Everything for Electronics

Electronics: What’s Important from the Outside Looking In?

Electronics: What’s Important from the Outside Looking In?

By Bryan Bergeron    View In Digital Edition  

As electronic enthusiasts, we each have our favorite niches. Perhaps you’re partial to the Arduino and exotic sensors, or tube-type audio, or ham radio and antenna design. Your focus defines electronics as seen through your eyes. But what about those looking in?

In our culture, licenses, certifications, and exam results are used to define us. It doesn’t matter how much enthusiasm or intuitive understanding you bring to the table.

You’re probably most familiar with the FCC amateur radio licensing hierarchies. Consider the topics on the current Technician Class License:

  • Electrical Principles
  • Electronic Components
  • Circuit Diagrams
  • Radio Waves
  • Antennas
  • Feedlines
  • Modulation Modes
  • Safety
  • Station Setup
  • Station Equipment
  • Operating Procedures
  • Rules and Regulations

It’s a fairly broad swath of knowledge in electronics focused, of course, on communications in the context of public service. However, it’s still a very small subset of what I’d consider the world of electronics. For example, there’s nothing about AI, embedded computing, sensors, microcontrollers, or robotics.

If we expand our point of reference from the hobby to the commercial FCC licensing requirements, we see that there are 14 different licenses, from First Class Radiotelegraph Operator’s Certificate (T1) to the GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System) Radio Maintainer’s License (DM). Topics covered by the DM license include:

  • Basic Radio Law
  • Basic Operating Practice
  • Operating Procedures
  • Radio Wave Propagation
  • Radio Practice
  • Electrical Principles
  • Circuit Components
  • Practical Circuits
  • Signals and Emissions
  • Antennas
  • Feedlines
  • Radio System Theory
  • Amplifiers
  • Power Sources
  • Troubleshooting
  • Digital Theory
  • GMDSS Equipment and Regulations

As expected, the commercial license requires considerably more knowledge than the Technician license in both depth and breadth. But what about expectations from a group completely outside of what is usually considered by those who regularly deal with electronics as part of their job?

Let’s look at topics in electronics covered by the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), which is about as far as you can get from a traditional practitioner of electronics:

  • Work Equations
  • Power Equations
  • Ohm’s Law
  • Capacitance of Parallel Plates
  • Capacitance in Series and Parallel
  • Resistance in Series and Parallel
  • Kirchhoff’s Laws
  • Sound dB
  • Wavelength vs. Frequency
  • Doppler Effect
  • Laplace’s Law

In my experience, self-taught or non-academic electronics enthusiasts do well at the concepts behind the titles on an intuitive basis. For example, take Kirchhoff’s Laws. If you’ve spent any time with a voltmeter or ammeter in diagnosing a circuit, you know intuitively that the current entering a junction is equal to the current exiting the junction, and that the sum of the voltage drops around a closed circuit equals zero.

So, how does your grasp of electronics compare to the standards stabled by the FCC or academia? Why should you care? Well, I see each list as a set of personal challenges for me to become a more complete enthusiast.

For example, although I studied Kirchhoff’s Laws in electrical engineering courses in college and have built my share of antennas, I’m rusty on feed lines. I remember, vaguely, that stubs and various impedance matching devices can be constructed from feedline, but I couldn’t solve any practical matching problems without studying information from the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), IEEE, or some other trusted source.

If you’re a typical electronics enthusiast, I imagine that there’s some area in electronics in which you’re not completely fluent. If one of these lists, or, say the list of topics covered by the Amateur Extra exam challenges you, then that’s a good thing. It’s good for you and — should you decide to share your knowledge with others — it’s good for our hobby.

So, keep studying, keep extending your practical experience, and, above all, have some fun along the way.  NV