View Full Version : Need some worldly advice from those in the know.

08-14-2006, 10:19 AM
My name is Matt Edelman. I've posted only a few times on here, but have been lurking for a long time. A year ago I decided to go back to college at the age of 29 with the encouragement of my fiancee. My ultimate goal is to get a B.S. in E.E. I also recently became a member of IEEE and when I read some of the professional journals that they send me, it seems rather daunting at times when they talk about a career as an Electrical Engineer. However when I interact with a company such as Parallax, I see them doing the kinds of things they do as the ultimate dream job. I realize that Chip and Ken and all the others at Parallax worked hard to get where they are now, but my big question is.. how do I get there? I decided to work towards being and E.E. because honestly since I was a kid that is all I have wanted to do is design and build things and possibly get paid to do it. Sounds kinda pipe dreamy, but growing up it truly was just a dream. College wasn't an option after highschool because of many reasons and now that I finally have a chance to do something with my life and career, I am going straight for what I've dreamed of. Growing up without alot of money, has kept my feet on the ground and honestly, I don't want to make a mint. I just want to enjoy my job and support a family at the same time. Luckily my fiancee has a degree in BioChemistry, so that will lighten the pressure on me a little, but I think you get the point. Ken, Chip or anyone else for that matter, can you share some words of wisdom for someone like me to heed as I enter my second year of college? I am really interested in robotics, and also renewable energy. Coming from a farming background on one side of my family, I also have a slight interest in agribotics. Also because I have dwarfism, I am interested in adaptive equipment for people with physical and mental needs. Obviously I haven't narrowed it down enough! In a year or so, I would like to start looking for an internship somewhere, and a company like Parallax is exactly what I'm looking for. Anyways.. I've rambled enough. I apologize if this post is not appropriate on this forum. I hope that others can share their insight.


Matt Edelman

Mike Green
08-14-2006, 11:58 AM
I think what you're doing is great! When you read the IEEE journals, remember that a lot of what you're reading is put there by people with a lot of experience after college. You too will get that experience. Finish the BS, get as much practical experience in building things as you can, but keep up the curiousity, the looking for ideas from what other people have done before. An internship is very important. In college, the emphasis is on learning. In industry, you also have to produce a product in a particular timeframe and with a budget. That often forces you to examine your project closely to see what's really necessary, what is it you're really trying to produce and you have to be even more creative to get it done without sacrificing the project's abstract goals. Going back to college after a gap of years gives you some grounding in life and knowledge of yourself and your goals that younger students may not have. If you have a chance, take a course on History of Science, on Ethics, Environmental Studies. They all will give you some perspective and a framework to think about what you're doing in the future. Take some courses that will give you perspective on people and how they work together. Even if you're not interested in being a manager someday, you will be anyway because you'll always work with others and be part of a team or lead it from time to time. Best of luck too.

08-14-2006, 02:18 PM
Hmm... OK... my $0.02:

Have you ever taken apart something... just because it was there?

Put it back together... with improvements?

And actually had it work afterwards?

As a kid, did you drool over the "expert series" Lego sets?

Did you ever try to improvise parts for them from old tape recorders, etc... that were given to you because they quit working?

Do you read stuff... compulsively?

Does your bathroom have a stack of Nuts and Volts, Servo, Circuit Cellar, and similar magazines... piled on top of an MSC Big Book and McMaster catalog?

Have you read them cover-to-cover so often that the binding is starting to fail?

Did you rig up a WiFi just so you could look up datasheets while reading the aforementioned magazines?

Would you rather go to a hamfest or flea market than to the movies?

Do you have a multimeter on the nightstand... just in case?

Do you insist on extra fabric softener... because it helps prevent ESD damage?

Does calculus make you all giddy inside?

Do you dream in nanometer-scale?

If the answer is yes... then you might be EE material! http://forums.parallax.com/images/smilies/yeah.gif

__________________________________________________ _________________________

The best engineers that I have known have all kinda' fit the profile of a "tinkerer" before they turned pro - they've got it in their blood; in their soul. The worst that I've known have entered it for the money, or because they were expected to by their parents -- they tend to lack an instinct for mechanism; and are utterly lost when it comes to designing a real product (but - they can sure talk about it!)

Always strive for elegance... not only is it good for your soul; it's good for your products, and your reputation, too. For example, were I hiring, I would be willing to consider hiring anybody with recent Apple experience; but MS experience will get your resume tossed in the recycle bin (no, the real one, along with the junk mail and yesterday's pennysaver). Elegant products tend to work better, and - by virtue of simplicity - tend to be cheaper to make and maintain, too. And I'll bet that the engineers behind the iPod are a heck of a lot more happy with their life in general than the engineers behind XP...

Build your own stable of stuff... For example -- got a car? How many microcontrollers does it have -- that you programmed your self? Engine instrumentation? How about the sound system? Is it running your own amp? MP3 player? Eq? How 'bout some transponders for controlling home automation (like, maybe, opening the garage door when you drive up to it? Or turning on the lights when you get close to the edge of the driveway?)

Read broadly... just because you are an EE major doesn't mean that you can't enjoy physics, or music, or biology, etc... the most creative solutions and ideas often come from putting together concepts from widely divergent fields.

Design stuff that you would use -- indeed, stuff that you would be proud to use.

__________________________________________________ _________________________

>> Also because I have dwarfism,

"Size matters not." - Yoda, Empire Strikes Back.
"Unless it's code size... then smaller is usually better." - Me, just now.

>>I am interested in adaptive equipment for people with physical and mental needs

Now, that is going to be an area of the field that's going to be exploding, even more then it is already...

__________________________________________________ _________________________

Hmm... I could go on and on, but Parallax does need some server space for other people's posts! http://forums.parallax.com/images/smilies/smilewinkgrin.gif

Kevin Wood
08-14-2006, 03:32 PM
Although you're studying for an BSEE, with your other interests you might want to take a couple of electives in mechanical or biomedical engineering. Maybe physics, too.

One great way to get experience is to work in one of the science or engineering labs on campus. If you can, ask the lab directors if they have any work study positions, or if you can do an independent study for credit.

Also, depending on your curriculum, take a few compsci classes.

John Bond
08-14-2006, 05:39 PM
Hi Matt the Medelman
The advice these guys have given is the best...
Now for some pointers from someone not too different from you, but a little further down the track (in age if in nothing else.)
I'm sad that I never followed my passion. I didn't think I knew my passion and I let others "assist" and "direct" me. I would suggest to any young guy that this is most important.
Example - I love gadgets, engineering and electronics but unfortunately I work in administration???
Don't accept other people's rating of your abilities. If you’re a little challenged, you may have to find other ways of doing things, work smarter and delegate what you can't do but as the NIKE ads of about ten years ago saidˇˇ ...JUST DO IT.
Example - I failed 4 grades in school and was finally expelled a year before graduating. An eminent South African Psychologist pointed out in her doctoral theses that I could never succeed academically (or in any other way). My current qualifications are VERY numerous and include an outstanding Masters Degree in Business Administration (MBA).
Change horses often. Do a variety of jobs. Don’t be scared to stand up, stand out or do menial tasks. I’ve had most fun when doing some very strange jobs.
Example – I once took on the project management of a re-glazing contract on a 14 story building while also developing of some pension software (my real job). I really enjoyed climbing the scaffolding and riding the inspection car. My boss explained to me that, as a junior manager I should refrain from these activities because all 14 floors of staff could seem my antics from the windows, but I couldn’t keep of the giant Jungle Jim (ever climbed scaffolding in a suite and tie?), when the glazing was over, the CEO threw a party to congratulate my team on an amazingly successful project. Guess which very junior manager’s name was on the CEO’s lips when the next real big project came up…
Alsoˇremember that failure is not an option, particularly fro those of us who are made a little DIFFERENT.
As a young chap 25 years ago, I shared a house with an American guy with Dwarfism (4 ‘ 2”), We’ve both done OK. I recon that being slightly height challenged is better than having circuits missing from your brain. You guys are normal, if you just wear platform shoes, where as we will always be Coo koo, what ever shoes we wear. (I’ve lost 4 cell phones in two years, I spelt my name wrong recently, I boarded the wrong plane last week – I’m just plain madddd…)
Have as much fun as you can. Fun is in short supply so actively seek it out. This should be rule number one.
Well, I suppose you could say that this is my attempt at a little enlightenment from darkest Africa.
John Bond

08-14-2006, 08:17 PM

Having followed the "late bloomer" path to university myself, all I can say is, keep going! The work and challenges will worth it in the end, in my experience. Its like the difference between seeing a long hallway filled with closed doors compared to a broad wall filled with doors, each already cracked open.

Don't worry too much about your utimate career right now. You will be exposed to so much new and interesting stuff before you're done that you just can't get too focussed too soon. As a member of IEEE myself, its important to realize that the Institute members cover absolutely every variation of electrical and electronics work, so finding articles completely out of your area is common and shouldn't intimidate.

Best regards,

Tom Sisk


08-14-2006, 08:35 PM
Thank you for all of the comments guys, I'm about to head out the door to run some errands. I have another week off before returning to fall semester. I took a total of 4 summer classes and let me tell you, they were a $%@$#. I wish that I didn't have to have math crammed down my throat because for the most part I enjoy it, but with pre-calc 1, 2 and trig behind me, I am ready to take Calculus in Fall. Otherwise I would have been behind a whole other year.

There is an Engineering Club at school, and it is kind of unorganized, but we have started working on a robot. They need new officers for this fall, and I am hesitant to run for one of them. I am somewhat introverted, and honestly I don't know if I will have time with all my course work, and work study. I used to work for a software company (Quality Assurance) for 8 years, so I definately have some experience working in a team enviroment. One of the things that kind of scares me about myself is that I get bored very easily. School keeps me interested because I am challenged all the time and its always changing. But as far as projects go, I start way to many things or think of way to many things, but can never thake them off the ground. I suppose alot of that is experience, and even time. And being a college student, money! I bought a prop stick and have yet to really do anything with it, but yet reading about it and the other projects that people come up with has been exciting. Maybe I just don't have enough faith in myself. I also have the HB-25 controllers and need to find some good motors that I can attach encoders to and create a decent platform to experiment with.

Someone had mentioned taking other courses besides engineering related, etc. Besides some of the general electives, I have already taken Energy Concepts, which was a really good class. The teacher really pushed topics on enviroment and some of the things that people are trying to come up with and in a way it sparked my interest even more.

I sometimes wonder if mentioning the fact that I have dwarfism is really important, but at the same time it is who I am. Yes I have some limitations when it comes to height, but I have been coming up with solutions my whole life to get around them! Dwarfism hasn't affected my mental state either, except for depression at several times in my life. If it wasn't for my summer math courses, I would still have a 4.0 GPA. Now it's like a 3.8 or something. Grr.. lol What's really scary is if you type Dwarfism in the google image search, a 10 year old picture of me is the first one that shows. The girl in my arms is actually my sister! I've thought about trying to get the picture removed, but it's a medical site in another langage, and if it's teaching someone there about the condition then that's fine by me. I only wish I looked as good as I did in that photo!

Being in the Twin Cities has been really great too. So many more opportunties here then were I used to be prior to meeting my fiancee.

Sorry this is short and rather choppy but I need to run. I appreciate the commetns people have made and I enjoy being a part of the community on these forums.


Paul Baker
08-16-2006, 02:46 AM
My advice is don't limit your interests prematurely, as others have mentioned use the opportunity provided to you through your higher education to explore those subjects that interest you. Take courses availible through the university, courses that are far flung from EE may be a little difficult (agri or bio-medicial) without taking pre-req courses that may be a little interest. Some colleges offer to take courses as pass/fail and reduce the requirements, or you can approach the professor to request just sitting in on the course.

This is what I did in college, bouncing from nuclear engineering/physic (too narrow (ie hyper-competitive) of a field for what I wanted to do, especially after the TX accelerator was shelved by Clinton) to computer science (was too easy and grew bored with the courseload), till finally settling onˇcomputer engineeringˇ(decided to switch to EE, but didn't want to throw away all the CIS credits).


Post Edited (Paul Baker) : 8/15/2006 7:52:54 PM GMT