[Editor's Note: In celebration of Engineers Week 2016, Design News invited its engineer contributing writers to tell their personal stories. And don't forget to read our special readers submission series: Why I Became an Engineer ]
Despite my best efforts, I would be hard-pressed to deny that I was born an engineer. As a young adult, my mother used to tell me how just hours after I was born, with my pointy Spock ears, I was the talk among the nursing staff for my attempts to wiggle free of my blankets and grab my misplaced pacifier. As a toddler, I recall on numerous occasions, much to the chagrin of my father, placing He-Man and Skeletor accessories inside the opening of the VCR (you know, that thing that took those giant cartridges of spooled magnetic tape and occasionally refused to give them back). On each occasion my father would be forced to open the VCR to remove my toy(s), and it was always so fascinating to see the components that lay hidden behind that simple folding door.
One of the earliest signs that I was destined to be an engineer may have been my obsession with the DeLorean from “Back to the Future,” but if that didn’t do it, then surely the Apple IIe in my first-grade classroom was. I recall on numerous occasions sitting in front of that computer while booting off a five-and-quarter-inch floppy disk, ejecting the disk at just the right moment to gaze and wonder at all those ridiculous characters that would suddenly be spewed out onto the monitor. What on Earth did all those symbols mean? With peaked fascination, every spare moment I could muster was spent in the computer lab.
I could no doubt go on and on about how I learned Basic and could rock a goto statement like nobody’s business (by the way, that is not permission to bring back the goto statement), but it really wasn’t until high school and the FIRST robotics competition that I got my chance to write my first lines of embedded software. My first lines of code weren’t so glorious as to control our robot -- although I did get to dig in and learn so many principles from my mentors -- but was to develop embedded software to control 16 panels of eight bi-color LEDs. Multiplexing, bit-manipulation heaven all wrapped together in the ultimate electrical engineers “Hello World” program. For anyone wondering, yes, I do still have the source code printouts, and, no, I have not yet had time to put them into git.
It has almost been 20 years since my first meddling with embedded software. During this time, I have come to appreciate how my own success is nothing more than an extension