Time in Design: 50 minutes
Sponsored By: Jonman
Block Diagram Review
Wow. That's … a lot like work, actually.
As many of you may remember, I'm an electrical engineer by trade. As such, I cast a gimlet eye on all of those STEM encouragement programs. It's not that I don't want people to go into engineering, if they want to, but they have to do it for the right reason.
If you're going into it for the money, you're doing it for the wrong reason. Engineering is a miserable career if you're just looking for a paycheck.
If you're doing it for the prestige, you're doing it for the wrong reason. The only way an engineer gets famous is through a monumental screwup.
If you're doing it because somebody changed STEM to STEAM and that A made the difference, you have been lied to. Art is just as soul-crushing and difficult as engineering, especially if you're bad at it, and it's not any easier to get good at art than it is to get good at math.
No, if you're going to go into engineering you have to do it because you like engineering enough to want to be good at it. Anything else is wasting your time, and dragging down the average competence of the profession as a whole. The world needs good engineers, not people who let their guidance counselors talk them into “something high tech” because they realized that Starbucks wasn’t big enough to employ everyone.
The trick is, how do you figure out whether engineering is the career for you if you don't already know? Well, someone came up with an idea, and they called it Hardware Engineering. It's the digital equivalent of one of those 800 in 1 kits that you used to be able to get at Radio Shack, but with less hand-holding. And since Radio Shack doesn't exist anymore, this is what we've got. On the bright side, nobody is going to get burned grabbing the wrong end of a cheap soldering iron this way.
It does a decent job of portraying the day-to-day operation of being an engineer. You get a poorly written requirements document, probably from applications team or (heaven help you) marketing, which you must then translate into a block diagram using discrete logic circuits. The further you get into the game, the more complex the components available to you get, which also makes it a fairly decent simulation of an engineering career.
The design interface is, essentially, Labview (which I’m realizing isn’t as helpful to you as it is to me). The pins on the components are labeled, but you’re expected to know what they do. There’s a quick-help guide off to one side which will give you an explanation of the part, but the game is a lot easier if you know the difference between OR, NOR and XOR.
At the end of the day, if you play Hardware Engineering without walkthroughs and you enjoy it, you can be pretty sure that a career in electrical engineering would be a decent fit for you. If you play Hardware Engineering with walkthroughs and you enjoy it, maybe you can go into program management, since you're clearly better at taking credit for the work of other engineers than doing that work yourself.
Of course I will! One of the things about being an engineer is that I am incapable of letting an engineering problem go unsolved. Playing Hardware Engineering let's me use design skills I don't use as much anymore (the last time I needed to use a NAND gate was literally in the last century) and hone the ones I do use all the time.
There is a lot of satisfaction to be had using compound logic gates to replicate a truth table, but I understand if it's not your cup of D. I flip-flop on the question sometimes, myself.
Is it the Dark Souls of Breadboards?
Ah, that's where the rubber meets the road, eh? It's not hard if you have the background, but it's still challenging. Everything you need is right there on the screen, you just supply the know-how. If you're willing to learn and figure things out, you'll find the game very rewarding indeed.
I guess I'm saying that, yes, Hardware Engineering is the Dark Souls of virtual prototype machines.