at #1307Andrew SkinnerParticipant
Somewhere in late 1974 I staggered out of the Electronics Engineering building of the old SAIT for the last time.
I had a degree of sorts, demonstrating a near total failure to grasp abstract mathematical concepts but with high distinctions in the rarer subjects that had let me loose in a workshop or a lab.
Fairchild Semiconductor had released the uA709 op-amp a decade earlier, and then finally got it right with the uA741 op-amp. These littered my final year project, along with 74-series bipolar logic parts.
Integrated circuits had arrived and so, in my way, had I.
I recall my last minutes standing in the corridor of the old Napier building on the 5th floor, talking to a mate about our chances of making a career in electronics. I admitted sheepishly that though I was now theoretically a design engineer, I still had no idea how to bias a transistor.
I was scared of everything.
Forty years later, I’m scared of nothing.
For all those forty year, I’ve been employed to design electronic stuff. I’ve spent the last 32 years at MEA (Measurement Engineering Australia), which I founded myself in Adelaide back in 1984. It was a rash thing to do, miring my young family in poverty for almost a decade, but there was nobody else around interested in environmental measurements.
These days I lead a team of bright young chaps in the R&D section at MEA. They wax lyrical about protocol stacks and web sockets, IDEs and TCP-IP, and I follow all of that. We’ve built successful products together, most recently using 2.4GHz mesh-networked radios pushing sensor measurements off-farm to the Cloud.
I get all that, but as I lock up MEA each night and set off for home on foot, my mind drifts back to circuits akin to those I should have understood at graduation, but didn’t. That I finally understand analog electronics and Ohm’s law owes much to eBay, Gumtree and my home lab. I buy up old test equipment from the 60’s – all of it eminently fixable – and poke about down my back shed trying to peer into the minds of those long-gone electronics engineers who designed these things, using technology at the fore-front of their times.
It’s been said that analog engineers with 20 years of experience are twice as good as those with ten, simply because they’ve had longer to make mistakes and learn from them.
On the bench at the moment is a massive dual tracking power supply capable of delivering 350W of DC power. Imported, right?
Nope, this unit was built by BWD in Melbourne, an Australian company founded in 1955 that was still around in the 1990’s. They made power supplies, oscillators and oscilloscopes, all using standard parts and repairable and usable to this day. Good Aussie electronics is as old as I am, if not older.
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