In electronics you have two classes of knowledge experts, Engineers and Technicians. I’m ignoring the programmers for the moment because they only complicate this discussion.  The distinction between the two classes can become very blurred but Engineers are expected to create designs, while Technicians implement and troubleshoot those designs.

At a practical level, the difference is education. The Engineer has a four-year plus degree that goes deep into theory, math and a smattering of fine arts. The technician usually has a two-year degree that focuses on hands on applications, less theory and less math.

I have met a few exceptional technicians that understood the inner workings of the circuit far better than the average engineer and I’ve met a few engineers that would make very good technicians. My first job after I obtained my engineering degree was fortuitous because my boss made me work for a year as a technician.

During that time I had to troubleshoot returns, work with customers having problems with our products, prototype and troubleshoot designs created by other engineers. Because of that experience, customer interface, reliability and producibility are always high on my list of design requirements. At the time, I deeply resented my boss for underutilizing my capabilities. Now, I greatly appreciate the opportunity he gave me and wonder if he knew what he did for me.

There is another way to gain both knowledge sets and this is what I wanted to discuss.  Every once in a while a good technician decides he/she wants a better understanding of the electronics and goes back to school for a EE degree.

I won’t pretend to know what motivates them. More money, better knowledge of electronics, tired of being ignored by engineers, all of these are possible motivations. What makes these people special are the issues they have to overcome and the perspective they gain.

By the time they make this decision, they usually have a career, a family, and all the obligations that go with a family. To decide to go back to school,  realizing that it will take much longer than the standard four years, knowing all the extra work that they will face makes these people exceptional in my opinion. To overcome these obstacles and actually get their degree makes these people extraordinary.

If you’re fortunate enough to have one of these people work for you, you have the benefit of someone who understands both theory and application. You have someone who has demonstrated the ability to take a long-term view and work long hours to make a goal. You have someone who has seen all sides of the product life cycle. You also have someone who truly understands the value of education.

If you are one of these people, you have my deep respect.

© Copyright 2012 Byron Seastrunk, All rights Reserved. Written For: Opinion by pen