This time, I want to step away from C programming for a minute and do something a bit different and fun.
Stereotypes are woven into the fabric of society, for better or for worse. Luckily for electronics enthusiasts, the stereotypes we get tend to be on the better side of that.
This got me thinking about the stereotypes people like us endure (I’m using the word “endure” in a facetious sort of way) and what it means to be an electronics hobbyist or enthusiast. To me, an electronics hobbyist and an electronics enthusiast are the same, so I’ll probably use both interchangeably.
After a nice brain-dump, I came up with 10 traits that many electronics geeks have.
Note that having all ten signs is not a requirement; some of you may lack a few of these “qualities” and that’s okay. I’d say that as long as you have at least half of them you’re in the clear. But then again, that grading scale is absolutely arbitrary…
The 10 signs that you may be into electronics
1) You take things apart
When I was a child I took apart any broken electronic gadget that was bound for the trash. And I even took apart things that weren’t broken.
At that time, I was curious to see how things worked.
Today, I take things apart not only to see how they work but to salvage any useful electronic or mechanical parts. Here’s a post about salvaging electronic parts. The article goes into detail about the kind of things you should be looking for and what’s inside them, so I won’t repeat that here.
Sadly, as a child I was often discouraged from taking broken items apart for fear that the “parts would end up all over the floor.”
Many people who know more about psychology than I do consider stifling your child’s curiosity and creativity a bad thing. Lucky for me, that didn’t stop me.
In case they ever read this, I apologize to my parents (especially my father) for throwing them under the bus on this one. Maybe I should cut ol’ dad some slack though. He knows nothing about electronics or soldering and is considered to be dangerous with a screwdriver in at least 38 states.
Enough about my childhood.
If you have a child that is curious about electronics, mechanics, science, and the way things work I strongly encourage you to support that curiosity and not hinder it. Just be sure they don’t leave the parts on floor when they’re done 😉.
If you are a child (as in less than 18 years old), I encourage you to get curious about these things and ask your parents and teachers for their support.
2) You can fix almost anything
I realize that there are some among us who are awesome at soldering and circuit design but suck at most other things that require mechanical skill. However, it seems many electronics hobbyists have some degree of mechanical aptitude.
I’ve fixed a ton of electronic gadgets around the house ranging from throw-away items to appliances. My YouTube channel (which you should subscribe to) boasts recent videos of me fixing a touch lamp and a jump starter/tire inflator for your car. I fix computers in some of my older videos.
Just this year alone, I’ve fixed several electronic gadgets, my zero-radius turn lawn mower, and the water dispenser in my refrigerator just to name a few. I also maintain and repair (when necessary) two cars and have several home improvement projects under my belt.
3) You are at least somewhat proficient with at least one programming language
Or you’re learning your first one now.
Yes, I know there are some old schoolers out there (who don’t work with microcontrollers) that could put a lot of us to shame with things like designing filters and circuits with discrete transistors and simple ICs. One guy I read about built a digital clock with nothing but individual transistors, resistors, and some other discrete components. Not one integrated circuit in it. The transistors keep the time, drive the 7 segment displays, and handle functions like setting the clock etc. Props to him — that’s awesome.
And, like the clock guy, it is definitely possible to build useful, cool, interesting projects without a microcontroller.
But if you really want to take your skills to the next level and automate your life, you’ll need to pick up a microcontroller like a PIC or trainer like Arduino and learn some programming.
I could have said pick up a PIC but that seems like it would have been a bad pun…
4) You know what acronyms like IC, MCU, I2C, SPI, DC, AC actually stand for
The world of electronics is full of acronyms. And, if you’ve been dabbling for a while you probably know a lot of them.
If you’re new to electronics don’t worry. You’ll see most of these acronyms often enough that they’ll become a second language to you in no time.
5) Your reading list
If you find yourself regularly reading Make: magazine, Circuit Cellar, Nuts & Volts, Servo, The MagPi, or similar magazines, chances are you’re an electronics geek. I know I read a lot of those magazines.
Ditto if you find yourself reading electronics or electrical engineering related books or listening to electronics podcasts. I still have all my engineering text books and actually refer to them and read them sometimes.
Heck, if you’re reading this blog not only are you one of the awesomest (if that’s even a word) people in the universe, you’re probably also an electronics enthusiast. I know I read the stuff I write.
6) You’ve watched at least one episode of Battle Bots or Robot Wars
Or maybe you’ve even been to a robot fighting event as a spectator or competitor.
The fact is, robots are just plain freakin’ cool, especially when they’re tearing each other to shreds.
Think about it: where else do you get to combine electronics with mechanics and programming? Designing and building a robot is like a geek’s ultimate fantasy that can actually come true.
7) You own tools most people never heard of
Okay, so most of us know what a soldering iron is. But fewer of us know what a DMM or oscilloscope is.
And some lucky enthusiasts may own more exotic pieces of equipment like a spectrum analyzer or frequency counter. I’m guessing the average person has no idea what those are.
8) You know Raspberry Pi isn’t just for dessert anymore
And you know that a Beagle Bone isn’t a treat for your dog (unless your dog is a genius geek dog).
Of course, you know what Arduino is all about. And, if you don’t or are new to Arduino you can see my Arduino tutorial series on my YouTube channel that you should subscribe to or check out the book How to Get Started with Arduino in 1 Day or Less.
Shameless promotions aside, all the above and others have been an enormous asset to makers and hobbyists everywhere. They make prototyping and building one-off home-brew projects much easier. And they make learning about electronics and programming fun for all people age eight to eighty.
9) People you know ask you to fix their computer or phone
I’m going to give you the full disclosure here: I run a computer repair business and since opening in 2007 (and even before) my family and friends often solicit my help with their tech problems.
But, given the overlap between computers and electronics, if your friends and family know you’re an electronics hobbyist they may ask for your help, too.
If they haven’t yet, don’t worry. They will.
10) You have a collection of parts and electronic junk
That collection can fill a closet, if not a whole room.
If you’re new, give it a little time and watch your junk box grow to gigantic proportions.
Much of the stuff I have was extracted from broken gadgets (see item #1). Very little of it was purchased.
Recently, I decided to organize my unfinished basement. This was something that needed to happen. I have a small work bench down there with a vise where I do “rough” work like sawing and drilling. The bench was a total mess, rife with the clutter of various fasteners and tools. The rest of the basement wasn’t much better.
When I started going through my electronic junk I totally felt like a hoarder given the amount of stuff that most people would consider trash occupying my home. But you know what they say: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
In front of me lay about 100 different circuit boards, a big box of AC adapters and power supplies, computer parts, motors, transformers and more. It was a job, but worth the effort. My junk box(es) are now a lot more organized. The smaller parts reside in a plastic bin with multiple drawers by my workbench in the spare bedroom upstairs. I love organization.
So, Are You into Electronics?
How’d you do?
Truthfully, no matter how many of the above qualities you possess, only you can answer the question in the headline directly above.
If you’re new to electronics and microcontrollers or just starting, you may not identify with even half of the above ten. Keep at it. You’ll get there. And the list definitely isn’t all inclusive. There are others I probably missed.
Electronics is both a fascinating and useful hobby to have, especially now more than ever with the popularity of the Maker movement. To make the deal even sweeter, things like the Arduino and RPi make it ridiculously easy to start and learn.
And, unlike when I was in school in the mid-eighties through the late nineties, many schools these days have STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs to spark interest in children and teens. If you’re still in school and have the opportunity to take part in one of these programs, I highly encourage you to do so.
Until next time, drop a comment and tell us what your favorite thing about being an electronics hobbyist or maker is.