Master Course Description

No: EE 398



Credits: 1

UW Course Catalog Description

Coordinator: Martin A. Afromowitz Professor, Electrical Engineering

Goals: To discuss some of the many issues beyond those covered in our technical courses that a newly-minted engineering professional needs to know in order to succeed and contribute to the best of his or her ability.

Learning Objectives:

At the end of this course, students will be able to:

1.      Describe the advantages/disadvantages of acquiring an advanced degree in the context of their own professional plans.

2.      Describe the characteristics of a professional.

3.      Appreciate the importance and legal limitations of the IEEE Code of Ethics.

4.      Understand the advantages of different corporate organization models, associated lines of authority and job descriptions.

5.      Understand the complexity of ethical responsibilities and conflicts that can occur as an employee of a corporation, the advantages of legal counsel and the patchwork of state and federal laws concerning whistle-blowing.

6.      Understand the limitations of a company's loyalty to its employees, and employees' loyalty to their company.

7.      Understand the economic importance and relative advantages/disadvantages of trade secrets and patents.

8.      Understand the global, economic and societal ramifications of outsourcing.

9.      Appreciate the complexities of the immigration debate with respect to the H-1B visa.



Textbook: Professional Issues: a Guide for Undergraduate Engineering Students, by Martin A. Afromowitz, sold without royalties through the EE Store.

Reference Texts: None

Prerequisites by Topic: None


1.      Salary ranges for electrical engineers, and dependence on age, location, education, specialty. (1 wk)

2.      Societal expectations of a professional engineer; the IEEE Code of Ethics. (1 wk)

3.      The corporate enterprise: who's in charge (of your career)?; corporate organization. (1 wk)

4.      The employment contract, non-compete clauses, intellectual property protection. (1 wk)

5.      Responsibilities of engineers in ethical dilemmas: personal ethics, conflicts of interest. (1 wk)

6.      Whistle-blowing examples and the protection afforded by Federal and state laws. (1 wk)

7.      Trade secrets and the mobile employee. (1 wk)

8.      Patents and patent rights. (1 wk)

9.      Outsourcing of engineering jobs. (1 wk)

10.  The H-1B visa and the immigration debate. (1 wk)





Course Structure: The class meets for one hour each week for discussion of selected topics. A variety of reading assignments will amplify the issues under discussion, and short essays and/or web research may be assigned each week. A final paper will be assigned in lieu of a final exam.

Computer Resources: Students will respond to class assignments on a Catalyst website set up for the class.

Laboratory Resources: None

Outcome Coverage:

(F) An understanding of professional and ethical responsibilities. We discuss society's expectations of a professional, the Code of Ethics established by the IEEE and its applicability to documented ethical and legal conflicts. (H)


(G) An ability to communicate effectively. The class is assigned short essays each week for homework, based on assigned readings or web-based research. The importance of effective communication in English is emphasized. The essays are assessed using a standard rubric. (H)


(H) The broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental and societal context. We discuss several famous lapses of quality engineering practice, such as the Ford Pinto design flaw, which resulted from faulty economic analysis, and the Challenger disaster, which resulted from political pressure. (H)


(I) A recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage in life-long learning. We discuss the half-life of technologies, and the need to maintain competence and sometimes completely reinvent oneself in order to advance one's career. (H)

(J) Knowledge of contemporary issues. We discuss many non-technical contemporary issues that impact the engineering profession, such as changing patent laws, outsourcing and immigration policy. (H)

Prepared By: Martin A. Afromowitz

Date: 4 October 2012