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Electronics and How I Became An Engineer

The start of it all

Steve at work
I must have been 7 years old when my parents gave me a Chemistry Set for Christmas. It was my best toy that year and I had fun with it. Enough fun to let my parents know that I had a genuine interest in the sciences.

The fun didn't last though. Once I had done all the easy experiments and the ones that my parents were prepared to do with me, there wasn't much left that I could do. So the following year they decided to try something different. They got me a Basic Electronics Engineering kit and that is what launched my career in electronics and software engineering .

That first diy electronics projects kit that they got for me was basic. Just enough to flash a light and maybe construct a simple radio reciever but it was enough to fire my imagination. By today's standards the solderless breadboard was crude but back in 1964 it was the stuff science fiction was made of.

Components were connected by trapping the legs in the coil of a spring screwed to a wooden base. The whole thing looked like a spring mattress with the covers off but it worked.

I soon had this thing wired up and working in every way possible and without too much help from my parents. They could see that I was ready for more and they knew that they were on to a good thing because it kept me quiet for hours on end. They soon got me the more advanced kit which must have been a stretch on their finances back then but I shall be eternally grateful for it.

Before long I was building police sirens, advanced radio receivers and stringing intercoms from room to room. It was a magical time for me playing with this fun diy electronics kit.

I was hooked on building projects that worked

By the time I was eleven I was spending hours and my pocket money in electronics surplus stores. They had cheap components often recovered from old equipment. These places are sadly long gone but you can still get the gear you need from the likes of Ebay and Amazon.

Fault finding and trouble shooting

When I was fifteen I met a guy with a TV and radio repair business. I showed an interest and subsequently spent many weekends and school holidays learning the tricks of fault finding and fixing electronic equipment. I even started my own repair business after a while. The profit from that paid for my first car.

At school I became involved with computing. This was long before even the electronic calculator was invented and personal computers were not even fantasy yet. We did our computing by writing the programs in Algol by hand then sending them to a local university to be punched onto cards and run through their mainframe. A process that took around 2 weeks before we saw the result. It was most often a failed run because there was a semi colon missing or something. We would amend the program, send it off and wait another 2 weeks.This was to be the start of my life long career in Software Engineering.

Eventually I had to give up the repair business when it started to get in the way of my A level exam studies. This is when I first discovered how hard it can be to say no sometimes. I had become too popular but I just couldn't keep it going and get to University. Something had to go.

After school I had a gap year. Something that is popular with school leavers today but unheard of back then. I had had enough of studying for the time being. I wanted to get some experience of work and save some money to help me through university. Time to pursue my hobby electronics interests without pressure was also attractive.

Electronics job in my gap year

I was prepared to do anything including sweep the roads or collect garbage in my gap year but I was fortunate enough to land an ideal job in a TV factory. Yes I helped to manufacture televisions. I was given an assistant engineer role in the Test Instruments department. We designed, developed, built and maintained all the test equipment used in the manufacturing process. I could not have had a better preparation for my university course in Electronic Engineering.

I took up my place at the University of Essex in the UK in 1974. After working in a great job for a year I was now ready to start studying again and I felt that I had an advantage over others who had come straight from school with no work experience at all let alone much experience of practical electronics.

The first year was a grounding in Maths, Physics and Electronics. The second year was more intense. Lots of theory and lots of maths. It almost finished me because I'm far happier hands on than I am with theory and mathematics. The third year was thankfully more down to earth and far more enjoyable. I wouldn't say that I sailed through but I got a decent degree by the standards of the day.

My first job after uni was as an Assistant Engineer designing control systems for prime movers. Mostly huge diesel engines used in generators and ships propulsion. I think that I spent most of my two years in that job trying to persuade them to start using these brand new devices called microprocessors. Progress on this was steady but slow. None of the other engineers seemed able or willing to understand these new fangled micro electronics gadgets. There were no personal computers in those days. No cellular phones, no mp3s, no cds, no dvds and the Internet was still at least a decade away.

After two years I landed another dream job in the University of Essex where I had studied. This was my first post as a Software engineer. We were a research and development consultancy working for external clients. Our work was predominantly with the emerging microelectronics technology and we had a mission to take academic advances into the real world of industry. Yes we were there at the very birth of the embedded microcontroller revolution.

I have worked as a software engineer and consultant ever since that time and I still love it. The ability to create something from virtually nothing is like a drug to me. I can't get enough of it.

I now use my talents to create and market web based businesses so it seems natural for me to create this hobby electronics web site to enable me to regain lost passions and hopefully pass on my enthousiasm to you. Home DIY Electronics is going to be about fun diy electronics.

Author: Steve Garratt

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