Planning Your Design Education Strategy

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There are (finally) some young people joining the PCB design and design engineering community. We’re glad to see their youthful faces at trade shows and conferences. But if you’re a recent grad and working in your first “real” job, you might be asking yourself: How do I set up an education and training plan for my career in PCB design? What’s my next step?

We asked Eric Bogatin to weigh in with his thoughts. Eric has a unique viewpoint: He’s a veteran signal integrity instructor, as well as a professor in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Colorado, Boulder. In this interview, Eric lays out some of his planning strategies and the need for a degree in electrical engineering in the PCB design world.

Andy Shaughnessy: Eric, how do you help your students plan their educational objectives at the college?

Eric Bogatin: This is an important question. It is never too early to start thinking about what your career goals are, either working in the industry or just as a student. If a student is not 100% clear and dedicated to a particular path, I encourage them to use the opportunity as an undergraduate to experiment and explore topics. They need to get enough experience to figure out what they like—design, measurement, software, simulation, circuits, fields, designing systems, working with people, working behind a computer, teaching, or something else.

Once they have a sense of what they really enjoy and a plan, then we select courses to help support that path. Because of the core courses most EE students need to take, there is not a lot of flexibility, but there are usually four or five electives that a student can select.

Shaughnessy: What criteria should designers keep in mind when evaluating their educational needs in the industry?

Bogatin: You need a balance between the fundamental principles and the hands-on experience applying these principles. Taking online classes is fine, but plan to get some kits so you can actually build and measure circuits. Taking some courses in which you will get experience designing and building reference designs will help build your confidence.

Shaughnessy: What would you advise to PCB designers who want to set up their own strategic learning plans?

Bogatin: If you want to be a PCB designer, rather than a circuit designer and hardware designer, then you probably don’t need a BSEE degree. Just getting some electronics experience and training in designing and building some boards is good enough to get started. But if you are going to be a hardware engineer and take responsibility for the circuit design and do the board design, then a BSEE and lots of hands-on experience designing and building circuits is important. You cannot get too much experience building working circuits in a solderless breadboard to gain experience in debugging and characterizing circuits.

To read this entire conversation, which appeared in the March 2022 issue of Design007 Magazine, click here.


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