Star Simpson’s Tips for Starting a Lifetime in Electronics

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At 14 years old I found my first book on electronics — published by the Tandy Corporation, which later became Radio Shack. I didn’t know it then, but it would form the basis of my understanding of electronics, something that has turned out to be quite important in my life. I just launched Circuit Classics, which are circuit boards designed to help educate people on the basics of circuit design. During the process of designing these, I had some time to reflect on those first steps I took and how I learned electronics.

Looking back, there were a few crucial elements of my experience that I would recommend to anyone hoping to learn or teach themselves more.

First, babble

For one, nothing makes sense at all when you’re an absolute the beginner. Especially so for electronics, which aren’t immediately visual or intuitive, and take some getting used to. So when you’re just getting started, you might end up just putting parts together and seeing what they do. It won’t always work. That’s good! Think of this as being similar to how a baby babbles at first while getting the hang of learning to speak. Slowly, the words will take form, and produce meaning — if you can remember to embrace the initial babbling phase.

Learn to “read” hardware

Engineering is a practice that can be learned through “reading” as well as through creating. At one time, it was possible to scrounge up various pieces of hardware from inside discarded appliances such as VCR or answering machines, say, and examine the way the components functioned inside to understand how it was made. You’d pry the green circuit board out of the device and hold it up to a window or a lamp, and the printed circuit boards of the day, mostly comprising two thin layers of copper (one per side of the board) would reveal themselves in translucency, allowing an observer to understand or “read” all the electrical connections between components.Today it’s less easy to easily access that experience, which is why all interconnections on Circuit Classics boards are revealed graphically and made visible — in just the same way as if you had your own printed circuit board to examine and understand. At the end of the day you must have confidence that there are no secrets of engineering that can’t be yours.

Play brain games

As you proceed through learning, you begin to use what you’ve learned. It becomes a fun challenge to think up ways to use the pieces you learn to create new things. Imagine you are an engineer who needs to measure something — a temperature, or the amount of light currently shining on something. How would you use what you know to get that done?

Build stuff!

When you pair your brain game ideas with what you have to build those things, you will find you have no end of new things to try to do. The more things you build — or attempt to build — the more you will build up your sense of what is currently possible, and how electronics can be used to create new sorts of things today.

Stand on the shoulders of giants

Forrest Mims’ name brings back instant memories to those who know it. As author of Getting Started in Electronics, his lovingly hand-drawn electronics notebook series have given millions of people their first experience with understanding electronics.

His books changed lives, and now for the first time the experience of using his books as guides has been brought to life in hardware. Circuit Classics recreate the Forrest Mims experience, inspiring the same joy and delight, making them a great gift for first-time learners or expert tinkerers alike, or even just as a fun keepsake.

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