Is Engineering an ideal course for a DIYer?
"I like making stuff, tinkering with circuits and creating useful things at home. Does this mean I should go for an electronics engineering course, to take this hobby to the next level, or can I simply study electronics alongside another undergrad course?"
This question has haunted me for months before I finally made up my mind. So about a year back(2017) I decided to get some advice from some of the coolest 'Professional DIYers' I have come across on Facebook.
You can have a look at the original post on Facebook here.
A bit of background info about the people in this group-
Guitar Stompboxes/pedals are elegant electronic devices that can sweeten up the sounds produced by guitar with the click of a switch. In general guitar pedals are pretty expensive to buy, but with a bit of electronics knowledge you can build your own stuff! The 'DIY Stompboxes' group on Facebook is a very diverse community of people from various countries and age groups sharing their ideas and creations!
So I got very diverse answers and I have totally changed my opinion on engineering as a subject after reading them.
Starting with my question:
Its always fun to scroll down this page looking at awesome pedals that people here, make. Now I usually copy schematics and get things working. Is it essential to have a Bachelors in Science(Electronics) that gives the necessary technical knowledge to go about making your own circuits? Or rather are there hobbyists here who have learned electronics all by themselves and made cool stuff? The question might sound dumb tho.
I'm 17 now and deciding my subject for bachelors. Just wondering, is electronics engineering ideal for a person interested in hobby electronics? And yes I like the practical stuff and not calculus
Simon Timperly shared his journey from hobby to career:
I did a B.Eng Electronics in the 1980s because my guitar didn't sound right in my dad's stereo, my school science teacher showed me a circuit when I was 12 and I took it from there.
The B.Eng helped a lot, as did obsessive fiddling with circuits, working in "the industry" for a few years (high end studio stuff), working in Electronics manufacturing and test, teaching "shop" (CDT for the UK), and continually learning.
So do your Bachelors in Electronics, then make a living, and make electronics stuff too! Also: very little (nothing in my experience) good came from messing around, you need to know how to do it right before you can break the rules. Just like art and construction.
Craig Smith too agreed on the same lines:
Just for the background, I had mentioned in the question that I'm not really a maths person. So a lot of people shared their ideas from the 'Maths involved in engineering' point of view. However, over time, I've began to love maths and now see it as a way of life rather than something limited to textbooks.I started like you did, copying layouts online, learnt a bit, then I did a BTEC extended diploma in Electrical Engineering. I now know a shitload more than I did, and it has helped in this hobby.Again, prepare for mathematics. It's 90% of it, and I was totally unprepared.
Mitch McLaughlin elucidated the fact that a structured education isn't the only way in:
Tony Peppers gave a very interesting and unique insight from his journey:You don't need no degree in anything! In the 70s I was able to learn how to fix televisions by checking out every single book I could find on electronics at my library. At that time I also started playing electric guitar and started building Flangers with RadioShack's sad 1024 chip available. I built compressors distortions Etc also. In the late 80s I got an AA degree in electronics and it was slightly helpful.
I'm an Industrial Electrician, Mechanical Engineer, Security Technician and Refrigeration Engineer by trade. I have not been to a higher learning institute. Basically left school at 16 and went into an apprenticeship straight away. Finished one apprenticeship and into the next. Looking to the future I'm thinking of studying at some stage. It's not necessary but I would say it would definitely help to study electronics. Some stuff I struggle with and eventually get there but I think I would be able to solve it quicker (and probably with more correct methods) with actual education.
David Marcouillier shared his non-linear entry in the field of electronics:
I started out by reading every bit of information I could find on Jack Orman and Dano Beavis' sites. They were invaluable to someone coming in with virtually no knowledge of electronics. Then it was a lot of trial and error trying to put those ideas into practice. Somewhere along the way it finally clicked and I could actually understand what I was looking at in the schematics. I started to understand what each component's purpose was within the circuits and how changing the values of those components would alter the performance of the circuit. Once I understood all that, the doors really opened for me. Now I can design and build my own circuits with confidence. And, for what it's worth, my degree is in English...
Frank Rudley gave a holistic view on engineering as a career, which seemingly is the case with Indian system as well:
I have a MSEE and have been working as a electrical engineer for many years. Most electrical engineers probably don't get involved much in circuits. There is probably more money involved in the management end of electrical engineering than the technical end. However, I am one who is highly involved in electronic circuits. In order to really understand electronics you have to be good in math and understand differential equations and Laplace Transforms.
Rick Kreifeldt's reply was definitely an invigorating read for me:I have seen many not get past calculus in college, and only about 15% make it through the first year of engineering college in the better schools. Unless they are very dedicated to learning. It is a lot of hard work. I would recommend before wasting too much money in college is to make sure you can handle calculus. So, I would recommend taking calculus at a Community College or MIT has some good free online classes. So, test yourself first in calculus before wasting too much money in an engineering college. If you can't do the calculus and still like electronics, you can become a electronics technician. A good electronics technician is paid well and is a highly valued occupation. I expect the job market to be good in these areas as things become more electronics and software driven.
You can always learn things on your own and many of the best designers have no degree. Since you are 17, you really need to be thinking of what you want to do for the rest of your life. I love electronics and I'm good at it, so that has made a nice career. Being able to combine it with my passion for music just makes things 1000x better.
Werner Roozen too threw light on the not-so-interconnectedness of degree and passion:
Olly Warner replied:I have a degree in social work and I've build +100 pedals, motivation is key
You don’t need a degree no, it just helps because of the stuff you learn. But you can also learn by reading books and experimenting. Having said that, I’m in my final year of a masters in electronics and electrical, and to me it’s worth it
There are a lot more insightful replies that I received on my post, If you'd like to see the whole thread, I've left the link above.
Finally, since I'm interested in the subject and it would help me in the hobby, for now my mind is tuned to EE. But yes, from all that I've learnt from the replies, I'm convinced, if you want to learn something, you always can!
Lastly, there's no ideal 'decision' or 'degree', everyone ends up with their own unique story 😀
A huge thanks to the super supportive community for giving taking out time to give me meaningful and elaborate replies!
I wrote this article for like-minded people who are in a similar dilemma. Please do leave a comment if there's anything you'd like to say :)
Goodluck with your adventure ahead!