Will I definitely use an outside company to ship boards forever? No, it’s possible that I change my mind in the future and decide to pull this kind of service in house. I have seen my podcast co-host do the same with his shipping, as he works on fulfilling his Kickstarter campaign. This has been an interesting lesson and I’ve talked with Dave quite a bit about his struggles and how it’s paying off. He’s building a foundation for many future hardware campaigns (probably crowdfunded).
Note the differences though: Kickstarter campaigns ship everything at once, in batches (in a best-case scenario). I plan to continue developing and teaching new courses on a regular basis (in batches). However, if I want to allow people to sign up for past courses asynchronously (whenever they want), I may want to continue to offload shipping single units to individuals. Having a service like OSHpark or another fulfillment house do this on a per-person basis (even if at higher cost), could make lots of sense for me so I don’t have to keep inventory. Technically this could already happen as the OSHpark service would allow a student to order boards and all work we do for Contextual Electronics will be licensed as Open Source Hardware. However, negotiating longer term contracts and having distributors (or fulfillment houses) keep them on-hand will completely remove this from my list of tasks.
From a business perspective, I am still making a very healthy margin, as I am selling a “knowledge product” (yak). However, if there were price increases due to changes in business conditions, this could be passed along to members as a “cost of doing the course”. Obviously I will work to reduce that burden on them and the trend points to the cost of PCBs continuing to fall.
It kind of sounds weird, doesn’t it? A hardware guy complaining about making and shipping hardware? But in a world of tight timelines, constrained resources (see also: my time) and my desire to continue developing new stuff, this seems to make sense for me. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Well, it’s my first day out on my own and I have already had a rejection. Whee!
In reality, it was a contract job that I bid on without too much expectation of getting the work. I definitely was not counting on this work as part of my survival in my new jump to self employment. Mostly it was an interesting problem that I would have enjoyed working on and I would have been able to work with some good people; this is my main disappointment with not getting the work.
However, I did get feedback on my proposal, which is great. A lot of times, people will just blow you off and you later get the, “Oh, we went with someone else” a few months down the road. The feedback was positive, that the proposal was well enough done, which was reassuring because I haven’t submitted many in the past. The reality of the situation was that they decided to go with a completely different architecture for the project, which I had no chance of doing well. As such, their decision to not go with me was a good one.
I suppose the biggest disappointment after “not getting the work” was that I failed to convince them to see my solution as the best solution (really the point of any proposal). I knew this would be an uphill battle from the beginning as the project manager seemed to favor the other way of architecting the solution. But how do you change someone’s mind when they have been envisioning a particular type of solution from the beginning? This isn’t isolated to this situation, I have experienced a preconceived notion by managers in the past.
I could complain about a manager making a decision in a vacuum, but the truth is, I don’t know if this decision was made in a vacuum. In fact, it could be that the solution that was asked for is in fact the best way to go forward. If I really wanted (or needed) the work, I suppose I could tailor a solution to the manager’s preconceived notion, quickly iterate on it and show how it ultimately will fail as a final solution and then be ready to propose the alternate (better) solution. Is this realistic as a contractor? No. I think from the outset if you plan on failure, you’re going to hurt your reputation. Plus, as I mentioned above, I have no way of actually creating the (preconceived) solution, so this wouldn’t have even been an option for me. I think the only real way for me to win this (long term) would be to develop this solution on my own for fun/educational purposes and then be at the ready to offer it up later as a possible solution, assuming the preconceived method does ultimately fail. In reality, I have other things to get done, so I’ll just wait and see if they call and I’ll start on the work then.
So yeah, first day out of the gate and I’ve already had a rejection! It feels good to get it out of my system…I’m sure no more will happen in the future…right? RIGHT? Riiiiiiiiiiiight.
This topic was discussed in greater detail in Episode 184 of to The Amp Hour. This article is more about the personal feelings that have accompanied this (ongoing) transition.
Starting Friday, for the first time in my adult life I will be without a job; at least a job as I’ve always defined it. I have been employed as a full time electrical engineer (in various roles, the most relevant being analog ones) for 8 years straight. Prior to that I had been working as a co-op for 10-20 hours a week for another 2 years. All told, I would estimate I have worked roughly 17,000 hours up until this point (in an official capacity). While that would qualify me for the “expert” category if you listened to Malcolm Gladwell and the people he was quoting in that book, it feels like I’m just getting started. It feels like I have a TON to learn and the backlog of things I need to know in the future keeps growing. And you know what? That is one of the best parts of engineering! The real story here is that I have been working for the past 8 months on an electronics education program that is currently running. It’s called Contextual Electronics.
The program launched in January and as of this writing, we are in the middle of the 4th week out of 8 of Session 1A (where we are designing a board). Session 1B (where we build the board) will start in March, a couple weeks after the conclusion of Session 1A. It has been a spectacular group of people who decided to sign up for the program and my decision to leave my full time job is largely based around wanting to serve them better. The 6 months before the program started were dedicated (on nights and weekends) to developing the 8 week curriculum. I want to be able to be forward looking with future curriculum and to better serve them on a day to day basis. But that’s not all I’ll be doing! I’ll also be working on:
I also have a running list of projects and other things that have been put off as part of spending my free time on Contextual Electronics. While I don’t think I will have “free” time in any way, shape or form, I do hope some of the following will start to work their way back up the priority list (in no particular order):
I think one of the things that excites me, is that this inadvertently moves me closer to a post I wrote about 5 years ago called “Engineering The Perfect Day“. Some of my personal goals have definitely changed and music has definitely faded in my priorities, though I still like the feel of that post. It feels like what would be a good life. Only time will tell if it will actually be my future. More than anything, I made good on what I’ve often said about my future when people asked me, “What’s next?” I always respond that my next employer would be me. I don’t know if I’ll be my last employer, but given my increasing restlessness with corporate engineering culture, it seemed like an inevitability. That said, I am sad to leave my current job (which I’ll possibly talk about in the future, as the company is also a good one and I’d like to promote their end goals). I believe I’m leaving under good conditions, though I had asked to stay on part time and was denied for now (more about that in The Amp Hour episode linked at the top). But since I’m leaving and because I want to capture the emotions I’m feeling during this process, I thought I would do a quick list about the things I will and won’t miss.
Really this is all just the beginning of a journey on my own. I’m really appreciative to everyone who listened to my nervous whining about making this jump and still reassured me. I’m glad my wife puts up with my crazy electronics work and my crazier schedule. I’m very grateful to all the people I’ve worked with in Cleveland over the years and am optimistic that people in other parts of the country are as friendly and helpful. And I’m happy you read all the way to the end of this overly detailed brain dump. Hope to do more of this soon. Thanks to Theen Moy for the cover picture of the caps.
I’ve been sour on education lately. Given my entry into the field, I felt it prudent to explain myself.
In general, I’ve been well served by my own education. I went to a great public school system where I grew up and I went to Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) for my undergraduate degree in EE (I have neither a Master’s nor PhD). I had decent grades (solid B+ student throughout my tenure) and I had a good experience with my classmates. So what gives? Why do I complain about education?
One reason is that the real value that came out of CWRU was the co-op program. It was run well and it was my two jobs as a student (taking 7 months off from school at a time) that truly taught me about the nature of electronics. In fact, the hands on stuff is where it all came together (as it often does). And then, looking back towards the theoretical teaching that I learned I started scratching my head as to why it was taught in such a way.
Because it’s always been taught that way.
That’s about the best I can come up with. Sure the math matters (really, it does). And learning about the equations behind resistor dividers or op amp circuits does a lot for students’ eventual need to solve problems. But why were we learning it? What were these mystical devices? Why did I only see them drawn as symbols on a page and not hold one in my hand. Most importantly, why didn’t anyone seem to care about that fact as they showed me that V=IR?
The missing piece was that the University setting started ramping (for electronics) around the time that long-time hobbyists entered the school. Many students entering the electronics programs in the 50s and 60s were at home tinkering with radios and kits while they were younger, so the program teaching the math behind these components fit into the mindset of the incoming students. Some students still enter with this background, of course, but even in the event that a student has been working on hobby electronics for 15 years before entering University, the focus will not be on the practical. Why?
I’ve heard other reasons, that the practical stuff is too specific. You can’t go and teach someone how to use a specific piece of software or a specific bench tool, because the material would be quickly dated (obviously they had never glanced at the tools being used by academia, as those are often ancient in all but the highest research areas). Instead the focus once again moves to the math and the equations that govern ideal behavior. An important concept, but not nearly as useful when used in isolation.
My opinion is that the system feeds back upon itself; students are expected to become PhDs who are then expected to teach students. Coursework is constructed to fit that end goal. The ones who survive are the ones who did the best at mastering the theoretical and the ideal. No room is left for the practical and even if there were, the ones teaching are not well versed in it (with the possible exception of the ones that are hands on in research labs). However, in an engineering school, very few are going to become professors (tenure track positions continue to decline while the number of PhDs continues to grow) and many more are going to enter industry where the practical skills are expected. Schools assume on the job training will take care of the rest (or senior project type courses), while employers continue to cut training budgets and have ridiculous job requirements for entry level positions.
So I decided to build my own thing. I want to give people the context they need to build electronics.
My initial idea for Contextual Electronics was formed out of frustration. Why doesn’t anyone teach this stuff? Schools don’t. Workplaces don’t. Online, very few do (and they’re often scattered across the web, piecemeal). OK, so that looked like there was a need. But what should I teach?
I’m not saying that Contextual Electronics is perfect or finished. Just that it’s starting and that it’s an outgrowth of my frustration with the state of electronics education. I hope you consider taking the course. If you do, there’s more info about it here: http://contextualelectronics.com/session-1a-registration-is-now-open/
Thanks to Nick Thompson for the image of Aristotle
I’m not really sure why I hadn’t posted about it here in the past, but it’s true: I’m part of the Google Glass Explorer Program. And last weekend, I went to New York City to go pick up my pair from Google.
I think part of it is I am a little embarrassed about it. I mean, they’re just a bit nerdy, don’t you think? Sure, there’s a slightly “hip” characteristic to them and by themselves they are a beautiful piece of technology; but it’s putting something on my face that automatically showcases that I’m different. Technology usually doesn’t do that. Usually, you need to at least reach into your pocket and show off your new gadget. In this case, not so much. Now you stick what amounts to being a smartphone on your face, the one thing that human brains are really good at recognizing and detecting differences on.
I also am a little embarrassed about the price I paid. Contrary to popular belief, when I “won” the #ifihadglass context (with this tweet), it was not a giveaway. Instead, it gave me the ability to go buy this device. At $1500 per pair (plus tax), it wasn’t the most expensive dev kit I’ve ever used (FPGAs, yo), but it’s also simultaneously far and away the priciest gadget I’ve ever bought. In fact, I bought a phone to utilize 4G speeds and get better battery life so I could use Glass on a cellular connection. Price paid for my new (to me, it was used) phone? $250. So between Glass, the ticket to NYC, the new phone and the food while I was in NY (stayed with an old friend, which was great): probably about the same I paid for my CNC milling machine. That’s kind of extreme.
As for the device, it’s really slick. And if you consider it a development platform (which at this price, my brain is insisting I do), then it is quite polished. I’m already on the 7th generation of firmware (XE7) and it will only get better. I enjoy the navigation, the picture taking (with the very wide angle lens) and am looking forward to other apps I’ll be able to put onto it. Hopefully I’ll also get off my bum and develop for it. I have a long list of potential ideas waiting in the wings; mostly my time is at a premium as I hope to get Contextual Electronics off the ground. I say a little bit more about my plans in this recent video I made:
So aside from that, I don’t have much more to say about it. Really it’s about putting them on every day and getting used to wearing them in public. The lower population density in Cleveland means I don’t encounter as many people staring at me on the subway (we do have one here, btw) as I did in NYC. But it also means that fewer people have them around here and when I’m wearing them, I stick out even more than before. After that, it’s about making stuff to use with them…and hoping other people decide to buy and use Google Glass as well.