It goes without saying that the world is changing and that digital technology has put more knowledge at our fingertips than ever before. But in the midst of the information gold rush we shouldn't forget some of the old, tried and true methods either. The modes of access may have changed but the goal remains the same. And when modern methods fail it never hurts to go old school to find a solution to a problem.
Engineers resources have changed in significant ways, but here are the four biggest trends for engineers to be aware of.
1.) Print Complements Digital
In the old days, every engineer had bookshelves in their offices loaded with technical books and data books. I kept all of my old school textbooks and they served as great reference sources. I remember the thrill of requesting data books from National Semiconductor and receiving a giant cardboard box with an entire set –- I was the envy of all. Not only did they provide parts specs, but they were also a goldmine for application circuits. Catalogues from Digikey, Newark, and Mouser were staples around my student apartment, as well.
Nowadays those jam-packed bookshelves are not quite so jam-packed. Searchable digital media has more or less replaced paper catalogues. While it makes it easier to hone in on what you are looking for, the disadvantage is you can miss treasures along the way. Call me old-fashioned, but I get some of my best ideas and solutions by thumbing through the pages of books and catalogues. While searching for one thing, I run across so much other cool stuff. A precision search is exactly that, and so you miss part of the journey that pre-digital media facilitates, in order to get what you need quickly. Often that is all you get, with no additional nuggets of information to walk away with.
2.) The Death of the Surplus Store
The local electronics surplus store had wireheads that were a wealth of knowledge. There was nothing better than an early Saturday morning going to the electronics sidewalk sale under the bridge in Dallas, then heading to an electronics surplus store like Rondure’s or Tanner’s Electronics to finish out the day. The sidewalk sale started out as a place for hams to buy, sell, and trade their gear and evolved into electronic and computer parts. I built my very first computer with a 286 motherboard (pre-Windows) I purchased there for $75 of my hard-earned faculty assistant money. I had to save up extra for the floppy drives, hard drive, controller card, video card, etc.
Trips to electronics surplus stores were always fun. Not only did they have lots of electronic parts at great prices, the folks on both sides of the counter were a wealth of knowledge just waiting to be asked. From 8051’s to voltage regulators, I learned more about how to use them from Jim Tanner