Electronic Design

Bob's Mailbox

Dear Bob:
I have stood on the sideline watching the degree vs. no-degree issue rage on in your column, and have often been tempted to write, but finally I am galvanized to write after reading the letter by Cory Hamasaki in the Dec. 2, 1993 issue. First I would like to say that I have worked as an electronic technician for over 10 years, during which I have worked in all aspects of computers and electronics. I have also spent the last 12 years attending classes part time, working toward a BSEE degree, while working a full-time position.

I take exception to several points Cory Hamasaki stated as fact, but which my extensive experience has shown to be false.

The statement about testing out of lower-level courses for credit is misleading. To test out of a class, a student must take the equivalent of the final exam for that particular class. Due to the theoretical approach of engineering schools, this test will invariably test specific mathematical analysis approaches to electrical circuits. Only diligent and lengthy individual study, or taking the class, will provide this specific information. Testing out of classes is not an option.

The statement about credit for work experience is totally misleading and false if the school is accredited by ABET. ABET specifically does not allow credit for work experience, but only for transfer credit from approved programs. Independent study is allowed for three or four credit hours at most engineering schools, but so far my inquiries have received the response that previous work would not apply.

Also, almost no credit I earned towards my Associate degree in electrical engineering technology was transferred towards my Electrical Engineering degree. ABET has ruled that technology and engineering shall never be intermixed.

The statement that a school would tailor a program if you work with them is ridiculous. I know of no school that would waive their specific graduation requirements. Certainly at the schools I have attended, the Engineering programs clearly define and specify which classes one must take to graduate. There are technical electives that one has the leeway to select to pursue a field of specialization, but these are often the most demanding and difficult classes in the program.

The statement about the professor having real expertise made me laugh. In the last few years, I have learned how not to correct my professors. I realized that this was not helping me get my degree.

In my applied design classes, I now let the professors state whatever false, out of date, and misleading information they want to, and I readily regurgitate this false information on homework assignments, and on tests, so that I get the correct grade. My experience has been that the only time I have not had greater knowledge of the material than the professors has been in the case of my theoretical classes.

The statement about your employer paying for tuition and allowing time off from work also is misleading. It is true that my current employer allows me time off from work so that I may attend classes. They also require me to make up all the time I take off to attend class. Previously, when I worked for a major computer company in a research laboratory, they allowed me time off to attend classes, and paid for my test books and tuition. Sounds great, but the reality has been, and continues to be, that I was resented by my management for taking advantage of this perk.

Certainly, the company's needs have always been expected to come first, regardless of exam or school project assignments. I remember while I was working there during the semester I took chemistry and differential equations, I was expected to finish a project at work on schedule. This entailed my being out of state frequently during the semester, and often being expected to work 60-hour weeks. Yes, I completed my project on schedule, but my grades certainly reflected the time I was allowed to pursue my school work.

With all this griping, you may wonder why I continue to pursue this degree. It is because I am tired of having to prove the hard way that I know what I am doing. I am tired of having people automatically close the door in my face because I do not have a degree. Currently, I am the Laboratory Manager for a small computer research company, but I am only begrudgingly allowed to perform design tasks, as I am not an engineer.

Recently, I have had design consulting opportunities that I learned more from while performing my job than I have learned from all my classes. But I will persevere, so that hopefully sometime soon I too can put BSEE after my name.

Thanks, Bob, for writing such an insightful column. It's always refreshing to read something so firmly grounded in reality
Blacksburg, Va.
I figured that it would turn out like this. Good luck on your degree work—and on your REAL education.—RAP

Hi Robert:
I was reading your column on "Technical Reading Stuff" in the March 7 issue, and much to my surprise I noticed that you had a question about books on printed circuit design. There are currently two books covering this subject that I can recommend highly to those who would like to do some real art and get away from the mechanical humdrum of CAD design software.

Both of these books were published by Bishop Graphics, which is now owned by Chartpack Co. I do believe they are still available, however. The books are titled Analog Printed Circuit Design and Drafting and Digital Printed Circuit Design and Drafting. Both are by Darryl Lindsey and should be available from Chartpack for about $60.00 apiece. A beginner's layout kit used to be available from Bishop for both texts, but I don't know if that's still the case.

Any person that reads these books will find they are well written, although details on why things are done thus and such are sometimes scant. These books are oriented toward the artistic as well as the practical user with 3-color plates illustrating the art masters, and exercises to boot. As a professional "layout/designer" type I would recommend these books for anyone who is at an entry or advanced level.

The one piece of advice I can give to anyone who wishes to pursue board design is know how to draft by hand (as well as by computer) first. To achieve elegant as well as functional layouts that are logical, one must be a lot of artist, with very little engineer/designer.

It takes a God-given talent to really excel in laying out boards that are superior to PC-generated objects, but anyone can benefit from the knowledge contained in these volumes.
Bakersfield, Calif.
For some aspects of layout (grounds, noise, crosstalk, interference), the engineer's insights are still quite important. We found where to order those two books, and also a book on Surface Mount Technology ($72.40). Call Fine Line Photo at (800) 560-8400. I'm buying all three books.—RAP

All for now. / Comments invited! RAP / Robert A. Pease / Engineer

Mail Stop D2597A
National Semiconductor
P.O. Box 58090
Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090

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