You Can’t Learn PCB Design on Your Own


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When Editor Andy Shaughnessy asked me to comment on the best path for new PCB designers to learn the trade, I had one immediate thought: I don’t think anyone can learn PCB design on their own. It’s just not possible today.

This job takes a lot of hard work. I got where I am by working 60- or 70-hour weeks for decades. I would spend 40 hours a week learning PCB design and 30 hours a week reading the CAD tool manual.

Even back in the 1970s, we had mentors to answer our questions and teach us the ins and outs of design. Unfortunately, new designers don’t always have the benefit of mentors. Smaller companies may not have the time or resources to assign mentors to new hires. Your boss isn’t responsible for your design education; you are.

There’s always more to learn in PCB design, and more than one way to learn. Even decades after I began designing PCBs, I’m still learning. In 2011, I learned Altium and SolidWorks, and even though I knew PCB design inside and out, I had a 15-month learning curve to master these tools. I was surrounded by engineers and designers who knew the tools, and I was not shy about asking questions every day. Learning PCB design includes learning and mastering PCB library creation—that alone is a tough project.

My best advice for new designers is the same that I gave my son Luke back in 2003. I told him to go to work for Mike Creeden in his service bureau, San Diego PCB Design, and make minimum wage until he became productive enough for a pay raise. So that’s what he did. Of course, Luke drove Mike crazy, asking him 1,000 questions along the way, but that’s how you learn PCB design. Eventually it paid off. Now, 18 years later, Luke is one of the top PCB designers in San Diego.

There’s no magic wand for this. If I wanted to learn PCB design from scratch today, I would do exactly what my son did; I would apply for a starting position working for peanuts, provided that the company taught me how to design boards.

To read this entire article, which appeared in the August 2021 Design007 Magazine, click here.

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