Am I out of touch with modern electronics?

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by recklessrog, Apr 22, 2016.

  1. recklessrog

    Thread Starter Well-Known Member

    May 23, 2013
    I recently helped a college student build a variable power supply. He is an intelligent lad who is nearing the end of his electronics courses and is keen to progress. What surprised me is the lack of fundamental properties that he is being taught nowadays. It is as though the courses are designed to give a brief outline of how a resistor, capacitor, inductor, semiconductor etc. are supposed to work, and rush the student as quickly as possible into how to use microprocessors, programming etc. because we are "in the digital age"
    I have a fear that like other technologies, the basic fundamentals are going to be swallowed up and lost by computer aided design that spits out component values and designs without explanations of why that component is required, how it interacts with other circuit components, the effects of changing its value etc.

    As an example of comparison, look at the art of metal foundering, from smelting to casting and all the highly skilled processes that were required to produce high quality products. Nowadays, very few people have the skills to do that sort of work because it's all in a computer program. How many modern foundry workers fully understand every technique? the few that do will soon be gone and then what? Refer to the computer to work it out for you?

    The gradual shift on reliance of "somebody else has the answer for what I don't know, or am to lazy, or don't have the time to research myself" attitude is pervasive and corrosive, as often shown on this forum by the frequent requests from those who think it is right to have instant answers given to them, when sometimes, just a little bit of effort on their part would have given them the answer.
    Maybe they just need to post "something, anything" or just need instant gratification.
    This forum has some excellent tutorials in the Education section, where the answers to so many questions can be found, but only if the TS bothered to look.
    Maybe there is not enough guidance to this section by those who reply to threads, should we be more pro-active in directing attention to the existence of the relevant section?

    Maybe, like #12, I'm just an old fart and out of touch! :) (sorry #12, Im not suggesting you are out of touch, but just an old fart lol)
    I really would love to know what others think.
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2016
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  2. #12


    Nov 30, 2010
    We who never stop learning lament about, "the next generation". It's natural to worry about them, but I'll bet there are more like us than it seems. After all, this is a miserable place to take a poll of the average level of achievement. It's a teaching site! People who are honestly trying to improve themselves are our bread and butter...or they would be if we got paid.:D

    I don't think it's as bad as it looks, but I've done my share of worrying, too. When a new-grad with a BSEE asks how to find the collector of a transistor, it bothers me. Is this the state of our colleges, or is this just another person who got forced into college by his father the engineer? I will probably never know because the smart ones don't need our help.
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  3. bertus


    Apr 5, 2008

    I know that electronics is changing.
    When I started as a service engineer, 30 years ago, I would go to the customer with a bag of parts a soldering iron and an oscilloscope.
    Time was not so critical those days. I could fix the machine on site in a reasonable time.

    Nowerdays, there are software test programs, that can test boards on site and tell you wich board needs to be changed.
    The fun for an electronics guy like me is gone for a great deal.

    I also noticed on this site that a lot of electronics is done in simulation and not by really building stuff.

    cmartinez, #12, Johann and 2 others like this.
  4. GopherT

    AAC Fanatic!

    Nov 23, 2012
    Even in the field of engineering, many need to be "ditch-diggers", keeping equipment running or setting up/reconfiguring for the next production run or training customer from stock training manuals; some need to be "average", designing manufacturing processes and quality/safety tests and what ever standard engineering tasks need to be done; some need to be "good" and take care of trouble-shooting off-spec products and solving customer problems; some need to be "extraordinary" - these people develop / design / create new things - they identify problems and opportunities and really "get-it" the first time they see it or read it and use creativity. They are "naturals".

    Believe me, the next generation will be fine.
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  5. recklessrog

    Thread Starter Well-Known Member

    May 23, 2013
    I hope the smart ones outnumber the others, maybe I'm out of touch with what is being taught. All I really know is that I grew up and worked with very highly skilled people and strove at every opportunity to increase my knowledge, and the effort I put in was rewarded by me working on some frontline projects. I have never stopped learning.
    As a side note to any hobby newbies, even just a basic understanding of fundamentals and an ordinary school level of maths and algebra will open up a world of fun with electronics which without it, would always remain a mystery.
  6. recklessrog

    Thread Starter Well-Known Member

    May 23, 2013
    I hope so :)
  7. ErnieM

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 24, 2011
    I am sure one day in the dim past someone stood there cursing out the current generation of lazy kids who don't bother learning how to chip flint but instead go up river and trade for one of the new dangled iron knifes.

    Ever make even a resistor*? You buy parts and assembly just like the rest of us do.

    Computers are a great design aid, but as always they work as good as the guy running it.

    * Actually I have made resistors when I was working in the hybrid area, both from a design standpoint and actually silk screening the inks. Still, I did not make the ink, nor the oven they were fired in, nor...
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  8. OBW0549

    Distinguished Member

    Mar 2, 2015
    I think you have to be somewhat cautious about drawing general conclusions from what we see here; after all, we generally don't encounter all the people who DID pay attention in class, had little or no trouble mastering the material presented, were willing to put forth the effort needed to do so, are resourceful enough to look up whatever information they need on the Internet, and have enough common sense to RTFDS. From what we see here, I don't think we can infer much about the clueless/clueful ratio.

    That said, I agree it's annoying-- disturbing, even-- to see so many people who can't figure out something on their own with a bit of help from Google, especially when there is such an enormous amount of information freely available.
  9. Robin Mitchell

    Distinguished Member

    Oct 25, 2009

    I agree that my generation (and uni is to blame here), gloss over the finer details of electronics which in my opinion is dangerous.
    The only reason why I understand EMI, fundamentals and analogue electronics is because electronics was a hobby before I did a degree in it. When we looked at electronics in uni it was very much "analogue is being phased out", and "here is how you use micro-processors". Look at the modern electronics market! Arduino, raspberry pi etc. They are black boxes full of nothing! It is fair to assume that there is a reasonable percentage of these product users (not all but definitely some), who expect code to be pre-written for them. For example, I want to use a 16 x 2 LCD, get a library! I want to use an I2C....get a library. I want to know how to connect to the internet...get a library. I know that libraries are useful for saving time but when you start to rely on such software for doing the most basic stuff such as lcd interfacing then eventually the hardware will be a complete mystery.

    I2C classic example:
    Bought arduino > Gets I2C Chip > "SDA, SCL, dont know what they are, stick em where it says to" > Download Library > Connect
    The system does not work. Therefore the arduino is bad. Of course the person probably did not put appropriate pull up resistors on the SDA and SCL lines. They would pick this up if they A) knew the basics of the hardware that they are interfacing with and B) understood what was going on between the arduino and I2C device.

    Its good to make things easier to interface with, it is bad to rely on said system so that you dont have to learn it.

    Personally I like to know the finest details in my circuit so that I know what every part is doing! That approach to attitude helps to debug circuits very fast because if you know the nature of the error then it is easy to isolate and fix. That is why I am so terrible at software! Cant program and cant debug! I am a hardware guy :)
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  10. AverageJoe

    New Member

    Apr 12, 2016
    If it's any consolation, there has been a movement in past few years to get back to the fundamentals of electronics.

    For example:

    Several years ago, the team responsible for the Raspberry Pi was lamenting over the same problem, but from the computing side. Kids were going through school learning how to use a mouse, a keyboard, and a handful of Office applications, but generally had no idea how computers worked on basic levels.


    They created the Raspberry Pi to fill in a gap left behind by the BBC Micro (the Raspberry Pi foundation is a British organization), the Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari 400/800, etc etc computers - when people first learned how to make computers do things by programming them in BASIC.

    I remember getting more excited at finding an Extended BASIC cartridge for my TI-99 4/A (sprites!!) than anything technological that's come out recently. All the iWhatevers available today require no more electronics awareness than a toaster.

    Anyway, the point is, this new class of "maker" tech like the Raspberry Pi, the Arduino, wearable electronics, and others is beginning to have a real impact on the youngest (and even older) generations - reintroducing those electronics basics that you mentioned.

    Since these devices allow, and are actually designed for interfacing with the real world around us, it forces us to go back to the beginning and start from the bare metal. No recent tech I've purchased would have ever made me wonder what a pull-up resistor or a bypass capacitor was, but now I can actually build timer circuits and integrate ICs into little projects just by reading datasheets and a whole lot of internet stuff.

    I think it's a cycle - we've been through the decline, maybe a resurgence is beginning. Hell, I never thought I'd have a use for my vinyl collection again, and now I hear some crazy people are trying to bring back audio cassette tapes?!
  11. Papabravo


    Feb 24, 2006
    Industry has a wonderful way of weeding out the so-so. If you work on a project and it succeeds, then you go on to another one which also succeeds. Sometimes you have an epic fail. What happens after that makes a huge difference. Sometimes you have a string of epic fails and you start an herb garden instead.
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2016
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  12. crutschow


    Mar 14, 2008
    But, except perhaps for some of the homework problems, aren't most of those simulations for the purpose of helping design a circuit that will be built?
    I know many lament simulators as perverting the design process, and in some cases they do, but they also can be a great tool in understanding how circuits operate and optimizing design.
    Where else can you readily see all the circuit voltages and currents at any frequency when it's operating?
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2016
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  13. recklessrog

    Thread Starter Well-Known Member

    May 23, 2013
    But should they not be able to work out those parameters themselves? if they could, then they would have a far better understanding of what they are doing and also know how and why to modify it if required?
    When I was a child I had Meccano, I could build from the plans and because I had a good grasp of mechanics at an early age, I could also correct the deliberate errors that were sometimes put in to the construction notes.
  14. BReeves


    Nov 24, 2012
    This thread reminds me of thoughts I have every once in a while... I'm old enough to often wonder what would happen if we had to fight WW2 today. If you have ever looked at some of the stats on what this country produced in the 4 years of that war you will be totally amazed. I'm pretty sure we couldn't possibly do it today.
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  15. nsaspook

    AAC Fanatic!

    Aug 27, 2009
    If we reverted to the human, environmental and safety regulations of the 40's with modern technology we could make the equivalent war material production levels of WW2 look small in 4 years if our lives depended on it.
  16. WBahn


    Mar 31, 2012
    My $0.02: Simulators are fantastic tools that are horribly abused. The same is true of calculators and countless other pieces of modern technology.

    Are students, as a whole, less versed in the fundamentals than they were a generation ago (and a generation before that)? I think the answer is a definite yes. But I also acknowledged that that observation was almost certainly true when applied to my generation compared to the prior generation, too. I do, however, believe that the rate of degradation has increased significantly and continues to do so.

    At the same time, there are still students that are just as sharp and curious and motivated as ever -- nothing significant has happened to the human genome in recent generations.
  17. WBahn


    Mar 31, 2012
    We certainly don't have the manufacturing infrastructure in place that we once did, but that aside we might come closer than would be expected. I don't think people, including the people responsible for making these kinds of projections at the time, came close to anticipating the industrial output that America achieved during WWII. Interestingly, I've been watching a documentary on WWII that includes a lot of letters and articles written at the time and they were concerned back then about whether "today's generation of youth" had what it took to make the sacrifices necessary to win the war -- I think history pretty firmly answered that question. So while we might have similar reservations today, we do need to remind ourselves that people, be they students or soldiers, generally rise to the level of your expectations (and seldom very far above them).
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  18. cmartinez

    AAC Fanatic!

    Jan 17, 2007
    Funny you should say that... last year I went through a very rough patch... and it wasn't until I learned to relax and enjoy the scent of the rosemary growing in my garden that things took a turn for the better... failure is the best teacher of them all... but sadly, it's also the most brutal ...
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  19. OBW0549

    Distinguished Member

    Mar 2, 2015
    For sure, the "maker movement" has rekindled an interest in electronics among the young, and a lot of eagerness to build "cool stuff"; there's no arguing with that.

    But I don't see that it's done a darned thing to promote an understanding of, or even an appreciation of, the fundamentals of electronics. If anything, I think it's done the opposite, by promoting the idea that you don't need to learn any electronics in order to do electronics, that all that boring "circuit theory" stuff is completely unnecessary. Just buy an Arduino and some breakout boards for whatever nifty chips you fancy playing with, wire them up on a solderless breadboard according to the handy Fritzing diagram supplied, download the relevant IC driver libraries from github, try out some of the example programs, and presto, you're now an electronics whiz! No circuit theory needed. And no maths!

    I realize I'm being a bit extreme in what I said above-- but not much. Certainly, some of those who fall for the hype will soon realize they need to go back and learn the basics (and a lot of the not-so-basics) of electronics if they expect to actually achieve anything, and set about doing so. But I think a large number-- perhaps even the majority-- will hit a brick wall when they try to do anything more complex than reading a potentiometer with their Arduino's ADC or making an LED blink, and give up because they've not been given any roadmap to accomplishing more.

    Just my opinion, for whatever it's worth...
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2016
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  20. Sinus23

    Active Member

    Sep 7, 2013
    There's only few years since I went back to school I must say that the first semester was reasonably paced. Pretty much anything we learned that semester we got to practice with enough to grasp and form some kind of intuition . The next semester the paced shifted from first gear to the fourth...So many things that were just glanced on:(

    Although it seems to me that the emphasis here in Iceland on micro controllers is way less than for the rest of the world (at the moment at least). We aren't taught squat on Arduino and I had 2*3 hour classes on the PIC. Which is far from enough to learn anything really useful and barely counts as an experience:rolleyes: The funny thing though about that class is that I was the only one working on the PIC, the rest of the class were working on a single raspberry PI that one of the students had gotten the day before and was eager to get up and running. At first I was also curious about the raspberry PI but then my teacher just leaned in and said "work on the PIC it will make you more employable in the future";)

    Oh and we got much more experience with PLC's than micro controllers it's just that you can't really expect students to own some PLC at home to play with...

    About simulators I've noticed that it seems that many teachers around the world are giving students problems to be solved in simulation that they must do as homework. Here the only things we simulated was expected to be done in the classroom. So we were just setting up circuits that had already been built to view how they worked and to get familiar with simulators. Over a whole semester we made about 3-4 circuits that way and each took about 30 minutes...
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