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13 year old wants to become engineer/technician, what activities should he do now

  1. Jan 11, 2012 #1
    My 13-year-old son is considering his future and has indicated that he would be interested in joining the navy with a view to a career in Weapon Engineering , Communications Officer or Engineer Technician!

    As his dad who wants him to make the path as easy as possible for him, are there any 'activities' you would recommend that he could do now which would assist him.

    Obviously he may change his mind further down the line but at the moment that is the direction he is interested in.

    Thanks for reading and any help will be gratefully accepted.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 11, 2012 #2
    Get him a subscription to "Make" magazine and a $200/month material budget.
  4. Jan 11, 2012 #3


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    Have him take as much math and science as he can in school.
  5. Jan 11, 2012 #4


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    Math, math, math & math.

    Plus some math.
  6. Jan 11, 2012 #5
    Couldn't have said it better! It is a lesson I am learning myself.

  7. Jan 11, 2012 #6
    Building fun projects things keeps interest and motivation up. Too much math study could backfire.
  8. Jan 12, 2012 #7
    I'm not quite sure - why is "math math math" the recommendation? Is there something more mathematical about such a job than any other in engineering?

    Personally, I found learning too much math brought me out of touch with the things that can turn out to matter a lot in engineering. I'd tend to say science science science! That stuff can involve math, but it keeps it in perspective as a tool.

    I'm just puzzled, not doubting what anyone is saying or anything.
  9. Jan 12, 2012 #8


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    Because way too many freshmen realize they don't know the basics good enough.

    This is based on what we observe on forums, what the students struggle with most often.
  10. Jan 12, 2012 #9
    Oh OK, I see. Yes, if there's too little math going on, it's definitely a danger. I should go ahead and caution though that there is such a thing as upsetting the balance :) there's something to be said of remembering what the math is for.

    I mean unless he wants to get sucked into math as a discipline, which is also great but not quite the intent here.
  11. Jan 12, 2012 #10


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    I'd second Antiphon's suggestion. Just learning pure math without any direct applications may not really do the trick. You wouldn't even know where to start! I'd rather suggest him to do something cool which keeps him interested (like, building stuff); that is the best way of seeing that some of that abstract stuff is actually required and helpful in the real world. Many people have learned linear algebra because they needed it for making circuits or for programming music synthesizers.

    From my own experience: When I was a child, I learned tons of math, comp sci, and english(!) simply because I needed it for my actual hobby: programming. I would never have set out to a task like "hey, let's learn english vocabulary because I might need it in the future!"; but if you read thousands of pages of technical documentation over the years, some of those things come automatically. It's the same thing with math and other topics.
  12. Jan 12, 2012 #11

    I like Serena

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    By now, I've tutored and helped many would-be engineers.

    Most commonly their problem is with arithmetic and basic math.
    Adding, multiplying, and simplifying fractions.
    Calculating expressions with parentheses in them and applying the priority rules.
    Manipulating expressions with powers in them.
    Solving basic equations or systems of equations.

    Modern school systems seem to neglect these skills, relying on calculators instead.

    So we're not talking about pure math, but just basic math skills.
    I recommend that you see to it, that he learns those.
  13. Jan 12, 2012 #12
    Math is essential for understanding concepts and getting through school. However, as one mentor told me when I started working as an engineer: If you're doing something that requires more than basic arithmetic, STOP. You're probably reinventing the wheel somewhere. More than likely, you will make a mistake and then you won't be doing anyone any favors.

    In my career so far, spanning 25 years, I have only very rarely had to solve differential equations, integrals, or any of the higher math that people study so religiously in college. Most of my work can be described with basic trig and arithmetic rules of thumb.

    Also note, as someone who took an interest in engineering starting at age 10, you shouldn't have to push. Feed the curiosity, but don't push.
  14. Jan 12, 2012 #13
    I couldn't agree more! At his age, development of social skills is probably more important than math skills, dance lessons might be better than math lessons right now.
  15. Jan 12, 2012 #14
    Make sure he takes math, science, and engineering classes as he gets into high school. Push him to strive for the highest grades possible so he will be able to get into a good school.
  16. Jan 12, 2012 #15


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    Hey radi and welcome to the forums.

    I suggest some programming. Doesn't have to be overly technical, but usually this kind of work requires some kind of programming of some sort.

    Maybe he could write a simple game like a guessing game, or a text-based game to start off with. Although QBASIC doesn't teach you how to become a "good technical programmer", I would still recommend it since it is very easy to learn and the results can be seen pretty quickly.
  17. Jan 12, 2012 #16


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    I agree, but I'd use Python instead, as it's easy to learn and use and has a large amount of technical libraries available.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2012
  18. Jan 13, 2012 #17


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    Yeah I guess we've come a long way since I learned to program: above recommendation is good for the OP.
  19. Jan 13, 2012 #18

    I had a comment about this. It seems to depend A LOT on what sort of engineering one is pursuing. There are obviously people out there in, say, EE who deal with lots of sophisticated math, but that's because they like to put that stuff to use.

    What I recommend to a 13 year old is to provide exposure to various things the interest in engineering can help with. I agree the basic math skills should be given, and also basic communication skills.

    There are a LOT of things one can build/solve. If you overdo the math, the kid may find himself/herself pushed into doing something math-y as a path of least resistance.

    Learning some programming sounds like great advice.

    I think one of the biggest issues with schooling for engineering is that kids have no idea what the subject is about until they get to college. Well, at least most of them. A mixture of the hands on, books, basic math skills and programming is probably best to keep the options open, so that in college, none of these things hold him/her back from experimenting with various courses, projects, etc.
  20. Jan 23, 2012 #19
    Folks, thank you all very much for your replies and I will take heed of all the advice.
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