Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Practical skills for EE

  1. Dec 24, 2012 #1
    Hi everyone,

    I'm going to be finishing the end of my third year in electrical / electronic engineering (my school doesn't have specialization until fourth year), and I am starting to realize that I am lacking in a lot of practical skills! (ie. soldering, hardware design, programming, general electronics stuff) I do enjoy EE, but unfortunately I was not an electronics hobbyist growing up (I didn't really do anything productive as a teenager) and so I did not learn many of these things.

    I do know how to use test equipment, prototype digital / analog circuits on a breadboard, do some soldering, and I also have done programming for school in C / C++ / Assembler. My question is for those of you who have strong practical skills, how did you learn? Did you think of interesting projects and just work at them, or did you do more of working through certain books? Just looking for some advice to point me in the right direction. Thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 25, 2012 #2

    jim hardy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    No takers yet? Here's an old obsolete guy's two cents worth..

    I had the great fortune to have a very practical high school electronics teacher. He taught us boys circuit analysis and radio fundamentals. After getting the basic circuit analysis (laws of Ohm, Kirchoff, Lenz etc) from an elementary electronics textbook, we switched to the RCA Receiving Tube Manual . Each student asembled an AM and an FMradio rceiver from a kit, and we learned the purpose of each individual component.
    Every Friday was project day, every student was required to pick something and build it. Many kids built Ham radios and teacher helped them study for the ARRL exam.
    Back in those days every trashpile had an old TV which was a source of parts. Zeniths were particular prizes because of their "Hand Wired Chassis". The parts were soldered in with long enough lead wires to be clipped out and re-used.

    That's my story.

    You'll learn many times faster by doing than by reading.
    I'd advise perusing some hobby sites and ordering a kit for something that interests you.
    With your education you can be a great help at hobbyist community boards where folks are struggling up the learning curve.

    Here's a link to one hobby site i used to frequent,
    peruse the thread "Stereo" to see how one interested newbie progressed. It's under "Popular Topics" on right. He was working on an associate's degree.

    Ramsey & Kitsrus are two outfits that make nice quality kits
    Do a google on hobby electronic sites and see what comes up. Many members here are knowledgeable of hobbyist sites. ARRL is THE site for amateur radio, and is always at cutting edge of communications technology.

    Another handy skill these days is automotive electronic systems.They're amazngly complex. You might buy a set of factory shop manuals for whatever you drive, and one of those OBD to USB interfaces. Armed with that you can master the computers that control your car.
    A Life Observation - Engineers are notorious for being able to keep jalopies running - every place i've worked the engineer's parking lot was an object of consternation for the everyday folks making huge car payments. If you don't get into that car payment cycle you can retire a few years early.

    Good luck and have fun !

    btw - i just bought a '68 Ford pickup truck. It'll last the rest of my life.
    No 'check engine' light, no metric bolts, no frustration...
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2012
  4. Dec 25, 2012 #3
    While Jim is probably more than twice my age, I learned from the same old-school sources. The ARRL is probably the single best thing to ever happen to the USA as far as incubating young EEs. The amount of knowledge held by their members and published in their numerous books is second to none. In this age of mediocrity the spirit of the club and it's books are breathtaking.

    Though I'm an ME, I grew up building electronic kits as a kid. As a teenager I landed a summer job manufacturing SMT double-sided memory boards (screening, baking, testing). Out of school with my BSME I ended up working as an electronics tech fixing telephone switch boards until I could find an ME position.

    Traditional PCB soldering is pretty simple as long as you remember to heat the lead/pad and then apply the solder.

    The first generation of SMT components (early 90s) didn't seem all that bad. Hot plates and heat guns both worked well as well as a small iron. The components were still big enough that the higher melting temp of silver solder didn't kill them, so double sided boards were no big deal.

    With the second generation of SMT components (early 00s) came the RoHS nonsense concerning lead-free solder. The use of non-lead solders requiring higher heat and the decreased size of the ICs which could not stand the heat became a big problem for a lot of formerly reputable American manufacturers now making stuff in China with cold joints. That's when my interest in the hobby dropped off. Unless you wanted to pay $10 for a mil-spec potentiometer, you were getting crap and on top of that few ICs came in the DIP package that was breadboard-able. That was when the era of going to Radio Shack to buy parts had it's final nail driven into the coffin.

    These days when I prototype something at work, I prefer to solder everything even though it's simple stuff because I know it will stand up to shock.

    I'd suggest you pick up some books with circuits, pick up some parts and start building some amps, oscillators and comparators. Anything like interfacing a BASIC stamp should come easy to you after that. FWIW, the fastest way to prototype digital circuits is with wirewrap. Or at least it used to be.
  5. Dec 25, 2012 #4
    Alright, thanks for the advice! I'll be sure to check out the resources that you guys posted before I get swamped with school work again.
  6. Dec 25, 2012 #5

    jim hardy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

  7. Dec 27, 2012 #6
    Engineers are thinkers. Buying a car that you can't afford is not thinking. hehe. However, it's good to spoil yourself on a nice car if you can afford it. Engineers have money so it shouldn't be a problem.
  8. Dec 27, 2012 #7

    jim hardy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I once had a Lincoln Continental.
    Soon learned it was hard to keep all those fancy frills working, and the money for payments was better spent on a nicer house and taking the kids fishing.

    Thoreau said it - "Simplify, Simplify".
    I drive $2,500 cars because they last me half as long as $25,000 cars.
    $250 a year depreciation beats $2500.

    But the Lincoln did ride like a cloud.

    old jim
  9. Dec 27, 2012 #8
    My interest in electronics started out when I was at university (somewhen in the middle of the last century) and others around me were making audio amplifiers. I couldn't afford to buy one so I thought if they could build one so could I. It developed from there, with help from those around me.

    go well in your studies.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook