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I know this may sound weird and I hope everyone doesn't mind me asking it here, but I've had a hard time finding people online that are into electronics and are online regularly. Not really small numbers of people, just smaller than I expect. Obviously Chiphacker is a place where a lot of those good citizens gather, in fact I've seen the names of people I interact with on Twitter or other sites; but I can't help wondering why there are so few online (in relation to programmers, marketers, PR people, lawyers, you name it).

So what is it?

Are there not that many people out there developing and working on electronics? (perhaps the perceived number is smaller because older people working on electronics aren't online as much?)

Are more of them too busy to get online to talk about it?

Are they scattered and hanging out in other dark corners of the internet? (i.e. are there other sites that I'm missing?)

Are the majority online but not social enough to participate?

I know it's kind of a silly and whiney sounding question...but I'm just perplexed. If you look at the number of people that are online every day and look at the (low relative to all internet) traffic numbers of sites like these and others, you'd think people would gravitate towards one site or another over time (maybe they have with Wired or EETimes or something?).

Anyway, I would love to hear what you tihnk or to be told that I'm being dumb and to just go about my business. If this question doesn't fit well on ChipHacker, I can always take it down.

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migrated from electronics.stackexchange.com May 14 '11 at 6:44

This question came from our site for electronics and electrical engineering professionals, students, and enthusiasts.

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    \$\begingroup\$ My guess is that you're looking in the wrong place. Also there's probably fewer electronics people around overall...it takes more skills than marketing or programming does. Of course that's changing somewhat with noob-targeted devices like Arduino, and people like Make. \$\endgroup\$ – davr Dec 16 '09 at 1:20

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There aren't as many "young" people involved/interested in electronics. Electronics, in many ways, is a commodity now. No one really repairs their own electronics, the parts are expensive to acquire in small quantities at stores with untrained staff (try asking a RadioShack employee how to bias a transistor, or even how to select a PC PSU at an electronics store for professionals like Fry's). The science is well-understood at this point. Electronics are made in factories guarded by untouchable gurus in lab coats. It isn't really emerging anymore, and it's impractical for a hobbiest to get started. The "advances" that are being made, are being made in the laboratory and not so much on the industrial workbench, and the highly academic nature of that work turns many younger people away.

In addition, it's hard to get interesting, quick results and expensive to get started in electronics. I think that is the main reason why software is so popular right now. Most everyone has a computer. Software development tools are free to download. Tons of tutorials exist. The initial entry cost is low, the amount of money you can make is high, and lots of others are doing it, so it's huge. Furthermore, the Internet is software. Self-perpetuating perhaps.

Because there aren't as many young people into electronics, that means the preponderance of EEs and hobbiests are older, and the older a person is the less likely they are going to share their knowledge/wisdom via the Internet. I've found that the people who really understand electronics and all the concepts will never share it online. They're too busy doing work to put it there! They need to be approached by a different tactic. The main reason is because this is an engineering discipline, and as such a certain wisdom is developed. Wisdom is only developed, really, through experience and intense training. And that requires doing. And doing is more than reading on a forum/website.

So, I think, the best way is to find the wizards and talk with them in-person (hence why I'm taking classes). However, I appreciate coming here and learning about what others are doing. And the new DIY movement has brought many newbies here, including myself :). I suspect this community will grow. SO was small when it started too.

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We have a couple dozen EE's at our company. Not many of them are software/internet gurus. I think the percentage of the software engineering community getting online is much higher than the EE community.

Also -- and this is not to put this community down, but to offer some constructive criticism -- one of the reasons I think that stackoverflow.com has taken off but chiphacker.com hasn't (yet) is that stackoverflow has a nice broad range from the software hobbyist to the struggling computer science student (though we wish they would put more effort into homework-type questions) to the professional programmer, to the arcane wizards of obscure languages. It keeps more or less everybody interested. This site still has much of its traffic towards hobbyist electronics questions, + there aren't that many questions coming from professional EE's about their work.

(It's also probably harder to ask detailed questions on this site, as posting code is much much easier than posting schematics.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is very true. When I was an EE at a company, my head was down on the bench, not much on the computer. It's much easier to copy-n-paste an software issue than it is to document and describe a problem you're seeing on a board. But this is changing a lot; much of what was electronics is moving into firmware and logicware. \$\endgroup\$ – todbot Dec 16 '09 at 6:24
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They don't use community websites

I've known many expert EEs who have no idea how to work with computers, let alone join a community website. We're not world famous yet and we don't use typical forum software - it took me a while to figure it out, I remember asking my first question by adding an answer to a related question!

They haven't learnt about this site or its system

Even if you do have intellegent EEs who can understand new software quickly, what's the chance that they will fulfill all of the following conditions?

  1. Get redirected here from any of the top-notch websites they visit frequently
  2. Understand the stackexchange system quickly enough not to get bored and shut the page
  3. Think of a question they need answers for, enter the question, and wait for answers
  4. Get answers, earn some rep, and finally start enjoying this system

Much hardware development happens off computers

Imagine a day in a software dev's life. Turn on computer, develop programs, write scripts, visit communities / interesting blogs, repeat.

Now contrast that with an EE's day. Startup workbench tools, draw rough schematics, test circuts, turn on computer, write code, program to chip, play with hardware, return to computer to capture final schematics or PCB design, repeat.

Taking all this into account you can imagine why so few EEs form communities like we do!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Which is why I'm contemplating shutting down Electronics Exchange.. you know, the other electronics stackexchange that is admittedly a miserable failure.. \$\endgroup\$ – Edward Dec 16 '09 at 17:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would like to add one note, as an EE, I do almost every bit of my normal work day on my computer. I spend time fooling around connecting my programmer to a device and spend maybe 3 hours a week working with other devices in the lab. Honestly, I have mostly only been working on the firmware portion for the last year. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Dec 17 '09 at 2:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good point, but there are more of us who share the workload of software and hardware design. Although much can be handled on a PC, typically for us over here part availability dictates a design and so its quite interactive based on which parts are easily available and low cost, typically stuff that simulators/schematic editors don't even list down. Lucky for you that you're only doing firmware, that's easier than handling both! \$\endgroup\$ – Edward Dec 17 '09 at 2:49
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Have you checked out electronics blogs like blog.makezine.com, hackaday.com, and hackedgadgets.com? (to name a few)

Also, there's quite a few interesting Flickr groups for electronics folks, like Electronic Porn, Electronic Guts, Abusing Personal Technology, and of course MAKE.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Make and Hackaday I have visited, I'll check out some other suggestions there. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Gammell Dec 16 '09 at 3:11
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I think there's a good number of us about, but we are dived into communities, because technology is deployed in many different fields. There's DIY technology hackers and re-appropriators, audio installation specialist, robotics experimentalists, artist and toy developers to name a few. I'd imagine you'd need various different skills depending on what field you're interested in, and people with similar interests and skills gravitate together. Personally I communicate with a wide variety of people depending on what project I'm working on. I use technology for music and as a creative tool- I often venture into different fields for inspiration and new ideas.

Maybe there's a large number of people online that are involved in electronics, but we travel in circles, so we aren't always aware of each other.

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I'm not sure I agree with sheepsimulator that it's impractical to get started in electronics as a hobbyist. I think a few years ago, this was largely true. But now, with the proliferation of inexpensive microcontrollers (PIC, Atmel, etc) and free/ lite/ open source CAD packages, compilers & such, it's easier to get into hobby electronics then it has been since the 70's and 80's. A lot of support parts are about to get a lot smaller though, so this window may be changing a bit in the not too distant future.

The way I like to describe the answer to the original question here is that hardware engineers tend to not "live in the Internet" like software folks to. The Internet is our reference library and yellow pages, but it's not our primary tool for existence. That is changing though (hackaday, opencircuits, avrfreaks...). I suspect that the hardware community is just five to ten years behind the software world in becoming integrated into the net.

What Edward Wallace noted rings true. Ask a software developer what the ideal UI is, and you'll get a lot of info about colors, CSS, navigation, information architecture, activity blocks, language, and on and on. Ask a typical hardware engineer what the ideal UI is, and the answer is likely to be "a knob." Compare the two day ordeal I went through to get signed up and set up on this site to flipping a switch and turning a few dial knobs. It's frequently just not worth the hassle to get to a lot of these online tools.

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A lot of the older people are still on Usenet. :) I'd be curious to find out the age distribution of users of this site.

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Back around 1999..2001, when my primary role was EE, the internet was headed in decidedly the wrong direction, from an EE perspective. While more sources of information were coming on-line, less and less of it was actually free. While good quality, free information, was already out there, there literally dozens of sites springing up with the same information, but which wanted registration, that somehow managed to garner higher page-rank in the search engines. The trend, if anything, was to throw up members-only portals and pay-walls.

I know that, as an EE, I personally was becoming disenfranchised with the on-line environment at the time. As luck would have it, I migrated to a software/systems kind of role about then, and in the s/w world, things had started moving in the other direction. In the last ten years, so many good quality, free software development tools have come on-line that working w/o 'living on-line' has become unimaginable. The free and open source movement has significantly lowered the barrier to those just starting out, and I think that's a large part of the groundswell of support at S.O.

If something similar were to happen for the world of electronics, we should see the number of EEs active on-line grow. With enough community effort, sites like ours can become a go-to resource. While the nature of hardware is such that we won't ever see free tools delivered on-demand in scant seconds, there are hardware development platforms that are becoming very inexpensive. It's no accident that much of what turns up on hack-a-day or our site is arduino or propeller or pic related. While a relatively fixed number of professional EEs are paying big bucks to obtain proprietary specs for Big Silicon, working in multi-year development cycles, we stand poised to see something of a renaissance in electronics development occur in this community.

Sure, there's only so much you can do with the kinds of hardware available to the entry level chip hacker, but with time, and open information sharing on our side, our community will be pushing the limits of that hardware. Sure, small teams in big companies will follow their processes and (try to) never make mistakes, but there's something missing from that environment that we have in abundance here: a kind of fearlessness that is the foundation of innovation.

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Also:

http://www.electro-tech-online.com/electronics-categories/

http://forum.allaboutcircuits.com/

http://www.opencircuits.com/Main_Page

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Some of you probably already know this little fairy tale, but I couldn't resist posting a link to it given some of the responses to this question. The King's Toaster

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    \$\begingroup\$ Absolutely fantastic! \$\endgroup\$ – Amos Dec 20 '09 at 9:53
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avrfreaks.net is a pretty large community as well.

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I honestly know only one other EE(in real life) whom actively seeks learning more from online forums.

Where I work, which is still technically an internship, has no one more senior than 2 interns, one being myself, when it comes to EE. I wish I could have a mentor, but cannot, so I try to gain more by reading in online communities. I try to answer questions to help others and attempt to "pay it forward" on the help I have already received.

One other reason I actually get into things like this would be for career opportunities, there are a few people on chiphacker that if I had information for where they worked, I would apply for the experience. I hope that being active in communities helps me network and more importantly, find a company where I will fit in with coworkers.

I know this is heavy in my reasons, but I feel that the overall the reasons explain why it is rare, everyone wants something different and only certain conditions lead to people joining communities like this.

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