7 Critical Things They Don’t Teach You in EE School



Where did you acquire the core knowledge that has made you successful in your career? Though most of you EEs are college graduates, I would bet that most of your job knowledge and skills were not picked up there. So the two big questions are, 1) where did you learn your specialty topics, and 2) why aren’t colleges and universities teaching these things?

Seven critical subjects come to mind that most modern EEs need to know today. While not necessarily “hot” topics, they are critical ones, for sure:

  • Power supplies
  • PC board design
  • Video
  • Motors
  • Test and measurement
  • Wireless
  • Digital signal processing

I am not saying that you need to know all of these in depth. At the same time, it seems to me that schools should at least cover the basics of these topics somewhere in an existing course or in a full course. Are the colleges evading their responsibility?

Power supplies are a great example. Every electronic device and product has a power supply, whether it is a battery or a highly regulated DC supply. Where do you learn about battery choices, charging, switching regulators, LDOs, power management, DC-DC converters, inverters, UPS, solar panels, IGBTs, HV supplies, wind generators, and so on? Every EE needs to know these things.

PCB layout is another critical skill—one that has become more complex than ever owing to smaller ICs, dense packaging, multi-layer boards, and super-high GHz signals. Luckily, layout software does some of the heavy lifting, but you still need some fundamentals on topics like ground planes and shielding. One professor told me EE schools do not teach this because it is technician work. Today it clearly is not.

Video is another topic that needs to be taught. It is the dominant technology in TV sets, computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Where do you learn about LCD and LED displays, touchscreens, video formats, video compression methods, closed circuit TV and security cameras, machine vision, video recording, broadcast TV, satellite TV, cable TV, OTT video streaming, and 4k and 8k UHD? Not in college.

Motors are yet another missing topic. Yet motors are everywhere., whether in industry, robots, consumer appliances, toys, automobiles, computer peripherals, or even smartphones (vibration notification). You may learn basic DC and AC motor operation in school, but not the details of things like brushless DC motors, motor control, AC motor drives, and all the related electronics. Where do you go to learn that?

Then there is test and measurement. T&M is inherent in most typical EE work. You spend half your work day at a computer screen and the other half staring at a scope screen. EE work is lots of testing and measuring including design verification, troubleshooting, testing to some standard, production testing, or tracking down some EMI. If you were lucky, you got to use a scope in a college EE lab, but that might have been the extent of it. It would be nice to know how to use a spectrum analyzer, an AWG, an LCR meter, and even a vector signal analyzer so you do not appear to be an idiot the first day on the job. You do not learn this in college simply because such test gear is very expensive, and most schools just cannot afford multiple units to equip labs.

Wireless is another topic you don’t see much of in college curricula. Yet today wireless is ubiquitous. Most EEs need at least a basic working knowledge of RF circuits, signal propagation, common standards and protocols, and antennas. Again, if you were lucky, your college may have offered you an electromagnetic course where you learned the basics of wireless through the study of Maxwell’s equations. Fun stuff. Where does one get practical radio knowledge that you need to design with?

Digital signal processing is still another topic I do not see in the curriculum, yet DSP is part of everything these days. For example, practically every new wireless device (large or small) is a software-defined radio that relies on DSP for the most common process functions. Name a product today that does not use DSP in some way. DSP is math and mostly embedded, but it is a key topic today. It should be considered a fundamental and taught in school.

So what does one learn in EE schools these days? Let’s review. In a nutshell you learn the fundamentals of electricity and electronics, basic theory, devices, and circuits. There seems to be a big emphasis on digital, microcontrollers, programming, and FPGAs. Don’t forget the heavy physics and math background. Sometimes I wonder why there is still so much calculus instruction. I know you need to know it but, do you ever use it in everyday EE work? A few may, but I bet 90+% of EEs do not.

It is good to know the fundamentals and the colleges basically do a good job of it. However, I worry that that the curricula are heavily stuck in the 20th Century and not preparing graduates for real-world work. Anyway, don’t count on learning any of these critical subjects in college. The colleges and universities will not change; they will stick to what they think are the fundamentals.

So where do you learn your specialty or one of these critical topics? Not in college, obviously. But wait—if you go for a master’s or PhD degree in EE your school just may have an advanced graduate course in one of these topics. I have seen such courses in wireless and DSP, for example. But you can’t count on it. Maybe there is a free massive open online course (MOOC) available.

The real answer is, you learn this stuff on your own. EEs are mostly self-taught or autodidacts. You learn from on-the-job experience and from colleagues. You learn from books, conferences, webinars, magazines, and blogs. You do internet searches. You raid the manufacturers of their app notes, white papers, and datasheets. You learn by doing, screwing up, and re-doing.

Generally speaking, we are all self-learners—we just do not recognize that we are, and that we really can teach ourselves almost anything with the resources available. How about rocket science or brain surgery?

Looking for parts? Go to SourceESB.

Discuss this Blog Entry 48

on Jun 15, 2016

In college I took all the digital design, computer programming and related digital courses I could get. At graduation I had a chance to work for Motorola doing radio design so I pitched all my digital design background and learned RF design: by self-study, from colleagues, from hobby work, App Notes, etc. and on-the-job mistakes as you say. I guess I did okay because I have been working steadily for 40 years.

on Jun 16, 2016

I doubt if the same chance would be given these days to most of us. They just give you that worthless degree ending up with an often different mind numbing job to earn something to pay for your worthless degree. It's often the sad fact forget about getting the opportunity to retrain!

on Jun 15, 2016

I'm a little surprised at the stock photo used... not really an EE, and not in their environment. All that said.. the best skill for an EE is to have some ME skills and vice versa.

on Jun 15, 2016

I guess my 1981 BSEE from Purdue University included a pretty good course of study, as it included 5 of the 7 named subjects, just missing wireless and PWB design, although it did include transmission lines, which is part of PWB layout. No wonder Purdue came out on top in your recent bracket. My background from Purdue has stood me well, throughout my 35 years in engineering, from Radar Systems & Jamming to Turbine engine controls & system design.

on Jun 15, 2016

You hit the nail on the head Lou. I always viewed my college education as the way to learn EE theory and to go through EE "hazing" - which is merely demonstrating my ability to learn. But the real EE learning, today, is done on the job. It shouldn't be that way. Imagine what a University could do if they re-evaluated and adjusted their curriculum yearly to follow the EE industry and attract and hire more professors with decades of practical EE experience.

on Jun 15, 2016

Amen! For instance, the college I attended offered coursework in "Fire Science" and when I offered to give a lecture on fire alarm systems (I was a senior tech in the industry) I never got a call back.

Granted Fire Science and alarm systems are not in the upper echelon of the engineering world, but this scenario is indicative of the narrow-mindedness of in some areas of the academic system.

Students of Fire Science go on to be Fire Marshalls and maybe even contribute to the writing of codes. It would be to their benefit to know the shortcomings fire alarm systems in spite of what the fire alarm industry and the associated codes may claim.

In my technical Writing Course I gave a presentation on why people will be killed in elevators BECAUSE of the way fire alarm systems control the elevators in the case of a fire. I had a solution but the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (The Authority Having Jurisdiction) "did not want to get involved for reasons of liability."

My classmates who were Criminal Justice and Fire Science majors were filled with fear and disbelief!

So yeah, a little coursework in applied science (or at least a guest lecturer and a vigorous internship program) could go a long way.

on Jun 15, 2016

Where do you learn this stuff?

If you are lucky you learn in junior high that sweeping out the computer repair shop as an afterschool dirt wages job makes for a clean workplace, an absolute necessity for decent work.

If you are lucky you find in high school that a ham ticket lets you learn that clothesline wire makes a pretty good antenna, and that if you aren't careful about it, that RF energy makes a damn fine finger-burner.

If you are lucky you learn working your way through college and finding a decent job at the low end of the totem pole that some engineers never had to fix the crap that they designed and that you would NEVER make that mistake. You will make other mistakes for which future college students will roundly curse your hide.

If you are lucky your first boss out of college will let you make your own mistakes and gently correct you. On your own you will find on pc board layouts that rounded corners lose less RF energy than sharp bends and that capacitors can be inductors and vice versa.

If you are lucky after thirty or forty years in the profession that going back to college as a professor and sharing what you found out is going to pass on to the next generation your hard won wisdom. Your students will think you are a fuddy-duddy when you share that the 807 was the best damned RF power amplifier ever invented.

If you are lucky.


on Jun 18, 2016

Thanks a lot for the tips. I have been quite lucky too.
I think anyone who has done transient measurements could immediately relate to the "capacitors can be inductors" thing because of ESL.


on Jun 15, 2016

All of the above posters appear to be late-career people, who earned their degrees decades ago. I am one of those also. Back in those days, colleges were much better at teaching a wide variety of necessary EE skills. That is not so true today.

In addition, I learned a lot from repairing appliances, TV sets, cars, and from earning a ham radio license.

In today's world, college courses are geared to be able to allow anyone to pass. Even those who have no background in doing any tech work (like the repair work I mentioned) because they come either from a wealthy background where no one ever fixes anything for themselves, or from a country with no industrial / technical base where there are no such opportunities. I blame Political Correctness for this to some extent. That mindset creates a scenario where no one is allowed to fail, even if they know nothing and are frankly incapable. Thus, universities turn out lots of people who don't really know their field.

on Jun 15, 2016

Doing repair teaches little for new development. Repair is working with something that worked before and just getting back to where one was. Development is getting to new places. political Correctness has nothing to do with it. And no college courses are not geared to let anyone get thru them. They are still tough. We did not go to the moon based on high school drop outs, but rather on those who could develop. This is still true today. Just more of it.

on Jun 15, 2016

Repair teaches the basics. You can't fix what you can't understand. It also teaches the current state of the art, and lets a person with some imagination look for ways to improve a design, so yes, you do move toward development via this route, and I think with a firmer understanding.

As for college courses still being tough, I must question that. Some are; many are not. As a hiring manager, I have a very hard time finding people who are competent even in basic problem solving, right out of school. Many of the worst have obtained their degrees online, or via un-accredited schools. Yet, they have documentation (diploma) claiming the same level of achievement as those who actually attended classes and actually did the work. This is a very real problem, and while not difficult for a hiring manager to sort out, it is time consuming and frustrating. Colleges need to do a better job, and students (potential job seekers) need to apply themselves better to "hit the ground running" on a new job and not expect the employer to teach them what they need to know.

On the other hand, companies may be at fault here too. Is the "hit the ground running" scenario realistic or fair? There used to be some time and personnel placed on mentorship years ago, which doesn't exist much any more. The bottom line got in the way of that.

on Jun 15, 2016

However... a repair that corrects a flawed design is priceless.

on Jun 15, 2016

Amen to that, my friend!

on Jun 28, 2016

My experience has convinced me that a repair that fixes the flawed design costs six times as much is doing it right to begin with.

And not doing it internally costs 10 times as much as it should – I did a stint at one firm that spent almost [redacted!] dollars sending engineering tests to a certification lab instead of using equipment on hand.

on Jun 18, 2016

Sadly, I'm not a late-career person [just earned my degree 3 years ago, and my license 2 years ago - yes, our country requires engineers to have a government certified license]. Been in the semiconductor industry for 2 years now, and I feel like a totally different person from the me 2 years back. I acknowledge that there is such a loophole in the academic system, and Mr. Frenzel pointed out well the factors involved in deviating from the traditional curriculum.
It may not be plausible for the academe to make big changes now, but I see we can do some things, like as Mr. Frenzel said, via the internet, like blogging.
Speaking of blogging, you may have some invaluable insights and experiences, or an article in mind, views and ideas that can help our young engineers grow? There is a section in ED created for it, in Guest blogs. I have given some articles hoping to share my views and experience [they are the best I can do for now]. Mr. Roger Watkins' articles are also very informative on hands-on experience.

About MOOCs, I find edX to be the most comfortable [specially the courses from MIT, they are hands down outstanding, opened my eyes to a few concepts that were missed out on college]. Coursera is another good option.

ED is already a good source of white papers, but a google search is still the best if there is an unavailable topic [usually linking directly to the company website ex. Keysight].


on Jun 15, 2016

College is about learning how to learn. No one set of courses will teach all needed. One learns the basic in college and learns how to learn. A Trade school teaches a specific skill, but does not help beyond that. College educated people learn to teach them selves, do researach. And what one does in a job is often not known, cannot be taught for not invented yet. An EE must come up with new ideas. things change so rapidly so cannot teach what has not happen. An EE degree prepares one very well to learn and invent. Maybe colleges could spend more time on some basic stuff like power supplies or whatever, but the main emphasis should be on teaching one how to to learn. After all my boss often gave me a document and said build something that will do this. I did not have a book to tell me. I had to do research and learn how to do it.

on Jun 15, 2016

I'm sort of surprised you don't learn this stuff in college. I took my college education in Belgium and we surely did cover many of these subjects. Power supplies was fairly basic, but we covered a lot of material about motors, wireless and DSP. We had several labs a week and continuously used lab equipment such as multimeters and oscilloscopes.

on Jun 15, 2016

As a department chair for an engineering technology (ET) department at a community college, I can't speak for EE programs, but can tell you that my experience with ET programs is very similar. We are trying to incorporate many of the topics you identified in our courses, but some of the barriers include: finding faculty who have the hands-on experience along with the theoretical knowledge, finding funding to purchase the equipment you mentioned (vector signal analyzers! Wow), and finding time away from paperwork, paperwork, and paperwork to develop labs with the equipment we do have. We still teach the same AC/DC/Devices & Digital/Microprocessor curriculum that has been around as far back as you can imagine. But, the pressure to keep current and add new technology and new applications bumps up against the pressure to reduce credit hours. What topics do we drop or compress to make room for video or software defined radios? Who will teach these new topics? I can find applicants who know how to explain the Fast Fourier Transform but they can't turn on a spectrum analyzer. I have applicants who have 20+ years experience with motors but don't have the minimum BS degree required by the College. Sometimes I do find that perfect candidate who knows the theory and also knows the business end of a soldering iron, but they walk away when I tell them what the hourly pay rate is for an adjunct instructor. Purchasing and maintaining test gear is an exercise in patience since I have $5000 annually to support seven ET programs. All this complaining just to say that we do need to modernize curriculum, but there are many, many factors working against that need. Still, I'll endeavor to persevere...for what it's worth, I printed your article and taking it for action as I prepare for the coming year's courses. Thank you!

on Jun 18, 2016

Maybe we can solve the equipment problem by forming partnerships with electronics companies. Labs in the industry aren't being used 24/7 so why not have classes visit every now and then? Though maybe doing so isn't easy and feasible because of data confidentiality and instrument usage/operating cost?

Not knowing how to turn on or operate a spectrum analyzer or any instrument/equipment can be addressed [I learned the hard way] by studying the datasheet or [if no documentation is available] self-study/self-observation/seeking help/asking questions. Over time, I have taught myself how to master new equipment quickly and to program/exploit them for max utilization [such as in automation]. Kind of like a lab class but the flow of thoughts and actions have to be spontaneous.

This makes me ponder on Multisims. They have instruments with "real-life" interfaces, and can familiarize students with the ones the academe can't afford, but on a computer screen. There are also some available online. But are they enough to make the student proficient in the usage of those instruments?

on Jun 15, 2016

One area of electronics you left out was audio, or sound recording, processing, and reproduction. 99% of today's electronics sounds utterly odious to me; much needs to be done to improve sound quality.

on Jun 15, 2016

"You learn by doing, screwing up, and re-doing."

Lou, that pretty well sums it up. Learning comes from daring to be "wrong" rather than perpetually being rewarded for being "right" on exams.

As a kid, I learned so much from ham radio, tinkering, and taking things apart. I later became an electronics technician in the military where I was exposed to how "real" things worked. I took away from that experience an appreciation for well built, well designed equipment. I also worked on miserable equipment and swore that, once I became an engineer, I would NEVER design something as bad as what I had just been asked to repair!

My experiences in those years BEFORE going to engineering school made me a better engineer in the long run. They shaped my appreciation for engineering as that magical transition where things move from theory to reality. I guess that's why I've been at it for the past 31 years.

on Jun 15, 2016

I think the arrogance of academia is partially to blame. From the courses specified, you would think an EE does nothing but calculate Laplace transforms all day. Now, that's not to say that we can cram all that additional work into the current 4-yrs undergrad, but perhaps we should consider a more useful master's degree and put a lot of that material there. Most people's master's degree in EE are useless unless your work directly involves the content of your thesis.

on Jun 15, 2016

I graduated with a BSEE about ten years ago. We had a pretty in-depth program where there was basically a lab course with each class so we got a lot of hands on instruction with lab equipment. Some of the other stuff that you were describing were not taught as part of a basic curriculum. We had classes on wireless design, power electronics, chip design, and motors, but they were taken as electives as part of a specialization. DSP was taught as part of the basic curriculum, though with emphasis on using Matlab. I don't know what the curriculum is like now. When I got my MSEE, I was heavily focused on RFIC design so i didn't really study any of the other stuff. Now I am doing more embedded work and taught myself PCB design, basic power management, and I am relearning C. I think whether you were taught this stuff in college or not, if you don't use it you will forget. I have to relearn a lot of stuff now.

on Jun 15, 2016

Thank you with hearty applause for this article. Many of the comments are things I can also agree with and speak to.

Based on those collectively, an eighth "must add" point of order schools need to cultivate better is the ability to THINK and DO independently of the technology today those of former generations invented because of necessity. I'm an inventor myself to know this experientially, and weep every time I see smart, educated people become so addicted to their technology habits they cease to function as human beings when it breaks. Others are so addicted to the bookish classroom rote they have better credentials on paper than mine but lack experiential wisdom. Lab work in school (like xorbit describes) goes a long way for that, even if the school's lab has to force students to be resourceful in building their own gear -- like their grandparents' and parents' generation did. Such students learn by doing, as many repairs motivate inventions as knowledge-driven improvements.

This is where jweir43, mccrpt, pjgeneva and JHall converge their viewpoints, each of them illustrating political, cultural, opportunity and volition obstacles -- all human issues more than technical ones.

Teaching the discipline of self-instruction actually begins long before college and EE school, people. It starts at the K-12 level, first at home, then at school and elsewhere. That's one reason I volunteer my experiential wisdom to U.S. FIRST STEM robotics endeavors (FLL, FTC, 10 years as a coach, and counting as a judge) because doing so promotes that self-instruction discipline training YOUNG, trained from veteran perspective. So, by the time the STEM-trained kids get to college, they will have a head start on half the talents in Lou's list and wet feet on those they don't have immediate opportunity with. It's a shame more tech-dependent private sector businesses -- even small ones -- choose not to sponsor such. I encourage those reading this to consider such volunteering and sponsoring where they live.

I also do my level best to instruct K-12 STEM teachers. Like their professors, they have beaucoup book learning, but limited non-academic skill precious to communicating life application level technical wisdom as part of their lesson plans. Application wisdom proves vital to connecting theory with practice and I wish more teachers and college professors alike would make that connection. Some appreciate this; sadly, those teachers who don't and get disproven push teachers unions to resent being taught anything -- when it's proven the emperor has no clothes, their politics expels the very people skilled in the wisdom sought. That education culture paradigm actually contributes to well-educated and credentialed ignorance real world engineers and inventors loyal to what's real must mournfully repudiate and retrain (ancient parallel: The Gospel of John, chapter 9).

The late Dr. Henry Domingos, my EE school department head at Clarkson University (clarkson.edu), told me in my graduation exit interview two things:

1) No ABET-accredited engineering school will sensibly hire a Ph.D who lacks real world experience in the field they purport to instruct. (The point JHall needs to take to heart here is real world experience matters as much and surely more cumulatively than academic credentials that cost heavily to obtain -- even among skilled talents in his position.)

2) Those who can, do. Those who can do no longer, teach.

That noted, I wonder how many retired and soon-to-retire EEs might find worthwhile post-career employment in EE education. I submit the engineering school that fails to hire such proven talent actually wastes talent because of a culture placing higher value upon false metrics.

There are other motives beyond the financial.

Kind Regards,


on Jun 15, 2016

No arguments here.
Good conclusion to article.

Though it doesn't address an engineer's "high life".
Time required to pass before 50% of an engineer's knowledge base becomes obsolete..

Last time I read any on this subject, it was estimated to be ~5 years.
Makes sense... the basic stuff (physics) doesn't change.. but your effectiveness degrades quickly unless you stay engaged in the profession.
You aren't using the latest version of that CAD program? or You trust the specs from that supplier? Is that supplier still around?
You have to research what is available? Just how much time do you require to research the subject (get up to speed)?

We have to be constantly educating ourselves.
Regardless of the performance of formal educational systems.

on Jun 15, 2016

My years of frustration of going from job 2 job maybe was no different from others after all. Recently I heard somewhere that today's degrees more or less are worthless, cannot help you to get a job you were trained for as most jobs went to China.

on Jun 16, 2016

There is certainly a tendency of most companies to employ people not based on them being the best at the job, but rather the cheapest. Competency means nothing.

on Jun 15, 2016

Well, I'll tell ya... I've been mentoring interns for years and they all come to me with a nearly complete lack of understanding on how to use test equipment, how to use transistors, most cant solder at all much less surface mount and cant do simple calculations from memory. Too much computers rot the mind!

on Jun 16, 2016

I give a simple practical test to interviewees. More than 80% cannot answer the most basic questions. They have no idea what a diode is, or what characteristic impedance is, or how to read the resistance of a resistor given the resistor and a DVM. It's almost unbelievable.

on Jun 18, 2016

I feel your pain. Soldering is one of the first things my FTC team got taught -- in middle and high school -- as well as other hand tools, power and otherwise. Surface mount being typically tiny, it doesn't lend itself to manual methods well without exceptional dexterity. Mental math with basic geometry is another. As for computers rotting the mind, the untrained operate from the presumption the machine has 'all the answers' -- which is completely untrue. The machine only has those answers it was given by its makers.

Focusing on mental math, one of my favorite simple "interview" questions with interns, junior roboticists and especially STEM teachers at the middle and high school level is how high they can count on one hand. If they say "5", find a more competent math teacher or show them how to get to 31 if they are teachable. Fingers are also known as 'digits', and finger counting is a childhood skill with binary and hexadecimal utility.

on Jun 15, 2016

Mr. Frenzel,
In the debate about engineering education between the ivory tower academics who have burn scars on their fingers from trying to pick up the wrong end of a soldering iron, and the digital whiz kids who don't know there's a whole world out there between zero and one, too many advocates seem to ignore the central fact that there's not enough school time to learn it all. I mean, is a classical education in which I have to calculate catenary forces and droop of a cable over the Grand Canyon, better for my EE career than learning about practical applications of Fourier transforms ? Hah !

I'm a big fan of well-run engineering technology curricula, where you can learn how to make things that work, along with enough math to really understand the why ?

Stanley Pitman
Counterpoint Engineering

on Jun 16, 2016

You are very correct Lou. I have personally experienced most Engineers are blunt on those topics when the specially come to practical aspects. I am very good at first 6 of them by learning my self at my garage and various industry I have worked more than 30+ years. Most importantly most professors and lecturers have no good practical experience on those areas as they are just book readers or course preparing guys only.

on Jun 16, 2016

Outside the fundamentals, 95% of everything I learned in school is obsolete. When I graduated I had never heard of the Internet, PCs, or IGBTs; didn't know what a database was. You drew schematics and laid them out by hand.

Yet Kirchhoff and Maxwell are still valid. True, I don't use them on a daily basis, but they are the foundation of everything I use--past, present, and future.

Pretty much everything that makes me relevant in today's job market I had to pick up along the way. I read magazines when they existed, have taken industrial short courses, a few college night classes, and bought books when that seemed the fastest way to learn, and have managed to stay employed as a designer for over 30 years.

I don't think we should condemn the educational system for not ditching calculus and LaPlace for the hot RTOS of the month or ALM theory. These things are a flash in the pan.

on Jun 17, 2016

"One professor told me EE schools do not teach this because it is technician work. Today it clearly is not."

I don't think the line is that clear between engineering and technician work. Just doesn't make sense, especially if the delusion of that line's existence leads engineers to fail in the serviceability area or technicians not to understand how the circuit works.

Truly, colleges are in a pickle--technology is VERY large indeed. There's no way to teach it all. So, what are, truly, the basics?

I define engineering as 'designing a system.' Yet then we find that engineering schools don't teach that. ... not until you swing back around for a Masters... Systems Engineering. ... which I consider to be, effectively, a one or two semester course that EVERY COLLEGE STUDENT, no matter the degree subject, should have to take, even if it costs them on the technology side.

In business and management, if you don't make a system of it, it's a mess. Teachers who don't see the systems aspect of 'student in the universe' are bound to go on, mechanically, and not reach students. Even artistic works are systems and interact in a systems environment. I could go on like this, but you get the point.

The whole concept of education needs to be revisited. "What does a student need to know and understand in order to succeed? In order to succeed in his or her chosen specialty?" Those are the questions to ask, and moreover, to answer honestly.

on Jun 18, 2016

Agreed -- the line between engineering and technician work is more of a mesh network than a "line". Each needs to understand the other's working perspective.

The engineer must learn a design must be buildable, and its assembly process either understood or learnable, by either themselves or someone else -- so design it that someone else can build it. A technician must learn the reasoning behind the design. When the minds of both meet, that's where product happens provided the financial and administrative support is there, too.

The best system engineering discipline I've seen gets taught at MIT: Course 6.18s, which includes Object-Process Methodology (ISO 19450). The beauty of O-PM is that it integrates every skill, resource and interest to any working level of abstraction -- including human roles and responsibilities. Teaching O-PM basics to a bunch of middle school junior roboticists, our FLL team won the state's "best design" that year because the O-PM discipline enabled the best merging of their parsed efforts.

on Jun 17, 2016

4 years isn't enough time to learn the basics. Degrees as difficult as EE in my opinion need at least 5 years to really grasp. Also, EE is very broad and is getting bigger every year. It may be necessary in the future to split the degree into more specialized degrees in the future.

on Jun 19, 2016

Seven critical areas, right, Lou? So let's see, that's a semester for the basic 72 hour course and a semester for the 72 hour advanced, since these are critical areas that every EE has to know. So 14 semester courses altogether. At 5 x 4 hour subjects per 20-hour week, that's just short of an extra 1.5 years on a basic 4 year EE degree.

There we are, Lou. Here's you're freshly-minted EE, "ready to hit the ground running", industry-ready and rearing to go, after a 5.5-year bachelor's degree course. Oh, and add one year for an honours project to consolidate. Q.E.D

on Jun 20, 2016

Don't forget cooperative education. I was in the co-op program and took 5 years to complete my BSEE. Win-win situation, as I got experience and pay to help with the tuition. BTW, what do FTC and FLL stand for? (I'm a bit slow there)

on Jun 20, 2016

Recently retired from a major engineering university in Oregon, though not on the teaching side. I also have a LOT of industry experience. The big issue, in teaching engineering is a very simple one: TIME. You have the curriculum of engineering core and specialty courses. You have the liberal arts and science courses. And that fills a student's schedule. Period.

At this school, a lot of weight is given to Senior Design projects. The whole engineering system is involved. They go to great lengths to recruit industry mentors though we are located well away from major engineering centers. There is also a significant internship program, but a relatively small number of students go that route. I believe that many of the students from this school are actually better prepared than they would have been 20 years ago.

In many ways, the same arguments were there 50 years ago, but from a different angle. Then, there were do-or-die classes in rotating machinery and many of us complained, loudly, about the mediocrity of the electronics offerings. A significant part of the building was also occupied by a rarely used HV Power Transmission Lab. Both were defended as critical to Engineering Knowledge. Things have not changed, much.

on Jun 21, 2016

I agree with you all comments. Neither one is useless. They all are well information. Please remember that when we were in school, we were trained to understand the concept of each electronics components. So we can't speak 10, 20 years ago or now. Example: automotive industrials change their car design performance base on the electronics devices almost every year and still could not find the best device to do the job.

on Jun 21, 2016

Greetings! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could locate a captcha plugin for my comment form? I'm using the same blog platform as yours and I'm having problems finding one? Thanks a lot!

on Jun 24, 2016

You make education sound simple. It isn't. College courses teach theory, the basics you apply to everything you'll work on. They do not teach practice, which changes.

Manufacturers should make available self-paced courses on a wide variety of subjects, at a modest cost.

on Jun 28, 2016

All of the points in this article are right on. There is one other, however; basic workmanship skills. I mentored a group of senior EEs and found out that NONE of them knew how to solder! I asked them how they got thru an EE curriculum w/o this skill; their answer: SIMULATION! Good luck with that at your first job!

on Jul 12, 2016

So they developed an accurate simulation model for a cold solder joint?

on Jul 5, 2016

Technical hobbies are the new apprenticeship. I was an experimenter and short-wave listener in Jr High and High School. I got my ham license my first semester of college. I was/still am very interested in computers and made a living for 50 years as a (mostly embedded) software designer. I recently took "apprentice" courses at a community college and got my electrical contractor's license (retirement job) -- I learned things about three phase I never learned at Purdue (BSEE). I have been 'hands-on' for a very long time.

on Jul 15, 2016


on Aug 21, 2016

I agree that at least 3 out of the 7 areas mentioned are not taught in sufficient depth if at all. RF & Microwave Engineering is often taught in a way which is too theoretical and far removed from actual practice.. To address this, I published a multimedia textbook, which comes with 12+ hours of video tutorials in which I use a simulator a virtual lab bench. I also managed to make this freely accessible to everyone thanks to an industrial sponsorship which indicates that companies are only too aware of gaps in the academic curriculum. If you'd like to check this out please visit explorerf.com/conquer-radio-frequency.html.
Instrumentation control is another topic which I was not taught at university despite the fact that it is very relevant and useful. I have published yet another multimedia book on this topic and I am currently looking for an industrial sponsorship to make it freely available (explorerf.com/instrumentation-control-data-acquisition-and-processing-with-matlab1.html). PCB design is also skills which would is extremely useful. I myself can only do it small scale but I would love it if someone took upon themselves to make a free MOOC or a series of video tutorials on it.

on Mar 17, 2017

In my case it all started in a High School Level Trade School. I learned 1, 2, and 6 while in high school. Picked up 3 and 5 getting an Associates degree. Worked as a RF Technician for 5 years, then went to Engineering School after working with RF Engineers. Learned 4 and 7 in Engineering School. And even in Engineering School, number 4 (motors) was learned from the only non-PhD instructor in the department. After all that I've had the privilege to work on different types of systems. Even have my own PCB Design Business (Netlist PCB, LLC). It's been a fun ride!

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What's Communiqué?

Blogs on topics such as wired and wireless networking.


Lou Frenzel

Lou Frenzel writes articles and blogs on the wireless, communications and networking sectors for Electronic Design. Formerly, Lou was professor and department head at Austin Community College...
Commentaries and Blogs
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