Do you have “The Knack”?

The Fledgling

I was recently doing some work for a UK arm of a large US defence company and I was introduced to a young 17 year old work experience student. A conversation ensued which went something like this:

Me: “Are you interested in a career in engineering?”
Him: “Oh yes, I really enjoy electronics.”
…*edit* (exploration of his school work.)
Me: “Do you have an idea what you’re going to do at University?”
Him: “Oh Yes, I’m applying for a 5 year Masters in Electronic Engineering.”
Me: “Wow, You must be pretty keen on electronics, have you heard of / played with Arduino?”
Him:  “No”
Me: “Raspberry Pi?”
Him: “No”
Me: “Beaglebone?”
Him: “No”
Me:  “Makers?”
Me: “You do have some cheese?” (Sorry, but it did get a bit like that)
Me: “Have you done any electronics outside of your course?”
Him: “No”

At this point he seemed to lose interest and tire of the cross-examination. He looked down at his watch and I could see he was willing lunchtime to arrive. (I’m that boring, I know).

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m very pleased that he sees his future in electronics, but I’m a bit bewildered that he showed no “Maker” spirit. No desire, nay, passion to tinker outside the bounds of his course. I’ve come across this a lot over the years, in fact it would always be a bit of a deal breaker for me if I was interviewing electronics graduates for a job.

It also reminded me of similar case a while back.

The Placement Student

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, I was doing some work for 3M at the time of a fresh intake of university placement students (“interns” to you Jonny Foreigners). One in particular, we affectionately christened “Monkey Boy” for reasons I don’t remember (though I do remember he bore an uncanny resemblance to the Yorkshire Ripper).

He was doing an engineering course at Brunel (I forget which flavour) and , in contrast to their other students, you could tell that engineering was not in his blood. His eyes would not sparkle at the unwrapping of some fine piece of tech. Brushed aluminium didn’t float his boat. A blue LED held no magic. Not even a stepper motor could get a rise. The guy did not have “The Knack” as Dilbert would say.

Unsurprisingly, he gave up engineering after he graduated and switched to corporate IT support aka “The Darkside”. He turned up a year later in his flash sports car and fat wallet. I assumed his new-found wealth to be a product of his career change (well, there can’t be much money to be made on the Serial Killer look-a-likey circuit). I guess there’s a moral in here somewhere…

What it all means

My point of these tales is twofold:

Firstly: I fear for that new fledgling electronics engineer, maybe he will develop a passion later on or maybe he’ll join the Darkside as well and be lost to The Craft. I’m a firm believer that electronics is very hands-on. Every professional engineer I’ve worked with has been or is a tinkerer.

Secondly: just in case he’s just too wet behind the ears and has spent too much of his Internet time in Snapchat or Facebook and doesn’t realise what is out there for him, it’s prompted me to put up my Resources page. This is my living list of essential jumping-off-points from around the web. I hope it will be useful.

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