A short while back, I wrote an article entitled Whatever Happened To The Electronics Hobbyist? The response was overwhelming. Thanks to all of you who wrote to express your thoughts about this topic. So many of those respondents actually took the path from hobbyist to career and are concerned that this infrequently taken path today is leaving us with a shortage of engineers.
Most of you agreed with my conclusions, but your comments revealed some interesting alternative viewpoints. Maybe my somewhat gloomy view is not so gloomy after all. Here are a few highlights of your comments.
- Many of you agreed that the hard-core electronic hobbyists today are the hams. I am still of that opinion; it is still a great path to a career. Along that line, reader Dennis Silage, a PhD and professor at Temple University, indicated that he has taken to introducing amateur radio in the undergraduate EE curriculum as a way to stimulate interest in electronics—particularly the hands-on part. I think this is a great idea, as well as a parallel and alternative to the heavy emphasis on robotics in college curricula today.
- Some of you indicated that the “new” hobbyist is really the programmer. Reader, Jimm Hiffmann, said this: "What they are doing is writing software. Software writing provides the same type of mental challenges—puzzle solving, if you will—that building electronics did in the 60's and 70's." I agree with that view in terms of a large part of the current hobbyist population. These hobbyists are writing software for PCs apps as well as programming for embedded controllers.
- A good number of you offered info on the current DIY and hobbist movements around the country. The editor of the Analog Zone Web site, Lee Goldberg, had an interesting piece on the TechShop, a San Francisco, Calif. Bay area venture for local hobbyists to get their hands on equipment and to make projects, in his recent article. Check it out at www.analogzone.com/nete0312.htm. Thanks, Lee.
- Reader John Guy suggests we all visit the following Web sites. I think they are definitely worth a look:
These Web sites are certainly relevant to today’s hobbyist. Hack a Day seems to practice the systems view of electronics I mentioned in my original article, as it covers lots of tear downs, combinations, modifications and enhancements to existing gear. Makezine is the Web site of Make magazine, a publication that features electronic projects as well as a wide range of other mechanical and other projects. They also sponsor Maker Faires, an event that bring together hobbyists and DIYers. There are Faires coming up in May in San Mateo, Calif. and October in Austin, Tex.
And reader, Matt, a 16 year old said he had gotten hooked on restoring old radios. He said to check out www.antiqueradios.com.
- Finally, reader John Conkle said: "I agree with many of your observations and conclusions but I think the overriding factor is that we have done a wonderful job creating value in all things electronic. We did our job and we changed the world." That really sums it up, don't you think? Did we really think things wouldn't change? Probably not, but so much?
I think we can conclude that the hobby of electronics is still around, but in a much different form than before. It is a better fit for what electronics is today. It's not gone, it's just different. But hopefully it will indeed lead some of the younger participants to a career in electronics.