Eventually I intend to talk about technical topics like the creative methods engineers can use for destroying MOSFETs, but instead, once again, let’s talk about something of general, philosophical interest.
It’s not all bad news in our tough, rapidly changing industry. One thing very gratifying over the last few years is the rise of the MAKE meme: Experimenters and hobbyists are back in fashion with our youth.
Old coots like me fondly remember Heathkits: We got started in electronics with kits, soldering irons, and scavenged parts. I actually built a Heathkit console TV, and it worked. What a miracle.
Now we have Arduinos and Raspberry Pis and Schmart Boards and Parallax Propellers and Intel Galileos — a mind-boggling cornucopia of self-contained boards and assemblies and software tools that cater to the curious and tech-minded. If you know of a young person interested in technology, you could do worse than buying them one of Charles Platt’s fashionable Make:Electronics books for Christmas. We had a whole generation turned off by the difficulty of experimenting with surface-mount components and obtuse software. Finally, technology has developed to the point where ease of use creates low barriers of entry.
We should encourage bright and motivated young people to embrace STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) topics. In particular, the way we teach math makes me angry. Many people look at an equation and their minds shut down — which is sad, when they are perfectly capable of understanding the concepts if the topic is explained properly, tied to a useful example, and presented in a non-threatening manner.
A formula is a tool: It should be our slave, and it should be subservient to us, not the other way around. If a formula is not useful or does not make sense, that’s the fault of the teacher or the formula itself, not the motivated student.
It’s interesting to imagine what our technical education system will look like in a few years — after a healthy dose of Internet ingestion. There is value in our engineering programs, and there will always be rigor and challenge in creating an engineer. On the other hand, information wants to be free. We need technical workers, but the expense is a barrier.
Frankly, the idea that a poor student anywhere in the world can’t get a technical education when they are capable and motivated — that’s plain wrong. The Internet is a powerful force for shrinking the world and reducing the friction of transporting data.
What are your thoughts? Set me straight in the comment section.