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Tuesday, July 07th

Things that Scare Electrical Engineers


pumpkinWe all have fears. This Halloween, there are probably a few extra that come to mind.

The most common fears we share have not changed much over the years. The top five most common fears are:

1. Fear of flying

2. Fear of public speaking

3. Fear of heights

4. Fear of the dark

5. Fear of Intimacy

Any of those in your top five?


However, when you are an electrical engineer designing printed circuit boards, you have a set of fears that is entirely your own.

In the PCB Forum on LinkedIn I asked electrical engineers about their biggest fears when it comes to designing and building printed circuit boards. Here are their responses:

From Leslie Gomez, PCB Layout Engineer, “Making a mistake that is not detected until after hardware is built.”

Robert Finley, PCB Designer, agrees. “I agree with Leslie. Not fond of the time between shipping the project and passing the ‘bootup without smoke test’ at the bench.

It is not that unusual to get a call or email from an engineer letting us know they just ‘smoked’ their prototypes and are sending over a new set of files for another run. We have mixed emotions about this one.

From Johan Schmidt, Project Manager, “What scares me as a Quality Assurance guy that used to work with manufacturing processes is the following: How can you become an electronics designer without knowing how electronics are manufactured?”

Royal Laurent, Principal Design Engineer, had similar comments. “Scare me? What really scares me is EEs that think they know stuff when they really don’t. Not scared for me….scared for the industry.”

Joseph Lovvorn, agrees as well. “EW EEs who think because they did a board design in school, know how to do PCB design, AND want to tell the Guy who’s done THOUSANDS of board designs he’s doing it wrong. I would let them screw it up if didn’t get me in trouble too.”

For these reasons, we try to have student electrical engineers, and really any electrical engineers, come and tour our facility. They can gain that extra understanding of how the PCBs are actually made, which helps the design process.  There are always a few “a-ha” moments when we take them through.

Darren Smith, Sr Design Engineer, has his own set of fears. “PCBs don’t scare me. Platypuses, now they scare me good!  My real tangible “fear” is the fallacy that autorouters & “advanced CAD software” will replace the designer. So the scary trend is “it’s getting easier to lay out PCBs”; based on the actual trend that “PCBs” are no longer rectangles of fiberglass with a few performance rules, caveat emptor high rollers. You are not going to get Designer-In-A-Box at any price.”

Jose Luis Peralta, Sales Engineer, has similar software concerns. “I think that for pcb design a database corruption could be a nightmare for Halloween. This could happen during the design trades using different sw versions.”

Then it gets up close and personal for PCB manufacturers with this comment from Rafal Powierski, “For me: that the PCB manufacturer does not keep inner layer distances, destroying my impedance concept and it will be not seen by CEM. That is an invisible ghost of ether.”

Then finally this comment from David Rappaport, PCB Designer, “Those of you who do PCB design will get this. For the rest of us, just imagine something very scary, like spiders, and you will get it.  What scares me as a PCB Designer is: The EE your supporting asks you to incorporate a “new” 1500 pin FPGA (that should be available in 4 weeks) into a design w/ 12 DDR3 Ram chips of various match length bus widths configurations, a PCIe Interface and USB3.0 FX3 device…and the whole design hinges on the availability of the FPGA. Oh yeah…did I mention the first run of proto boards need to be under test in 3 1/2 weeks. EEK! I’m glad I like horror stories”

This Halloween, please remember the electrical engineer in your life. They may share the same fears as the rest of us, but they have fears that are all their own.

My thanks to everyone who answered my questions for this article.

Let’s here from other electrical engineers. Do you agree with these? What are some of your fears?

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