they had difficulty understanding the math when they were in school. Say rather you like being more hands on, that the courses looked more interesting, etc. instead.

I recently found this quote that describes engineering fairly well:
Herbert Hoover Quote

I graduated this past December with a degree in Computer Engineering (Computer Science and Electrical Engineering) with a focus in Embedded Systems from Georgia Tech :smiley: . If given the choice again I would choose to purse engineering as opposed to a technical degree. I enjoyed the coursework over my four years there. In addition to obtaining the math and theory, I was given the opportunity to apply this knowledge to practical applications through numerous labs and projects. Approximatly half of all the major courses I took were either labs or had a project component.

I would not purse a techincal degree since my goal is to eventually work in the area of research, design and development. I have gained a lot of my techincal/hands-on experiences through FIRST as well as by self-learning through many personal projects (I am sure this is the case for many of you as well).

All in all, the decision comes down to what you enjoy and what you goals and plans are for the future.

The choice is what do you really like to do and where are your strengths. If you enjoy the theory and design - a pure engineering curriculum is prpbably the best. If you are more practical, hands on and want to understand how to apply the theory, rather than how to develop the theory - then technology is for you.

If you are undecided, I would choose the pure engineering option because it will be less limiting in your career. There are companies and jobs that will require the pure engineering degree.

Regarding the school, and to a limited extent the degree - a top school and the right degree and solid grades will open doors. Some companies only recruit from the top xx number of universities because of the cost of recruitment activity. So, if you have a choice, go to a top 10 or 20 in the field you are choosing. Don’t assume because you have heard of a school (like because they have goos sports teams) that they are one of the top. Many of the best engineering schools are unknown to the general population but well known and respected within engineering companies.

That said, once you are in the door, you will have a short honeymoon period and then your progression through the company (or out the door) will be based on your performance and abilities and considerably less on where you went to school.

I have a Technology degree from Purdue. The main reason for me choosing Technology vs. Engineering was that I started in the Construction Tech program and then decided to change after about 2 years. If I had switched to Engineering, I would have almost started over and I really didn’t have the time or money for that. By switching to Technology, most everything tranasferred. If I could do it all over again, I would probably choose Engineering, mainly because I think more doors would have been opened earlier in my career. I do think the Technology degrees are more accepted today than 20 years ago when I graduated.

From a career perspective, my early choice was to move away from the design / analytical option and into project engineering and other business and management roles. The technical background gave me a good foundation. I added an MBA from Indiana University to help develop a strong business understanding and the combination of degrees has helped me considerably.

I graduated from Bradley University, (Go Braves! but soon to be something else) My degree is Electronic Engineering Technology but I attended Bradley when only two other schools had EET programs. I helped Bradley achieve the very first accredidation for that curriculum (at a time when only two other schools in the US had EET programs). I was told that EET would be a more hands on approach to electronics and that the math wouldn’t be as hard. After three semesters of applied “technical” calculus, I am not sure that was the case although the problems were real world examples. Although I don’t use the calc much, it makes reading technical papers easier and it gives me an insight as to what the engineers are trying to achieve. My original interest was to go into a manufacturing setting but I ended up in broadcasting. I found that there is truth in the belief you will be helping engineers make things practical. I helped EE and ME students all the time at Bradley and have continued to do so all my life. I like what I do because I am not tied to one discipline everyday nor do I work with only one person or group.
My son is attending Bradley now in ME and hopes to be able to design things that people will find easy to use. Since he is an outdoors (Boy Scout) kind of guy, I am guessing he is going to design great outdoor gear, climbing, hiking and camping stuff. I felt that the EET program allowed time for me to pursue other classes that EE and ME students didn’t have time for. I have found that technical writing, shop classes, computer programming, and other applied subjects have been of immense help.

wow what an interesting topic. I think my exerience is a little unique. I started out taking electrical engineering at a community college, and after the 1st semister I was feeling swamped. Halfway through the 2nd I wasnt doing so well in calc2 and a couple other classes, so I decided to drop them and sign up for an associates program in electrical technology the next fall.

I didnt make it back to college the second year. I enlisted in the Coast Guard and served in search and rescue stations for 4 years. After that I decided to go back to college and give engineering another try, and I was able to get into SUNY Buffalo.

The big difference then was that computer engineering was really starting to take off. I took the required courses for electrical engineering and computer science for the first two years, but then I had to pick one major, and choose EE. The coursed I took were pretty similar to what is called a Computer engineering degree now, but I have a BSEE.

I really struggled with the math, and the last required math course (differential equations) I got a D! but a D is passing and that was all I needed :^)

I took something like an IQ test when I was a senior and learned my natural aptitudes were more geared towards being an artist than an engineer - for me, math and equations are like eating rust.

But having gotten through the BSEE degree I discovered that Im very good at something most companies call system engineering - thats someone who understands the whole system, the HW, the SW the interfaces to the user, the requirements of manufacturing, testing… someone who can grasp the big picture - and Ive had a very successful career so far because of this.

But one thing about engineering that nobody has mentioned yet. In engineering school you learn how to take what you already know, how to learn things you dont know (on your own) and how to extend that knowledge a little bit further - to take an idea, or a system, or a product to the next step - how to build on your past experience and understanding to come up with something new.

So in a way, engineering is about breaking away from the educational system, and being able to expand knowledge and technology independantly.

Engineers solve problems. The more you have learned in college (math, physics, control system theory…) the bigger the impact you are able to make - knowledge is like tools in your toolbox - the more you have, the more you can do.

The difference between Engineering and Technology is not that one is more hands-on or practical than the other. Rather, the fundamental difference between the two is that Engineering is more about developing/design systems while Technology is more about supporting those systems.

As such, Engineering and Technology are complementary fields. Engineers need to start from a theoretical framework in order to develop/design systems while technicians need to understand how those systems work in order to support them.

That fundamental difference between Engineering and technology not only explains how or why engineers tend to rise to management but also gives engineers a career advancement advantage because engineers by designed manage the implementation of their systems, which are to be supported by technicians.

I graduated in '05 with a Electrical Engineering degree from Georgia Tech (go Yellow Jackets!). We had a very mean joke about the difference between Engineering and Engineering Technology degrees (a scantron) but that’s simply because the Engineering Technology students we saw at the university next door got to goof off while we pulled all-nighters on some project or another. My real point here is that while there is a difference in the degrees, there are also differences in the universities that teach the degrees.

There are some hands-on skills that EET’s have that I had to learn on-the-fly, like proper soldering, large circuit digram analysis, environmental factors, etc. Yet these days there’s a plethora of resources for that type of stuff if one’s up for it --like YouTube and cheap books from Amazon.