Learning outside your major

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  • #1
Pengwuino
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Ok so I'm currently going to the traditional straight into a university to get my BS and then grad school route and i was wondering something. I'm one of those people that, when they come upon a problem with any sort of 'system', they feel disabled because they don't know how to fix it. For example, if anything except the absolute most basic failures happened to my car, I wouldn't have a clue as to how to fix it myself and I feel weak (and like I am getting screwed) to send it to a mechanic. Another example is computers. I love fooling with them and fixing them and am just fascinated at networking and all that sort of stuff! Now, in my mind, learning what I want to know would require going to some sort of trade school or technical school or a city college and seeing as I am already in a university, I don't think i have much of a chance of learning these skills! Is there any hope for a guy who just wants to be a jack of all trades but also knows what career he eventually wants (with my bachelors or grad school degree)?
 

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  • #2
Dr.Brain
538
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I agree with you.But being a Jack Of all trades is not possible. I myself doing engg. feel that there is some sort of cavity in my learning sphere , sort of incompleteness in the learning process.I resorted to book reading for that. Besides my Engg. , i generally read physics books and learned C-programming by myself.Hope it helps.

BJ
 
  • #3
Pengwuino
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Well, jack of all trades isn't the goal... but there's a few things in very much interested and would love to learn about... namely the ones i mentioned
 
  • #4
devious_
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IMO, the first step to actually knowing how computers work is building one yourself (if you haven't done that already). It's not difficult at all. Do a quick google search and you should find a lot of articles and forums dedicated to it.

Once you start thinking of building a new computer, you should do a lot of research on what parts to get and see comparisons and benchmarks. This in itself is a very rewarding learning experience.
 
  • #5
marlon
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devious_ said:
IMO, the first step to actually knowing how computers work is building one yourself (if you haven't done that already). It's not difficult at all. Do a quick google search and you should find a lot of articles and forums dedicated to it.

Once you start thinking of building a new computer, you should do a lot of research on what parts to get and see comparisons and benchmarks. This in itself is a very rewarding learning experience.

Ok, isn't this a bit of an overstatement ? I mean there is a big difference between knowing how to set up a pc (motherboard, jumpers, harddisks, master-slave, partitioning of the hard disk, software setup, hardware setup,...) and knowing what processes are behind the actual pc-mechanism. I mean, what about semiconductors and their operation, how does a harddisk work, how does a monitor work, what different classes are there...

regards
marlon
 
  • #6
Astronuc
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Part of it the process is to learn by doing. Hopefully, high schools would have courses like 'auto-shop', or junior colleges would have a continuing ed course. I worked on cars with my father, but that started before computerized systems. One can buy maintenance and service manuals for most car models - Chilton's or Haynes manuals comes to mind - and they are available at some bookstores or autoparts place. I used Chilton's for my cars.

or try on-line at - http://www.repairmanual.com/

As for computers, again book stores have lots of books on OS's and apps. Also try the [subject] for Dummies series.

Plus there are on-line forums like www.winguides.com for Windows problems.

For many subjects beyond math and science - for which one has PF - there are forums dedicated to specific interests like gardening, hobbies, home decorating, or whatever. Just surf the net. :biggrin:
 
  • #7
ZapperZ
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Astronuc said:
For many subjects beyond math and science - for which one has PF - there are forums dedicated to specific interests like gardening, hobbies, home decorating, ...

You forgot to mention Disney. How could you?!

:)

I know ultrahigh vacuum systems inside out. I could work with turbo pumps and ion pumps all day, and crawl under vacuum lines to do leak check. I've "repaired" mechanical pumps and even fiddled around with ion gauges. However, if my car goes on a blitz, I send it to a mechanic. I have absolutely no interest in looking under the hood of a car, and certainly feels no need to know how to repair cars. There is no need to HAVE to be a jack-of-all-trades if one wants to be either a physicist or even an engineer. That is just not possible. You end up knowing very little of everything that all you might be good for is to become an "administrator".

Not that there's anything wrong with that if that is what you intend to be.

:)

Zz.
 
  • #8
devious_
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marlon said:
Ok, isn't this a bit of an overstatement ? I mean there is a big difference between knowing how to set up a pc (motherboard, jumpers, harddisks, master-slave, partitioning of the hard disk, software setup, hardware setup,...) and knowing what processes are behind the actual pc-mechanism. I mean, what about semiconductors and their operation, how does a harddisk work, how does a monitor work, what different classes are there...

regards
marlon
I did say first step...
 
  • #9
Pengwuino
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Dang it, let me be a little clearer haha. I knew i wasnt going to get the answer i was looking for. I need a class on asking the right questions!

I do not intend on dropping out of my university for this and i simply want soem of the skills normally identified with a 'jack of all trades'. I also don't want to make a career out of it nor do i care if the skills have anything to do with my career. It'd just be cool to know and handy when looking for jobs for money during grad school. I mean surely its better to have certificates and command a technical school wage then it is to command minimum wage while I am paying for college.

Just out of personal experience I am nearly at the level of A+ certification when it comes to computers. I also wanted to be able to setup and fix servers and such and even learn how to make websites. Of course, the car thing too... i want to achieve Hank Hill status on that... And it seems like people charge an arm and a leg for doing tile so i may want to learn that :D. But of course, these seem to require a trade school or community college
 
  • #10
motai
358
2
ZapperZ said:
I have absolutely no interest in looking under the hood of a car, and certainly feels no need to know how to repair cars. There is no need to HAVE to be a jack-of-all-trades if one wants to be either a physicist or even an engineer.

I find that surprising. I was under the impression that, if one wants to go into a field such as physics or engineering that they need to at least know the basics of how an automobile engine operates.

I can imagine a surly mechanic saying: "What! You plan on majoring in physics and you have no idea where the brake fluid is located in your car!" or something along those lines. :uhh:

Then again, it is probably the stereotype that scientist-types have to know everything in order to not be labeled negatively by the laymen.

It would be useful to be a jack-of-all-trades, but there is too much in this world to learn already. It is like trying desperately to read every single book that has been printed in existence.
 
  • #11
ZapperZ
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motai said:
I find that surprising. I was under the impression that, if one wants to go into a field such as physics or engineering that they need to at least know the basics of how an automobile engine operates.

I can imagine a surly mechanic saying: "What! You plan on majoring in physics and you have no idea where the brake fluid is located in your car!" or something along those lines. :uhh:

Then again, it is probably the stereotype that scientist-types have to know everything in order to not be labeled negatively by the laymen.

It would be useful to be a jack-of-all-trades, but there is too much in this world to learn already. It is like trying desperately to read every single book that has been printed in existence.

I know of a theorist (actually, several theorists) who I don't even trust coming within 10 feet of a power tool, thankyouverymuch. Or try telling one of them that an object is clean and UHV-ready and he STILL wants to pick it up with his bare hands!

I was just pointing out that, even as an experimentalist like me, just because I have some "technical" and engineering skills, I still don't CARE to do a lot of hands-on stuff, especially not related to work. I do a lot of that kind of stuff for a living. The last thing I want to do is use my spare time repairing my car when I can pay someone else to do it.

Zz.
 
  • #12
Pengwuino
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*cries* but i do :( i want to know how lol, that's what this threads about :D
 
  • #13
Dr Transport
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I am a theorist, solid state, computational materials, ok you get the idea. I also spent 21 years as an engineer in the armed forces in the reserves. There is no theory there, it is essentially all hands on. I feel just as comfortable picking up a circular saw or hammer as I do sitting down to write computer code, matter a fact there are some days I do both. Remodelled my living room into a really fancy library with built in book shelves. Even relaced the fuel filter on one of my trucks the other day. You learn by doing plain and simple. My job entails doing both measurement and theory, so jack of all trades may apply, but I like doing both.

Eventually you'll feel comfortable doing more than one thing even though your degree program requires a level of competence.
 
  • #14
devious_
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You can pretty much learn webdesign, networking and setting up servers on the internet. Do you have anything specific in mind?
 
  • #15
Pengwuino
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Dr Transport said:
I feel just as comfortable picking up a circular saw or hammer as I do sitting down to write computer code, matter a fact there are some days I do both. Remodelled my living room into a really fancy library with built in book shelves. Even relaced the fuel filter on one of my trucks the other day.

See, i want to do that! :D Those real world skills are neat and i want to learn them but keep my focus on my major and eventual (hopefully) career in physics. Also, the problem with just going out and doing it is that there are some things where i just have noooooo idea where to start and "training" materials would be expensive. This is especially true in networking because some of these modules cost thousands of dollars and would be much more accessable in a hands-on classroom environment. I also don't want to "learn by doing" when my tire blows out on the freeway or other stuff like that.
 
  • #16
Pengwuino
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devious_ said:
You can pretty much learn webdesign, networking and setting up servers on the internet. Do you have anything specific in mind?

Yah i don't know about that. Learning stuff online kinda doesn't interest me because for some reason i feel like internet learning is dumbed-down learning. Is this true? I'd like to learn webdesign up to a certifiable level (Comptia certifications?). I'd also like to learn networking and servers up to a basic certifiable level as well but again, I am under the impression that online learning is dumbed-down and you don't get a whole lot of 'hands on' experience.

Is internet learning pretty good or are there books out tehre r even accessable classes that would be more helpful?
 
  • #17
cscott
782
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I started at age ~12 (with computers) and learned everything on my own. Before I knew it I was at a first year university level. I find picking up stuff like programming and networking is extremely easy off the internet compared to other things (like physcs), but that could just be me. Forums like this one are really usefull as well. Also, what you don't find on the internet can be found in books.

I can say much about other topics though...
 
  • #18
unggio
23
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hey pengquino, I totally know where you're coming from, I'm a prospective physics or engineering transfer this fall, 21 yrs old.

i used to want to know everything about cars, just so i would not get ripped off. i suggest you just learn to work on cars during your breaks. Say like on long weekends dedicate a full day to doing maintenance on your car. i worked on my own tinting, changed my hoses, drain my radiator, sand and primered, did some bodywork. i also do my own oil changes, filter and all that good stuff. I do most of my work a few times a year. Spring break, before or after summer school, & winter break. Because your car only needs maintence. If you got big problems, like clutch, or timing belt, i suggest you take it to the pros. possibly over summer take a auto class at community college. Also take try to learn some investing, economics, and stuff about IRA's and 401 K's.
 
  • #19
CaptainQuaser
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Hands on experience is great for learning lots of things. You can't be a jack of all trades, but you can know a lot of them.
I am a physics major, but have a degree in theology, and am doing a minor in religion.
I am a proficient carpenter, but its because I built my cabin myself and have had a lot of jobs that require design and building.
I am a pretty good mechanic, but its because my car has broken down so many times I eventually just learned how to fix it.
I took a Cisco systems course and a cirtificate of networking in high school.
I know a lot of stuff about computer because I have built many and am not afraid to tinker on the inner workings and in the programming.
I know a lot about electrical systems because I wired my cabin, assembled the solar system, generator, ect.

You just have to get your hands dirty, I am by no means an "expert" in any of these trades, and would not pursue it as a career path, but you pick up enough so that you do not feel helpless.
 
  • #20
Kazza_765
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The best way to get these life skills is just to live. Do things yourself and don't be afraid to screw it up completely. My roommates car blew up, so instead of taking it to a mechanic we hired an engine crane and put in a new engine. When we first went to some mechanics and asked how hard it would be for two people with almost no experience they all laughed at us. (In the end we got the engine working but buggered the transmission in the process, which we're working on now).
I agree that its hard to find really in depth stuff on the interent but there are universities (like MIT http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html) that are putting all their course information on the net, so look around. I'm an engineering/science ugrad, and I've taken subjects in biology, chemistry, physics, ecology, geology and cosmology as well as my eng subjects.
I spent some time one summer working with a friend of mine who is a landscape gardener so I learned a bit about that and I've just joined a local rally car club so I'm sure I'll get some driving skills through that. Also, when I was young my dad and I used to do any home repairs or anything ourselves, so I got to learn how to use power tools and weld etc. I guess what I'm saying is the best way to be a jack of all trades, especially with hands on things, is just to get out there and do it.
 
  • #21
kdinser
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Pengwuino, 75% of what is on computer and networking certification exams has no practical value in the real world. Most of what you would learn studying for these exams would be useless to you.
 
  • #22
devious_
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What kdinser said is true. I prefer learning computer-related stuff off the internet, and I honestly feel it isn't dumbed down at all as you get to learn from so many experienced people.

For example, if you already know HTML (and, more importantly, CSS) but feel like creating a dynamic website for a change, you might consider picking up http://www.php.net" [Broken]. (The MySQL user manual is also very user-friendly, and the online version has comments too.) Then you'd have the tools to create a forum just like this one. It isn't that hard. :smile:

Of course that's just an example. There are a lot of other programming languages you could learn instead (although I personally prefer PHP), like PERL, ASP/ASP.NET, etc.

Setting up servers and networking isn't that difficult either, after all if you configured Apache then you'd have setup a webserver. Game servers, file servers, and the like aren't too different. Although you might want to spend some time learning how to work in a more server-friendly environment like UNIX or some Linux distro.
 
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  • #23
Pengwuino
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How much programming knowledge is necessary to learn how to setup networks and such. I took a course in C+ programming and i ran out crying :P

And what about networks. How easy is it to learn online? And honestly, i shy away from online learning for another reason... there's waaaaaaaay too many games on my computer to be on it without the urge to play consuming me. Plus i don't have the willpower to take them off :(. If someone could... board up my computer room and give me a book... i bet i could solve the worlds problems!
 
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  • #24
devious_
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Pretty much no programming is needed to setup a network. You just need to have the proper equipment and your OS will take care of the rest for you.

When you say networking, what do you have in mind?
 
  • #25
Pengwuino
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Setting up like small to midsize office networks.
 
  • #26
kdinser
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Setting up small to medium sized networks is very easy. As devious_ said, you don't need to know anything at all about programming in order to do networking. You can learn the basics with just 2 regular computers with network cards and a few components that you should be able to pick up used, very cheaply.

I would start with just 2 computers and a crossover cable. Learn how to get them to ping each other using TCP/IP protocol. From there, learn how to set up shared folders on each machine and copy a few files back and forth.

Next, do a little research on hubs, switches, routers, and DHCP servers. Learn the differences between these devices. Understand why you needed to do some things differently when you set up the 2 pc's using a crossover cable compared to the way your home router works, i.e. just plug in the cables and restart the machine.

That's the basics to get you started, once you get over this first hump, the rest is mostly just learning as you run into problems.
It's more important to learn what's possible and where to find the information to do it then it is to memorize the exact details for every procedure.

No 2 techs have the same knowledge. For instance, I couldn't walk into a room with a bunch of computers and a server and remotely install windows 2k on all of them at the same time from the server, but I know it's possible to do so. I've just never needed to learn how to do that and if I had, odds are, I would have forgotten most of the details by now and would still have to turn to the web or a book to accomplish this task. At the same time, I make repairs on laptops that most techs would either scrap or replace the motherboard or LCD for. In fact, I've got a nice little side business going repairing laptops that other repair shops and techs have declared irreparable or not worth the money to repair. This is largely due to the fact that other techs just don't know it's possible to replace the FL bulb in a LCD or that resoldering or replacing a damaged USB port or DC input is an easy to learn procedure.

One other thing, if you want to learn some programming, I would start with java. It can be tough to learn the basics of programming along with all the little details that C++ requires you to keep track of. Once you learn the basics of using variables, arrays, loops, methods, classes, and objects, picking up another language is pretty straight forward. Programming classes go into a LOT more theory then is needed to become a programmer.
 
  • #27
so-crates
294
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Setting up like small to midsize office networks.

This is pretty easy these days. Run wires(probably the hardest part. If its not in an office with easy access to the celing and behidn the walls, you will have to ripout drywall which is a MAJOR headache) Plug into Linksys router. Plug router into gateway. Done.

As for cars, stuff like changing your fluids is not hard at all. The other stuff you might be able to swing if you get the service manual and have the right tools. The thing is these days, they are putting microchips in everything and it is getting more complicated to repair stuff.

I think you'll find that learning a lot of these pragmatic skills are usually an issue of 1) necessity and 2) time. I have a brother who has profesor in biophysics. When he was in college, the manual transmission his car (which he bought for $1000 used if I remember correctly) broke, so he decided to fix it himself. So he spent the entire weekend reparing it. Most people look at this and decide that a couple hundred bucks is not worth losing their entire weekend over, so they just send it to a mechanic. And with the warranties and dealer service deals, this is becoming less and less necessary.
 
  • #28
russ_watters
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ZapperZ said:
I know of a theorist (actually, several theorists) who I don't even trust coming within 10 feet of a power tool, thankyouverymuch.
Well, that may be a difference between scientists and engineers then: I heard of few engineers who haven't taken apart just about every mechanical or electrical device they own.

And every time I get a car fixed, I start thinking I need to join a club...
 
  • #29
Kazza_765
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I don't know what it is like overseas, but here you can learn a lot of hands on stuff from TAFE's (I don't know what the equivalent is overseas, but after high school here you can either go to uni or to TAFE. TAFE is like uni if you want to be a tradesman). My dad recentely took a welding course in the evenings, which would have cost a bit to just do the short course they have, but by enrolling in the professional course it was subsidised by the government and he hardly had to pay a cent.
 
  • #30
Pengwuino
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Well i guess i do know more about networking then i thought i did. One thing i saw is this network at my mothers office. You can get on any computer and log in with your information and you can work on "your computer" at any computer as long as you have your login id and password inside the office. They also had a centralized business class printer and copier and it was intimidating because each person had to use their ID to print something up. I went in not having a clue as to how to do it but it turned out to be insanely easy! I wish i could see a real world office network diagram because i know there's more advanced networks then one with just a router and a few switches.
 

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