Controls Systems Integrator or Software Engineering?


Thread Starter


I have a bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering and a Master's in Computer Science.

I just graduated with my Master's and have an opportunity to become a control systems integrator. I would be working with PLCs and SCADA systems. I was wondering what the career outlook looks like for this sort of experience. It's a small firm that mostly works on power plants and water plants. They were looking for CS majors.

It sounds really interesting to me and kinda appeals to my bachelor's degree. I also have opportunities for software engineering so any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Take it.

You say you are interested in it. Demand for competent Automation Engineers is high and will only get higher - many of the "Baby Boomers" are hitting retirement and Gen X and Gen Y all took boring office jobs in the city. With experience and ability you should never be out of work.

Curt Wuollet

I keep hearing about the shortages caused by the boomers retiring. I've seen no evidence of that and there are a lot of boomers out of work. I wonder who keeps that myth alive? If you're 20 something, the world's your oyster. If you're a boomer, things are still awful tough out there.

Anyway, be ready to travel. If you like doing the work in strange and unusual places, you should do OK.


I don't think you'll go wrong with either field.

I have a similar educational background, and I've tried to do both. My day job is as an electrical engineer. I also have owned my own software development company since I was a freshman in college.

Engineering provides a steady paycheck, and bringing my software experience into a powerplant really make me stand out as one of the few people who really understand how the plant control system works.

And owning my own software company helped me pay my way through college. Since then it's been more of a creative outlet - I can design/implement/publish whatever software I feel like, with no deadlines. And keeping current with my programming skills allows me to take consulting work if I want (I just got offered some work tonight).
Are these strange and unusual places usually tight spaces without air condition? Because I've worked installing AC units in the hot summer before and it was rough.
I took that as strange and unusual places to mean you will travel a lot, to places you normally wouldn't have any desire to travel to. And if it is someplace you wanted to visit, you probably won't have time to see it.

The difficult installation work should be done by others, preferably before you get there. You would likely be setting up the controls equipment, using your laptop.

A lot of industrial controls are located in control rooms, or electronics rooms with air conditioning, and it's not too bad to work there.

You said your company was a controls integrator, so you could be selling skid mounted equipment and the controller could be right on the equipment, located in the plant. This shouldn't be in a tight space. It's very doubtful it will have a/c though, and it will likely be noisy.
Thanks guys for all the advice!

I have another question. Will I have to get my PE in Electrical Engineering to be successful in this field?

I have an EIT in Mechanical Engineering but not Electrical
My understanding is that it doesn't matter which test you take, you are an EIT, not a mechanical EIT.

And my understanding is there's no distinction between different disciplines when you are a PE. Once you pass any exam and get a license, you are free to practice engineering in whichever discipline you are qualified (in the states in which you are licensed). I don't believe anything I've gotten from the state references an engineering discipline with my EIT or PE.

Go to NCEES and research the different PE Exams you can take. There were actually 5 different exams I considered:
Electrical - Power
Electrical - Electronics
Electrical - Computer
Control Systems

As a mechanical, I believe there are 3 other exams you could take.

With your master's degree, you may be qualified in 3 years to take the exam (check with your state board). At that time, select the exam most applicable to your education and work experience. Get the practice exams from NCEES and pick the one that makes the most sense for you to take.

The software exam was new this spring and there were no study materials available. There should be plenty by the time you take it - it may be the best option for you with your master's degree.
Thanks! I took the EIT in 09 so I kind of forgot how everything worked. I just looked at my certificate and you're right, it doesn't say anything specific on it.

That's cool that they have a software one now. That's good to know.