When did electrical engineering "click" for you?

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by Zazoo, Aug 5, 2011.

  1. Zazoo

    Thread Starter Member

    Jul 27, 2011
    This forum has a good mix of members with all levels of experience from first year students to retired engineers, so I figured this was the best place to ask this question:

    When did electronic/electrical design and analysis start to “click” for you?

    I’m entering the senior year of my undergraduate EE program this fall and I still don’t feel like I have any intuition when it comes to circuit design - my intuitive analysis skills are also shaky. I realize that I’ve only been studying this subject for a few years, but I often wonder if maybe I’m just not “getting it.”

    It doesn't seem like it's from a lack of studying – I have a perfect GPA, I understand the fundamentals, I can apply circuit theorems, and I can grind through the mathematics without issue. I’ve even been tutoring for my department to help strengthen my understanding of the basics.
    Unfortunately, what I still can’t do is look at a circuit and understand what it does without the involved analysis above (save for the most basic of circuits.) Obviously this makes design even harder.

    I have an internship with NASA next summer. I worked very hard to secure the opportunity, but I’m absolutely terrified that I won’t be able to perform the job to the level they’re expecting. This intuition seems like the most important skill an engineer should have. I’m beginning to worry that I’m just not going to be a very good engineer, regardless of what my academic record says.

    I welcome any comments and suggestions.

    Thank you
  2. gerty

    AAC Fanatic!

    Aug 30, 2007
    If you have an internship, they shouldn't expect any more than a intern.
    An internship implies that you know the fundamentals of your craft, but are still learning.There shouldn't be any expectations outside of that realm .
    You have a great oppertunity with this, just do the best you can.
    Worry cannot help you.

    Senior Member

    Jun 29, 2010
    I think you are good in studies.
    Anyways, I don't like studying because it is over my head very much Like Mount Everest so when teacher taught some subject only theory in it, they look like Aliens for me......!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  4. jwilk13


    Jun 15, 2011
    I have a feeling you'll be just fine. School can get you so far, but most of the learning you'll do will be via on-the-job experience. I had three internships when I was working through my undergrad degree, and as gerty stated, they expected just that out of me. You're not going to learn absolutely everything you need to know from 4 years of college (trust me), but if you can apply the critical thinking skills you've acquired during your time in school, you'll do great. There are two things that I've noticed employers look for above all else: 1) Communication skills and 2) Critical thinking skills. You may not be able to look at a circuit and intuitively tell what's going on after 10 seconds, and that's okay.

    The phrase "I can figure it out" always sounds better than "I don't know".
  5. AnnexGR

    New Member

    Dec 2, 2010
    Zazoo, I felt very much like you during my EE schooling and my grades were not as top notch as yours seem to be.

    I learned the most in my first job in a company. I was forced to do circuit design, blow stuff up in the lab and got a lot of experience of how electronics ACTUALLY work, rather than theory. It is interesting how little you know about a MOSFET until you actually blow up a few.

    I would say try to find a job that can get you in the lab to mess with circuits every once in a while. I think that's how i really gained a better understanding with analog circuits.

    School is there so you learn how to learn, if you get my meaning. Once you are out there you will have to make your mistakes and learn from those. It is a process.

  6. strantor

    AAC Fanatic!

    Oct 3, 2010
    I didn't go to college so I haven't been "in your shoes", exactly. But the feeling I can relate to. When I took my current job (electrical troubleshooting, installation, and occasional low-level engineering) I felt very unqualified. I thought that I would look like I had no idea what I was doing and wouldn't last long. A little on-the-job experience makes all the difference. You need to have the chance to see your efforts bear fruit, and you will gain some self confidence. You need to see how things work in the real world. On a lesser level than when I started this job, I still get that feeling Every time I start a new project or have to work on something I'm not intimately familiar with already. There is a period at the beginning where I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing and I am unsure of what the outcome of my work will be. Every time, I pull it off, and every time I get a little more knowledgeable. you never stop learning
  7. THE_RB

    AAC Fanatic!

    Feb 11, 2008
    You're obviously smart and have a good ability to learn, so the rest comes down to procedure and some practice. :)

    For procedure, circuit analysis (and design) comes down to building blocks, which means quickly dividing the circuit into known bulding blocks like PSU, output drivers, control circuitry etc. Maybe if you have the opportunity you could ask a senior engineer who is good an circuit analysis to analyse some schematics for you? You could collect a heap of schematics of various complexity from the net and print them on a few pages, then ask him to analyse them in front of you.

    If possible get him to circle with a pen (hence the need for a printout) the different building blocks as he is analysing. Once you identify the main blocks of a circuit some of the remaining stuff can become obvious as to its function based on how it connects to the known blocks.

    As for practice you can probably think of some ways depending on your time and how much you like doing electronics. Building some kits can be good, especially if they are useful bits of equipment. Or maybe try some of your own designs on paper for random devices, and get your senior friend to critique them and say how he would have designed it differently.
  8. steveb

    Senior Member

    Jul 3, 2008
    I'm sure you'll do fine once you get more experience. You seem plenty smart enough and seem to care about becoming good. As long as you are willing to work hard to tackle everything put in front of you on a task by task basis, (as I'm sure you are) everything else will take care of itself.

    To answer your question, I felt comfortable with design at age 17, before I started engineering studies, and long before I knew as much as you do now. The key difference (I think) is that, before I did engineering studies, I learned everything by hands on approach first, and then looking up any theory I needed from there. Between troubleshooting and repair of existing designs, and design and constuction of my own simple designs, I quickly got things clicking. Note that having the feeling of "clicking" is only a first step. The other part is gaining more and more knowledge and experience which is obtained gradually over a lifetime.

    Bottom line is that you need hands on work involving the whole process of design, building, testing, discovery of flaws and misconceptions and completing the cycle by redesigning, refining and doing it all again. We all do things in different order. Some of us start hands on first, others get the theory down first, some do them both at the same time. To be good, you need both, so have fun diving into the other half now.

    Honestly, I would be more worried if you felt that you had it all down just because you are completing engineering studies. That is just the beginning of the process, so the sense of uncertainty is exactly what you should be feeling right now.
  9. #12


    Nov 30, 2010
    It was the hands on that convinced my brain that it really works. Early days with vacuum tubes and 20% resistors kind of indicated that it was a bit of a guessing game. A year in a QC department working with 1% instruments and it clicked. "It really does work, right out to the third decimal place!"

    This site sees plenty of new grads that can barely put batteries in a flashlight. Don't worry about that. Every job has different requirements and specialized knowledge. You aren't expected to know those things when you arrive. You are expected to learn them. The fact that you dragged yourself through years of endless exercises, many that seemed irrelavent, indicates to an employeer that you will be willing to drag yourself through the real learning that is relavent to your real job.
  10. nsaspook

    AAC Fanatic!

    Aug 27, 2009
    All you need is a 'real job' and a few years under your belt. Most brains need pattern recognition training to see through the fog of information overload while hunting deer or designing a complex project. So it's usually less of a 'click' and more of a clarity of vision and thought as the fog lifts when you begin to know what's crap and what matters in a problem. This is a skill that seems to be overlooked in most formal education but is critical for complex problem solving. Your internship with NASA is a perfect time to work with people who can help you gain insight.
  11. #12


    Nov 30, 2010
    Like your ideas nsaspook. Reminds me of a conversation. New grad had been taught everything once, so he thought it was just as likely that the power cord was open as it was likely the timer was fried.

    In a hundred thousand repairs, I have seen maybe 2 defective power cords, but the new grad doesn't know this. "What is likely" is part of the "art" of electronics.

    edit: There is another thread active right now about carbon composition resistors being likely suspects a long time ago, superceeded by carbon film resistors that are now very reliable.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2011
  12. Adjuster

    Late Member

    Dec 26, 2010
    I grew into electronics as a hobby in my teens, having played with torch batteries etc. from a pretty young age. I can still remember a little "aha" moment when the penny dropped that it's better to put the switch in series with the battery, rather than in parallel. :eek:
    This method of learning things the hard way probably did give me some grasp of simple circuit ideas fairly early. On the other hand, I got hold of some inaccurate ideas along the way, which had to be addressed later.

    It is not clear to me how much importance to attach to order of learning academic theory and the more intuitive aspects. Often these things seem to equalise after some time actually doing the job. People do differ in their aptitudes though, and in the end I think we are better to play to our strengths. Take your time to build up experience, and study how systems are put together, but remember that you may be able to function very well in some areas of work without ever having a great gift for "intuitive" understanding. You may envy people with such ability, but most likely some of them would be equally envious of your facility with mathematics and other theoretical aspects of the subject.

    Good luck!
  13. Zazoo

    Thread Starter Member

    Jul 27, 2011
    Wow, thanks for all the great replies. I really appreciate all of you taking the time to share your own experiences and offer words of encouragement.

    I've set up a basic home electronics lab to work on my skills outside of class. Hopefully this will allow me to develop some intuition when it comes to design and analysis.
    I just wish I'd found this board 3 years ago!

    Thanks again
  14. Kermit2

    AAC Fanatic!

    Feb 5, 2010
    Nothing I've ever done has helped me understand circuit operation as much as repairing old or broken items. Figuring out what is bad, and how to test for various things like voltage or current, when the device under test doesn't work, or works incorrectly, will build your confidence, AFTER it perplexes and confounds you of course :)
  15. Alchymist

    New Member

    Apr 16, 2011
    The click happened sometime in the '50's. Been clicking ever since. Greatest click was the understanding of the hardware/software and the electronic/mechanical interfaces. :)
  16. Stuntman

    Active Member

    Mar 28, 2011
    I've found a large part of being comfortable is simply recognition. There have been times I've faced a circuit, an algorithm, or a program that seems incomprehensible, yet after some time thinking it through piece by piece (and a few hairs pulled out), the problem almost transforms before your eyes, and the system that seemed above your head, is now fully in your grasp.

    The same goes for design. Start piece by piece, get one circuit portion working, or one subroutine complete, start putting it all together, then before you know it, you have a completed project you never would have thought possible.

    The more of these scenarios you encounter, the more confident you will be in future designs, and the more experience you will have to pull from.

    Ditto on the expectations of an internship. You aren't going there as a seasoned expert, you are going there to learn, and they know that.
  17. GetDeviceInfo

    AAC Fanatic!

    Jun 7, 2009
    I need to qualify my comments by first stating that I am not an engineer, nor have I done 'engineering' studies. My training is field orientated, mixed in with trade required schooling, and a lot of self study.

    My electrical 'click' came on the heels of a classroom discussion on power factor, where the instructor and I continued the 'lesson' by converting power factor into implied costs associated with industrial power consumption. That was about 3 years ago.

    My electronic 'click' came when I grasped the concept that a digital signal propogated on a clock transition. That was about 30 years ago.