Today's Engineering Curricula
by Robert A. Pease
Our Editor's Notebook \[Oct. 14, p. 26\] on educational software produced this interesting exchange between a reader and Bob Pease, renowned champion of analog technology.
RAP: "Educational Software"—isn't that a contradiction? Most software just enhances stupidity. It confirms mediocrity and conformity and does not support those of us who have to invent new things that work!
Reader: I'm a 2000 graduate with a BS-ETE from MSOE in Milwaukee, Wis. I found some of the comments in your article hit pretty close to home. I am currently in a position that requires me to manage a product right from the sketches on toilet paper to the delivery of the end product on customers' doorsteps! It's great and I feel extremely lucky to have as much re-sponsibility as I do. But, I have found that school did not prepare me for this role.
RAP: Yeah, but was it starting to be helpful? No school can teach you all that you need to get along in life. At best, a good school can teach you how to learn fast!
Reader: In terms of being able to learn quickly and adapt, yes, I was prepared. But my analog design skills were terrible out of school.
RAP: 0, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, and probably 70 and 90 years ago, that was true—about learning analog methods, test methods, even, or analysis. Design methods are almost never taught in any school. Period.
Reader: As your column stated, our focus as students was the "cool digital stuff." VHDL was fun and new, digital logic was great, and everyone treated analog as if it were a retired five-star general; yeah it's neat, but it's old and not useful anymore.... Boy, were we ignorant!
RAP: Most students coming out of college are. I was. But I knew I was stupid, and I had a chance to learn.
Reader: Turns out analog is everything I do! I wish more emphasis had been placed on transistors and op amps, and most certainly on EMI-RFI shielding and theory.
RAP: Did your college have no courses on this? Go back and bitch like hell!
Reader: These are practical issues I deal with every day, yet I feel as though I have minimal basic knowledge to draw from. I've come to accept that I won't be taking over "Pease Porridge" anytime within the next 25 years, and that it takes time to be exposed to the analog world and all the applications of it.
RAP: Your ability to admit your ignorance—and admit you're in the middle of a severe learning curve—qualifies you to give it a try!
Reader: I've only begun to dabble in PWM and op-amp circuits, and I try to glean a little bit from each issue of Electronic Design and other publications to stay on top of technology. I figure we're all in charge of our own continuing education, right?
Reader: In defense of my alma mater, I don't think any college can prepare everybody for everything, and I believe, generally speaking, that most jobs are in the digital/communications field.
RAP: Yeah, but engineers in those fields get cranked out like cookies from a cookie-cutter, and are worth as much.
Reader: Most of our courseload dealt with the analog circuit domain. However, I think without the practical application of the concepts learned (i.e., real design project requirements), the theoretical details seem nothing more than test material.
Hope you can use this feedback.
RAP: The real world is an analog world. And it ain't a simple place! You are struggling, just as all of us who work in the demanding realm of linear circuits do, most of the time. And we are gonna prevail, and you are gonna prevail. Thanks for the comments! The world is not a simple place, and the analog world is singularly difficult to learn. Best wishes! / rap
Oust Edison From Hall Of Fame
Somehow, I can't see Edison in your Engineering Hall Of Fame, despite his reputation. My reasons are many.
Dc dynamos versus ac generators: He adored dc, even up to the point of inventing the electric chair to scare the bejebers out of anybody dumb enough to use Tesla's ac. He had absolutely no grasp that power sources and power users often were long distances apart. (What about farms?)
His initial design for the phonograph: It did not permit you to remove the recording from the machine and save it. (Probably only a minor limitation, as he saw it.)
The Edison effect: (Named after him, but like many other things, discovered by others.) It was essentially an early vacuum tube, but he saw no earthly use for it and considered it a curiosity only.
The light bulb: He tried hundreds of compounds before finally giving up and realizing that you had to get the air out of the bulb to keep the filament from burning up.
In short, the only thing Edison really invented was the think tank. He was very good at getting others to do the thinking, but he took the credit.
He really knew how to apply for patents and use them ruthlessly. Were he running a company today, it would make Enron look like small potatoes.
Okay, now that I got that out of my system, I feel much better. Thanks for listening.