Has complexity killed the engineering bug?

2 min read

Over dinner with some friends, I'd gotten into a discussion about my earliest motivations to get into engineering and computer science / computing systems.

The conversation read like a page right out of the engineer's playbook. Boy gets curious; finds an early fascination with how things work; boy begins taking things apart to quell that curiosity (mindlessly ignoring the steps involved in putting them back together – dinner guests laugh); boy gets computer; learns to bang out Assembler; graduates to C & other high level languages. Rinse. Repeat. All the way through high school and on to college. Then, the conversation took a decidedly darker turn. A turn towards what our kids do. Or rather, what kids – in general – don't do any more. "Too much time in front of the TV" or "too many video games" or "they just don't go outside like we used to"… "I can remember when…," etc, etc, etc. The story is all too familiar on just about every continent and in any developed economy just about anywhere in the world. Now as a parent, I'm blessed with a bright, talented child who, like I, shows a deep interest in the way things work. And as a good parent, I have sought to encourage my child and nurture his interests. I have also tried passionately to show him some of things that got me excited when I was his age, like pet projects that do some simple function or small applications. But after all my efforts, what I found was an even greater challenge than I had imagined. Not only did he not praise me (as I had no doubt expected) for my cleverness in designing what must have been the greatest of all Theremins, or my totally engaging console-style multi-user dungeon application. No, he yawned! Yes. Yawned. And more than once. The LED drivers? Not having it. Laser Diodes were a curiosity that didn't go far. I kept losing him, leaving me to rethink even my own motivations. But just when the clouds rolled in, a ray of light shone through (kinda). My problem isn't with what I'm creating (well, at least in part); my problem is what I'm competing against! It isn't that kids have no innate curiosity or interest in how things work, or even the patience to try and tackle them. But the skills required to compete with what we lay at their feet are in the hands of a different class of engineer altogether. They are no longer the domain of the enthusiast. They are now solely the domain of the truly skilled, highly educated, engineering elite. And anything we might have created even 15 years ago is dwarfed by the tremendous advances in technology since. And this brings me to my point. We need to continue the trend toward making engineering accessible again, for a younger generation. Development boards and development systems, high level IP, even software IP are all converging on this. Compare Adobe Flash or designing games with DirectX & XNA with trying to do the same thing in C++ or worse yet, C. Compare Visual Basic today to the Visual Basic even 10 years ago and you'll see we are getting there. We are just in that low period where the enthusiast and the engineering elite are on quite different footings. What we need is the VB for electronics development. And though we might not be there yet, I'm positive we will get there. And engineering will woo a whole new generation of kids with wandering eyes and minds into a world limited only by their imaginations. About the author Matthew Berggren has more than 10 years experience in electronics design. Prior to Altium, Matthew gained experience in a number of engineering positions, including roles as a Systems Engineer, Product Manager, Electrical Engineer, and Software Developer. He currently holds the position of Master Electronics Designer and Customer Success Manager at Altium Limited and can be contacted at matthew.berggren@altium.com.