How far can I get in electronics with only an elementary algebra background?

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Thread Starter


Joined Jul 22, 2012
When I was a kid, I built all my circuits out of kits and following instructions.

Now I want to learn to design analog circuits (sound effects generators, light blinkers, burglar alarms, RF circuits, nightlights, timers, water level alarms, etc).

Thanks guys.


Joined Jun 19, 2012
You can go as far as you want!

So often I see newbies agonizing over mathematics while missing the entire point (and joy) of electronics- it's an art, a clever and creative mind is what it takes.

As long as you are good with understanding the CONCEPTS behind it all, the mathematics of calculating stuff is just a wrote process.

You can use modern CAD tools, web resources and smart friends to get you to the answers you need.

Never let anything stand in the way of your dreams!


Joined Apr 28, 2012
When I was a kid, I built all my circuits out of kits and following instructions.

Now I want to learn to design analog circuits (sound effects generators, light blinkers, burglar alarms, RF circuits, nightlights, timers, water level alarms, etc).

Thanks guys.
When you build a burglar alarm based on elementary algebra, maybe the burglar will have it too easy.

No let's get serious. These days digital circuits based on microcontrollers have taken dominance.

And even professional/ semi-professional circuit builders often specialize on just a few types of circuits. If they make alarm circuits, or data panels, they would have some difficulty to deal with RF.

The more you invest for components, literature, software etc., the more you get, multiplied with the time you use for these activities.


Joined Mar 24, 2008
You will find as you need to learn the math skills needed it isn't too hard, but you need to be willing to learn them. There is some calculas in the basic RC time constants, but most of it is predigested. You have technical resources like this to help you through the humps. Most cases simple algebra will suffice, but there will be some exceptions.

It is one reason why a forum like this has a math forum in addition to the others.


Joined Mar 31, 2012
You can use modern CAD tools, web resources and smart friends to get you to the answers you need.
Implied in this very statement is that, without the appropriate math abilities, you will HAVE to use these other resources because you will always lack the knowledge, skills, and comprehension to get the answers yourself.

You can certainly learn to function in electronics without all the mathematical preparation and even do so quite productively, but there will always be some much more you could do, or do better, if you had a bit better math background. In fact, no matter how much math you have, you will always be handicapped because you don't have enough to do even more. Someone else does, but they have probably traded away depth in another area, perhaps even another area of mathematics, in order to develop that level. So don't think you have to learn it all, because that isn't going to happen.

I strongly recommend that you try to develop a reasonably complete set of math skills appropriate to electronics, which is going to include trigonometry, calculus, and differential equations (and these will incorporate exponentials, logarithms, and complex variables to a suitable level) and also getting some physics at least to the introductory electricity and magnetism level, as well as basic circuits, preferably through transform methods.

As you go through these topics and as you continue to delve into electronics from a practical approach, you will start to see how the math lets you understand why you did something the way you did (or why it behaved the way it did, even it it wasn't what you wanted) and to see how you can get circuits to do things you would never have thought of if you only had the practical skills your experience had given you. By the same token, your practical skills will temper your idealistic musings when the math says that you can do X while you practical experience will tell you that, no, things will burn up long before you get there.


Joined Mar 24, 2008
Ohm's Law (which you will use forever) is basic algebra. I suspect you are going to get very familiar with the Homework forum.


Joined Aug 21, 2008
Go for it. You can approximate most engineering problems to only use basic math. I do that all the time for efficiency when a precise solution (probably wrong anyway) is not required.


Joined Mar 9, 2011
As long as you have a solid algebra background and a willingness to learn, you will have no problems. You will simply need to pick up the tools as needed.


Joined Apr 24, 2011
RocketMan said:
A lot of science I don't understand is just my job five days a week.
I earned a full BS in EE several decades ago. There was a basic requirement of 4 semesters of Calculus, plus s few other courses in other mathematical topics (such as statistics).

I barely remember any of it. With some effort I can still produce a derivative, but need tables to compute integrals. (These are the two basic operations in calculus). Most anything I need to compute is just algebra.

The calculus was good to learn this stuff, but it seems most any useful topic some bright guy converted all the calculus down to simple algebra anyway.

I do know one excellent engineer who doesn't understand any calculus at all, nothing beyond algebra (which he is excellent at). He was promoted to engineering manager last time I heard from him.

Engineering has two steps: analysis and synthesis. Analysis consists of computing what something that already exists is doing, and there are many fine courses on how to do that.

Synthesis is the creation of something that has not existed before. Consider music: there is no such thing as a class in how to write a song.

Synthesis cannot be taught, at best all that can be done is to inspire it.

It cannot be taught.


Joined Nov 13, 2010
It depends on what path you've envisaged to walk down.

If design engineerin' is your cup of tea, you need to know math beyond elementary algebra.

You are also impaired if you have a thirst for knowledge through book reading at an advanced level and don't have the maths ability to digest and manipulate what's inside the book.


Joined Jul 18, 2012
A lot of design can be done with basic algebra, but complete understanding of what you are doing, why it works, and more important, why it doesn't work requires a strong math background. You don't need to be intimately familiar with advanced math, but a grasp of the basics of advanced math is valuable. I couldn't begin to tell you how to differentiate a parabolic equation, but I would be lost with out a good understanding of the initial and final value theorems.
I major in mathematics, electrical and electronics engineering. As a math major, all I can say is if you develop problem solving abilities there is nothing you cannot achieve/solve, at least you will an approach in mind upon which you can develop. With elementary algebra alone, things will start getting blurry a little bit later. But, if you really have passion for the subject nothing should stop you from learning. All the best.
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