John Watson Wants You—to Sign Up for His PCB Design Class
I-Connect007 columnist John Watson is teaching an introductory class on PCB design at Palomar College this fall, but this is much more than a basic design class. As he explains here, after taking this college-level certificate course, students will know how to design a PCB and have a solid understanding of how the industry functions.
But John has hit a slight snafu: He needs a few more students to sign up before August 23, or the class will be cancelled. It’s an online class, so you don’t have to live in San Diego to attend. In this interview, John talks about the genesis for the class and its benefits.
There aren’t many PCB design classes out there, so we’d hate to see this get cancelled. We’ll have registration links at the end of the interview. We need to keep classes like this going. As John tells his students, “What you learn here today will change the world.”
So, how about it? Do you have a new employee who needs to know more about PCB design?
Andy Shaughnessy: John, welcome. I understand you’re teaching a PCB design class at Palomar College.
John Watson: Yes. But there’s a little problem: We have 11 students signed up for this class right now, and we need a minimum of 16 for it to move forward with the class. If we don’t have 16 students signed up by August 23, the class will be cancelled. They won't conduct the class unless there's a minimum number of students, and this class will not occur again for another two years.
Shaughnessy: Well, I know a lot of design expertise has left the industry lately, so there’s plenty of demand for good design instruction. We’ll spread the word. So, tell us about the class.
Watson: I’m teaching a class at Palomar College called Printed Circuit Board Design I. It’s online-only, so it’s available to anyone on the earth with a computer. It’s an introduction to PCB design, but students will learn so much more than the basics. There’s no need to know advanced math or anything like that.
It’s also a prerequisite for the advanced class, Printed Circuit Board Design II. In the advanced class, we begin to look at the manufacturing process, and that would be in January. If you have new people at your company, this would be a great way for them to learn about PCB design. It’s all going to be online, in the evening, so it won’t impact your workday.
Shaughnessy: When does class start?
Watson: Class begins August 23, so we have about 10 days to get five more students signed up. I know we can do it. This is a college-level certificate program, and it really a great opportunity. I think the biggest question I hear is, “How do I start in PCB design? Where do I begin?” This class is a great way to get into PCB design. Students will be able to design a PCB by the end of this 16-week class.
Shaughnessy: So, why should somebody attend this class?
Watson: First, let me give you a little history on this class. When I went into PCB design, one of my first decisions was to go to this program at Palomar College. This program was started by Mike Creeden. It's been kept going by some of the great industry leaders like Bill Brooks and Paul Taubman. Some really great instructors have been a part of this.
Now, this course is not just about book knowledge. You can easily pull up a book somewhere and read about PCB design, right? The information we're giving you is practical. The class is full of real-world practical situations. We're not just teaching the steps involved with PCB design. Each class is three hours long, and the first hour and 15 minutes will be lecture. The rest of the time is practical lab work with the design itself. So, it's not three hours of lecturing; it’s mostly practical. The lessons are recorded, so students can re-listen to them any time.
Each week, I discuss a new topic in the design process. The first half is schematics and libraries. The second half is PCB design and documentation. Very simple.
We are also linking the students with major resources such as I-Connect007 and PCEA. We want the students to know that there are great resources available to them, and they can continue to use these resources throughout their careers.
I impress upon the students the importance of this career. One of the things I tell the students the first night is, "What you are starting here is going to change the world.” I've seen these students develop some of the greatest innovations in electronics. They are a part of some of the greatest cutting-edge technologies out there, and it all began in this “lowly” class of students learning the basics.
Shaughnessy: What if they’ve never used an EDA tool before?
Watson: No problem. We teach how to use PCB design software. We teach on Altium, by the way, but I’m not teaching how to use Altium. Our focus is not on learning the tool. What you learn here will not change if you’re using Siemens, Cadence, or whatever tool you can name. The steps that are required in the PCB process will stay the same.
Altium has donated 25 Altium 365 licenses, and it’s the full-blown tool, not a student-level limited tool. Each student will have a license that’s good for one year after the class ends.
Shaughnessy: Always good to have a seat of software.
Watson: It is. So, we start with what I call the amazing world of PCB design, and the history of PCBs, where do they come from, things like that. I explain how to create a project, then we look at components and libraries. How are all those components created? What's in them? You know my love for libraries and components.
We look at finding components and placing them. We get into the actual schematic capture part of this, and then schematic connections, what connections we can use to make the connections between the components. This is followed by the schematic verification and pushing it into the PCB. And after the midterm, the second half of the course is PCB layout and creating your document packages. It’s very simple. Anyone can do this.
Shaughnessy: Who is the ideal student for this class?
Watson: If you’re a new hire at a company in this industry, this would be great for you. Or maybe you're a CAD librarian who wants to move into the layout area. Well, this is a great opportunity. There are no limitations on the age, by the way. I actually had a 17-year-old in my class who was still in high school.
Shaughnessy: That’s great. I heard that you have some great guest speakers lined up. Who are some of the potential speakers?
Watson: Here are just a few who have said they’d be interested in speaking at this class: Rick Hartley, Tara Dunn, Stephen Chavez, Mike Creeden, and Paul Taubman. You never know who a guest speaker might be each night. What I'm trying to do here is get students face to face with the leaders in this industry.
I'm really focusing on working with companies. Because of COVID and everything else, companies have really been impacted by this with their workforce. They've had a lot of people retire, so they need to re-man their workforce.
I’m actually teaming up with several companies, locally and remotely, to get them connected to the students after the class is over to provide their first opportunities to get into the industry and begin working as designers. If your company is interested in working with our students, let us know.
Shaughnessy: This sounds like a really good class. Thanks for doing this, John.
Watson: Thank you.
- To view the abstract describing John Watson’s class, DD 226 Printed Circuit Board Design I, click here.
- To access John's syllabus for this class, click here.
- To register for classes at Palomar College, click here.