Let’s talk about something near and dear to my old, shriveled heart: the electronics lab. Recently I’ve wondered if lab work is becoming obsolete. To me, the key to a robust design is testing and wringing things out. If I’m choosing a part or architecture, I hope there is someone, somewhere in the world who tested the thing thoroughly and tried to break it, so we know the positives and negatives, the benefits and the drawbacks. To me, the key to innovation is trying things, even crazy things, to see what happens. Perhaps my experience is wrong in today's socially networked, online, vendor-leveraged, outsourced, quick-turnaround engineering world.
Are there more and more lab facilities being built each year, or is there a net loss as facilities close? Are young people as excited by the soldering iron and the oscilloscope as they are by CAD and simulation tools? We’re all familiar with the glorious chaos of Jim Williams’s famous lab (now reconstructed and maintained as a form of Dali-esque technological art). I’m a slob with all of my treasures spread out, but nowhere near Jim’s class. See Jim’s desk below in Figure 1 and my desk in Figure 2.
(Source: Linear Technology)
If Bell Labs started today, what would it be called? Bell Studio? BellBook? Go-Bell? BellSoft? Bell Incubator?
What does a working, effective lab look like these days? Is it a pristine, modern, and compact showcase, or is it filled with 40-year-old equipment that has not worked for the last 10 years, like mine? As a trade and a profession, where is electrical engineering headed? Will we ever see a Harvard or Stanford MBA BS501 class called “If the Engineer Is Productive, Leave Him or Her Alone”?
Do you have a lab? If so, what does it look like? (Send pictures!) What key equipment do you have? Is your lab at home or in a corporate facility? Put on your pointy wizard’s hat and tell me what your lab will look like in five years.
If you send a picture, there will be two fabulous iPod Shuffle prizes — one in Jim Williams’s name and one for the picture that amuses me the most.
— Ken Coffman is a Field Applications Engineer and Member of the Technical Staff at Fairchild Semiconductor. (His postings are his own and don’t necessarily represent the opinions or positions of Fairchild Semiconductor).