I want to learn and work in electronics - where can I begin?

deuce42

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Hi friends

This board is an energising forum of highly skilled electrical folk and I would love to take some advice from you guys who work in electronics.

So here I am at this particular juncture in my life and find I am ready for a career change. I have contemplated many things but take solace in the sage wisdom imparted upon me when I was a small boy - it went along the lines of always choosing to do something you are interested in since this approach usually procures more success and self satisfaction in the long term.   I have always loved tinkering with circuits and building kits, and from this board I have made projects that I never thought were possible. I am highly cognisant of the fact however that those circuits were assembled because smart folk here were able to distill complex stuff into idiot proof colour by number templates so that ill educated enthusiasts like myself could simply follow the formula. I am very aware though that when anything went pear shaped in my builds, I lacked the knowledge to know how to troubleshoot and had to resort to posting questions here or reading the threads in the hope of finding an answer. I would love to learn enough that i could get by and more so, work in it for a job.

Now I am not a total halfwit I think, and I have developed conceptual skills but more importantly a very hard work ethic.  I have worked successfully as an entertainment lawyer for a good 12 years, working first for the largest record company in the world and then going out on my own with my own clients whom were recognised film makers and musicians. And along side this I also managed to make some pretty decent music for film and television myself.  At this point in time though I have come to realise that both the music and film industries are not worthwhile options for me anymore. If truth be known, film makers and musicians never have any money and I always had a hard time asking for much in the way of legal fees. Consequently I found myself making very little money at all. Moreover I have become frustrated that as a lawyer I still have to work my backside off and carry multiple levels of stress lest anything goes wrong, yet for the same level of stress that a corporate lawyer carry's I receive the equivalent income that their junior secretaries earn. Working hard is just expected from me, my clients even demand it, yet they never have the money to be able to pay fees and I am always uncomfortable having to ask them repeatedly.  So it's time for me to say goodbye to negotiating film and record deals and find something else to do.  I have really enjoyed it but now its time for something new.

So why electronics then? Well my litmus test is predicated by my own enthusiasm. As nerdish as this sounds,let me offer an example:- I have often found myself out on the town on a huge night, fun times, women and wine flowing, yet my mind was more absorbed and fascinated with the messy pcb project and soldering iron sitting at home on my kitchen table. I couldn't wait to get home to get onto this forum and post something to you guys. In fact my last girlfriend admitted she found it odd that the first night she came back to my place I was more interested in showing her my gear builds than paying her attention:)   I guess I can genuinely say that this is truly something I derive a lot of pleasure from.

So how do I make this a career? Where do I start? What options are available to me? I have been loathe to study an electrical engineering degree, if only that I spent some six years at law school and three years doing my music composition degree and am reluctant to go to university again.  But aside from prospective places to garner knowledge, what sort of job opportunities are there for me?

I would love to hear your advice and am very grateful for forums like this that afford me the opportunity to learn and ask you guys.

Cheers


 

sahib

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Entertainment lawyer of 12 years and still not milionaire? Man you are a disgrace. Ethan, could you please throw this guy out of this forum?

You have your reasons and its fine in my view. I know of a corporate lawyer who wanted to give up to be a musician. See, there is worse.

Beside the jokes here is my humble opinion. Also I can only talk for UK.

This is the time to make a change like that. Times are tough and it is going to be tough for the next couple of years. So you can concentrate on your professional development.

However,  I would strongly advice on doing a degree in EE. This will greatly increase your chance  of finding a job in the industry and to work next to high calibre designers, learn from them and rise up the ranks to command a good salary.  Even if you are thinking of setting up your own business, still the same. Get your degree.

I did not do a degree in EE and always worked for myself (other than spending my childhood in my father's EE business). It worked for me but then when I started I was fifteen-sixteen. Training for a new profession and setting up a business require a good and careful consideration if you are hitting forty . I am not saying it can't work but the risks have to be calculated. And having a degree will reduce the risks greatly.

You are mature, so you can use your time a lot more efficiently during your study. Plus you have the advantage of being able to practice your current profession and earn few bucks. You don't have to stack shelves in supermarkets overnight and try to make it to the class next day.
 

deuce42

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Thanks for that Sahib - yes I accept perhaps a degree is important after all. Its true I have a bit of time up my sleeve to experience and work whilst I study.  I just seems like a lot of study to have to do.
 

ruffrecords

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deuce42 said:
Thanks for that Sahib - yes I accept perhaps a degree is important after all. Its true I have a bit of time up my sleeve to experience and work whilst I study.  I just seems like a lot of study to have to do.

Think of it this way. If a 40 year old electronics engineer said to you he wanted to become a lawyer, what would you say?

In terms of basic academic achievement and the value of experience, both professional are, I would argue, very similar.

Cheers

Ian
 

sahib

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ruffrecords said:
Think of it this way. If a 40 year old electronics engineer said to you he wanted to become a lawyer, what would you say?

In terms of basic academic achievement and the value of experience, both professional are, I would argue, very similar.

I would say "Ethan, could you please throw that guy out of this forum too?" ;D

Ian, I agree with you to a degree but in the majority if you are in your late twenties or early thirties with a good design experience, you have a greater chance of getting a job without a degree, because you still have milage for training. But very few employers will be interested in taking on a trainee designer in his/her forties. By the time you are trained it is time to retire.



deuce42 said:
Thanks for that Sahib - yes I accept perhaps a degree is important after all. Its true I have a bit of time up my sleeve to experience and work whilst I study.  I just seems like a lot of study to have to do.

You are welcome.

It indeed a lot of studying but consider the amount of knowledge you'll require to become a good designer. The fundamentals of electrics and electronics will take you about two years to master, and if you study every day. You might as well do that in an academic environment. I was told by a designer that I admire that you don't need all that heavy theory and mathematics to design audio. It is true but how many audio designers are wanted, let alone analogue ones? If you are looking for a career in audio electronics consider digital audio/dsp. Even then that has very limited employment opportunities. If you graduate with a speciality in say analogue rf chip design you'll walk straight into a job with a starting salary of over £20K  A good designer in that field takes £40-50K any day.

What I am trying to say is that if you are looking for a career only in electronics engineering then aim high. But if you are considering a techie level career, yes there are many opportunities too but you have to be a bit of a jack of many trades. Hence, keeping your current job in the side line should also be considered.
 

PRR

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> film makers and musicians never have any money

How many rich electronics engineers can you name?

Bose and Harmon built empires and fortunes with MARKETING, not really with their EE skills.

Most audio companies never turn a real profit. Most go broke.

The average EE is a salaryman, income capped by thousands of sharp EEs in their own land and even more in India, China, Singapore, etc.

If you whine about money, and have a law-paper, go where the money is. Go into mortgage processing, slip-n-fall lawsuits, or tax evasion advice.

If you still must obsess about audio electronics, get off the forums, go to the used book shops. Buy and READ every old electronics (not just audio) book you can get. Don't mind if there's no audio in the book: the transistors (or tubes!) don't know what audio is, signal is signal, some neat tricks work in many different applications.
 

JohnRoberts

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This is a bit of a litmus test. Just like whenever you ask a question on the internet you get a lot of answers. so you must pick the right one from the group (as if I know the right answer for you). I recall receiving some advice from my uncle when I was a kid, he said if you want to have a secure future become a CPA.  :D  I ignored him and most other advice I was given, until I learned enough to recognize my own ignorance.

My take on your situation is to look for an area where you can use your existing expertise in law, in the field of electronics. One area that jumps out is patent law.. Generally the lawyers in that occupation mainly parse language and craft claims. Real engineers are hired as needed as consultants, but my guess is that legal chops dominates over the technical chops.

Electronics firms also negotiate royalties and contracts, so they need lawyers too. Again an in house lawyer, needs to be a lawyer first, with technical skills second or less.

If you love electronics. you can always pursue it as an amateur (amo amas amat).  Making something that you enjoy doing, your primary occupation, is not a quick path to riches, but can be a satisfying journey if you take your rewards from things other than money. 

JR
 

deuce42

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Yes perhaps a patent lawyer is a good idea.  For what it's worth I am not really looking for opportunities to makes lots of money at all and perhaps it came across as me whining abut a lack money which certainly wasn't my intention or issue. It's just enough to be able to make a living and that's all. Yes its true I could have found a way of learning about corporate law and becoming one, but I would like to do something that interest's me in life and that's more important to me than lots of money. I took the view that if I was making little in entertainment law now I may as well earn the same but do something I really enjoy and that's where electronics seems to be drawing me in.

I accept that studying is a good idea as well. I wonder if patent law would require an electronics degree? I guess it would since establishing patents usually involves heavily establishing technical justifications and reasons for them

I appreciate your advices.
 

sahib

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You are a lawyer and you know this better than I do, but the lawyers normally know nothing about anything other than the law. So you go to them with your problems, they listened to you, try to understand the problem, interpret it and apply it to the law. Now these are all chargable and that is what mostly hurts the client. If you advertise yourself to the electronics industry as a lawyer with a degree in electronics engineering I can assure you that you will have so much work that you won't know what to do with. Then you can pick and choose, charge them a fair fee and have a modest but comfortable life style.
 

mik

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deuce42, you can do everything you want, if your aim is true.

Mik
 

PRR

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> whining abut a lack money which certainly wasn't my intention or issue

Yes, maybe I exaggerated this point. But in electronics, or music, staying above the starvation line IS an issue.

> perhaps a patent lawyer

IMHO: ugh!

Go read a LOT of patents. I'd rather eat worms.

That's the polished result. To get there, you need clients.

Many of them will be as poor as musicians. Blood from a turnip.

Others will be Corporations where you are a cog in a machine filing memos on a strict salary scale. You won't be dealing with lone kooks (who are more fun than management kooks) but you won't be chasing unpaid bills.

Clients need an idea which is (or can be made to appear) Novel and Useful.

So to advise your client to move ahead, you should determine if the idea IS novel and useful.

"Novel" should include some knowledge of what would be "generally obvious to those in the field" PLUS an intense search of existing patents. Which means finding, reading and UNDERSTANDing a lot of patents. Reading closely, because in an optimum patent the real point is hidden in a lot of trivial Claims, so as to not give-away the actual point yet nail it when it goes to court.

In electronics there will be (simplifying) two broad classes of ideas. "Obvious", which could be understood by a mature electronics technician; and "sophisticated", with pages of Bessel-functions such that only a few very specialized engineers could grasp it. Your experience may be of some help on the former; you would always have to find, NDA, and pay specialists for the latter, so your experience is not a great help.

You also have to be aware of "other markets". CBS held a patent on a tank intercom. Maybe they sold tank intercoms. But the same ideas underlie CBS's audio processors which were a mainstay in the broadcast operations through the late 1960s. So a patent which appears to be for cellphone may really be about BlueTooth or optic data or other gadget.

(You may neglect the requirement for the idea to be "useful": you can always make up some bumph and it isn't examined strictly.)

This seems like tedium beyond belief; and also very-very far from "the messy pcb project and soldering iron sitting at home". (Oh, I'm sure some minds get a "thrill of the hunt" poring over piles of patents looking for points related to the client's idea; but that is uncommon.)

There's demand for Guitar Amp repair. Demand but little money. Any Gitar World shop can throw you some work, but they take a big cut off what poor musicians can afford. As a solo act you have overhead for shop and cost of getting word out.

Thin idea: university music departments sometimes need a "wire guy". Musicians (as you know) can be clueless about electronics, and a few departments go so far as to hire somebody. (Others have a whole staff.) Pay may not be good, though if you hang for decades the benefits may be OK. No use of your legal training. These days such positions will be expected to be good with computers: I went from fixing phonographs to Systems Administrator (shut-up in an office with a mostly-cold iron).

Lawyering is mostly dull, so on TV a lawyer has a gimmick. Blind. Arrogantly sexist. Crippled. Short skirt. Card-tricks. But I'm having a hard time visualizing a solder-packing attorney.
 

JohnRoberts

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I have a slightly different take on patent lawyering... I wrote parts of my last one, while I paid a real lawyer to write the claims (the important part). He offered to send me some part time work, and I declined but the sample he gave me to look at was kind of interesting (a semiconductor physics patent).  We are a little like the blind men trying to describe an elephant, it depends on our personal experience.  I suspect the most brain numbing patent related job, is the poor examiners who have to read all the crapo applications sent them that doesn't even make it above their relatively low thresholds, but a patent examiner is usually a stepping stone to learn how to get patents approved from the inside, before they move on to a higher paying job writing patents.

My experience from with working with several different patent lawyers is that they seem expert at the "dance". The give and take interactions with the examiner required to get a patent approved. I never had a sense that patent lawyers were very competent engineers, while familiar with engineering terminology and language. My involvement in a patent infringement case regarding one of my old patents, assigned to my former employer, suggests that this involves yet a different flavor of patent lawyer more skilled at courtroom battle. Even the hired gun EE experts did not strike me as very expert, at least not in my case, but i wouldn't expect any single engineer to be expert at everything. Patents by definition are not already known to those skilled in the art.

JR
 

leadbreath

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i actually have a lawyer friend who left the trade (criminal law) to become a critical systems technician (data centres). he's actually very happy and the pay is not too bad.

 

promixe

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I hired a lawyer once who used to be an engineer at Lockheed Martin, sitting in windowless basement doing routine life-sucking classified tasks. He quit LM, got a law degree and is far happier now having a window with a nice view in his office. =) .... I kind of agree with Mik on this one - go with what your heart seeks, the head will follow, but the happiness is in the heart. =)
 

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