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If It Weren’t for Problems…

Problem, problems, problems. There is always a problem. When growing up, we were told not to be “a problem child,” or not to “to create a problem.” I dread having car problems, or worse, marriage problems. Yet, as engineers we should be happy for problems. For if it were not for problems, we would not have jobs.

When going to school, many of the kids I knew hated math problems. I saw through the words and just saw the math and enjoyed manipulating numbers to get the right answer. At higher education levels, we learned by solving problems of one type or another. For the social science folks, there were things like political problems. For the engineers, we had programming problems, circuit problems, and mechanical problems. You might assume that after four years of solving problems one would get tired.

However, once the graduation is over, we start looking for jobs and then the fun begins as an engineer goes about solving the company's problem of making the product work correctly. Or, the solving of the customer's problem of how to get that gadget to work properly. As an electronic engineer, our problems do not usually end when we leave the office. There is always some friend or family member coming up and asking you to fix the VCR (OK, I'm showing my age — at least it wasn't the beta), or DVD player. Or, “Can you fix the Wii — it's making that funny sound.”

I find problem-solving to be a great challenge and a learning experience. It allows one to figure out how things work. With the research capability of the Internet, I was able to find the steps to pull apart my four-year-old Toshiba notebook to fix the bad power plug solder joint. Applying the diverse, newfound knowledge of solving these non-work problems should help us to solve the work problems. Any learning we do helps us to learn in better ways.

My task these days has been to get old electronics working, and with the additional problem of parts availability, it has been a challenge. In many cases, I fortunately have the schematics. But there is the occasional issue of no schematics — and trying to figure out how the circuit works and why. I enjoy doing the reverse engineering of the old stuff. The thought and creativity that went into the circuits amazes me.

Once in awhile I find a problem that stumps me to the point where I need to go seek help. As the only electronic engineer in a sea of mechanical engineers, there is not much hope for me. However, I find that if I can talk to someone about my problem in such a way to make them understand, I often find the solution myself. Otherwise, the person ends up asking questions that can lead to the answer.

I find problems to be fun and challenging. For if it were not for problems, we would not have jobs; or else I suppose we would have “job problems” that could lead to “marriage problems.” So, what's your problem?

14 comments on “If It Weren’t for Problems…

  1. Brad Albing
    April 1, 2013

    OK, i can't let that slip past. Count me in too for problem solving

  2. David Maciel Silva
    April 2, 2013

    Hello Dereck,

    I think the engineers and the like live to solve problems, think a life without problems would be very dull.

    Because beyond the challenge of solving the problem there is an immense satisfaction to work around a problem.

    What I like to say “even to comfort me is” always going to be a solution!

    You can count on me when you need to share a problem …

  3. Netcrawl
    April 2, 2013

    Life is about problem solving, if you take a look at those engineer doing works in the lab, what does they do? they solve the puzzle! trying to solve the problem like how does nanotechnology works? problem is a part of everyday's works. For me Engineering works are boring without problem-solving!   

  4. Netcrawl
    April 2, 2013

    @Brad this is our world, its part of engineer's life-its a problem-solving career, that's we're trained for: to solve the problem.

  5. Netcrawl
    April 2, 2013

    @Scott thansk for sharing that- I'll like brainstorming- there's advantages in brainstorming because you're working with another trying to plan for the best- there's always strength in numbers. I think we can learn from other people-their ideas. 

  6. WKetel
    April 3, 2013

    Engineers solve problems, that is indeed what we do. Some of those problems are a product that is not designed yet, or a design that is not produced yet, or a process for production that has inadequate yield. A smaller quantity of engineering work is in solving the “it does not work right” sort of problems. But really, if it were not for our problem solving abilities and talents we could be replaced by MBAs and accountants, and procurement clercks.

    Besides that, if the task were easy then anybody could do it, and where would we be then? Besides that, there are not a lot of activities that I find more rewarding than producing a simple but elegany solution to some problem.

    BUT don't post yourself as a “problem solving engineer”, because none of the searching software will recognize that as an engineering catagory.

  7. Netcrawl
    April 4, 2013

    Engineers primary job is to solve a specific, unlocking the msytery of science-pushing the bounday of limits. We make new discoveries, new innovations and uplift standard of living, it build the foundation of technology.

  8. Brad Albing
    April 4, 2013

    Quite so. Always good to bounce the ideas of of another – and to be asked to justify your ideas. Helps to clarify ones thinking.

  9. Brad Albing
    April 4, 2013

    And I've been in job situations like that. When you run out of the interesting design problems – when you're just doing the same design over and over – the job gets pretty dull. You stop learning. Then it's time to move on.

  10. Brad Albing
    April 4, 2013

    >>BUT don't post yourself as a “problem solving engineer”, because none of the searching software will recognize that as an engineering catagory.

    Perhaps describing yourself as an “engineer capable of increasing profit margins” would be better. You're still acting as a problem solver, but you're describing yourself in terms that upper management can understand.

  11. Brad Albing
    April 4, 2013

    Of course, taking the part about describing yourself in terms that upper management can understand to the extreme, you could describe yourself as “an engineer who will work for free.” But I would recommend against that.

  12. WKetel
    April 4, 2013

    My information is that it was not a problem of management not understanding, but rather the inadequacy of the resume-scanning filter programs used by lazy HR groups and also by lazy headhunters.

    The result is that it never gets near to any upper management types. So the solution is to use only words that those programs like.

  13. Brad Albing
    April 30, 2013

    Fortunately, for us analog engineers, it's usually possible to find something else to do, so jumping to a new gig is possible, mostly.

  14. Brad Albing
    April 30, 2013

    We should set up a section on Planet Analog specifically for problem solving – where fellow engineers could post problems. We do that here sort of – but only tied in to an existing blog.

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