Monday, June 19, 2006

The making of a student

The PICDEM FS USB board can be configured to enable or disable its various hardware features... the user will need to cut the traces, and install pins and a block jumper.

"Ah," thought I. "All I have to do is cut the traces and install pins and a block jumper!"

1. Cut the traces.

I've learned that the best way to cut traces is- well, probably not the way I just cut traces, which is to scrape and scrape and scrape with the xacto and pray that you don't hit anything important, like your finger. The result looks like a very tiny (yet vicious) cat has chosen your PCB as its new scratching post. This may in fact be a better way to do it: breed tiny vicious cats.

The Mel is finally metamorphing into a Real ECE. Took long enough, really; it's been 2 years and 9 months since I saw my first soldering iron, and I'm just getting comfortable doing really simple things like - oh, soldering an LED onto a circuit board, and calculating a voltage divider. I'm a slow learner.

Part of the difficulty is because I never really got anyone to follow around; I could ask my dad marketing questions at the dinner table, went to high school with a couple of very good programmers, grew up with a wonderful piano teacher. I've tried to learn electrical engineering wholly from books, but the field is so large and growing so fast that there was no such thing as a "How to learn to be an electrical engineer" book that I could launch off from (I'm not talking about an Intro to ECE textbook; I'm talking about something akin to Eric Raymond's essay "How to become a Hacker").

I'm trying to fix that now. When you're learning something, the best thing you can have is a good teacher that really takes you in, almost adopts you; this doesn't mean they'll fuss over you (quite the opposite), or that they'll never let you go solo. It means they'll keep an eye out, let you tag along, challenge you, teach you how to fly on your own. I've filled that role too often for too long; sometimes I need to go back and be small again. I think it's working.

It feels really good to have mentors. I haven't let anyone teach me for so long. (Sorry, Olin profs... I've been a poor student these past three years. Hopefully I'll be better for this last one.)

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