Analog Electronics Work

Where Are Technical Areas in the US?

I was recently talking to my girlfriend about if we ever moved and needed to find jobs, where the most likely place would be to find work as an electrical engineer. It was interesting talking out cities that may or may not sync up with places she could find a job. Now, I don’t have much interest in leaving my current job, and while I hope to work on my own some day, I’m still quite dependent on employers for my livelihood.  So I did the fast/easy thing and went to and checked available positions under “electrical engineer”. Simple enough. So where are the technical jobs these days? (obviously this data is meant to change over time)

A map I made over at

    1. San Diego, CA (1059)
    2. Houston, TX (970)
    3. San Jose, CA (723)
    4. New York, NY (670)
    5. Santa Clara, CA (571)
    6. Phoenix, AZ (564)
    7. Washington, DC (543)
    8. Austin, TX (539)
    9. Sunnyvale, CA (529)
    10. Chicago, IL (472)
    11. Dallas, TX (471)
    12. Fort Meade, MD (424)
    13. Atlanta, GA (384)
    14. Los Angeles, CA (377)

The number in the parentheses are the number of positions listed online. It’s fair to assume some significant number of those are repeats ( is a scraper, not some manual entry site), but we can assume that all the cities listed have a proportionate number of repeat listings. It’s also interesting– but not surprising–to note that certain areas are dense enough with jobs and location (i.e. silicon valley) that three of those cities (3, 5, 9) only show up as one tag.

Now, this isn’t to say these are the best jobs or the easiest to fill nor does it even point out how varied the positions can be! For example, an embedded developer and an analog system engineer might all be under the title “electrical engineer“. If you have experience working on electronics on an oil rig you’re much more likely to get a job in Houston than Fort Meade, regardless of how many jobs are available in either location. But these numbers do  point out where there is a considerable enough chunk of industry to have this many job listings.

So I ask you to respond in the shiny new comments section: are these really the only areas employers are hiring these days? Is there a significant long tail that I’m not seeing on Indeed? (i.e. 30 more cities with 250 listings each?) Are there any obviously booming spots that are left off the map? What about outside the good ol’ U S of A? I know there are a couple of readers, writers and witty commenters from outside my home country. Looking forward to your responses!

Analog Electronics Engineering Work

When to Try Something vs When to Study Something

Irony is having a blog post in your queue with a title such as this one and just sitting on it for weeks on end. Luckily I’ve been trying some things instead of studying them, it just so happens that those things have nothing to do with this site. I hope to discuss those on this site soon.

I am a glutton for knowledge.  Part of it is my fear of looking silly in front of co-workers when I don’t know the answer to something. Part of it is feeling like my knowledge base is lacking and the thought that I can always learn or teach myself something new. But when presented with a new challenging situation that requires you to learn the question is always the same: where do you start? Do you jump in and try it out? Or sit back and study what others have tried so as to not duplicate their mistakes?

There are two extremes

  1. You study so much and try to take in so much that you become paralyzed by information
    • I feel like this happens to Generation Y more than other generations. Not because we are dumber than others. Instead, I think we are so accustomed to having all of the necessary knowledge required to solve a problem at our fingertips (i.e. Internet,, etc).
    • Academic thought processes often begin with simplistic assumptions about the model you’re considering. Analyzing these over and over can be very time consuming and can quickly become too complex to handle. Even analyzing the minutiae associated with a single transistor can be mind boggling. What happens when you try and expand that knowledge to 10, 10k or 10M transistors?
    • You over simulate, over analyze, over think a problem past the point of diminishing returns. An example would be designing a new type of toothbrush. You can model the toothbrush, the bristles, the handle, the shapes, everything; you can even go out and get ideas from your toothy customers about what they think they would like or dislike about your design. But until you prototype your new type of toothbrush and put it through testing (product testing, tooth scrubbing ability, will it shatter in someone’s mouth), then all of the testing and surveying in the world won’t matter.
  2. You have little knowledge of a problem or situation that you just start changing stuff randomly and keep changing until something works…without realizing the consequences.
    • This seems to be the modus operandi of the inexperienced, but not necessarily the uneducated. A gutsy, recently graduated electrical engineer may emerge from the cocoon of the academic environment ready to go out and change the world. And every resistor value of a circuit board they encounter. And mess with the capacitors. And change the model of the op amps. Oh, and don’t forget to swap out transistors. “What?? It still doesn’t work? But why?”
    • This can be as much a symptom of engineering bravado as it is bad conditioning. If the person involved has always had simple problems placed in front of them that have obvious or at least semi-obvious solutions (ahem, most introductory electronics labs), they will fix the “broken” component and pat themselves on the back. In the real world, that “broken” component isn’t broken at all. It’s just out of spec and you can’t figure out for the life of you why that unit you’re testing refuses to turn on anymore after increasing 5 degrees internal temperature.
    • You forget/refuse to read the manual. Granted, some of the greatest “tinkerers” out there can just magically turn a knob and get a broken piece of equipment to work. But the reason they can do that is because they actually turned the wrong knob about 1000 times the last time they tried to fix something like this and that knob did absolutely nothing.

A Good Mix (for me, at least):

[STUDY] My own personal mix when it comes to circuit problems starts with the problem definition. Understanding the problem is so much more important than what you study, how long you study it or how you begin to test out your ideas for how to fix it. If you don’t understand what the real problem is all that later work is for nothing! However, I try to understand the issue without going overboard and trying to understand every single minute detail; this could be just as bad as studying a possible solution for hours on end.

[TRY] Once I have a grasp on what the problem is, I try the obvious stuff. You’d be surprised how often it can be the really dumb things that trip you up. And those might not even be the problem you’re trying to fix. You could try to troubleshoot a blank screen for 20 minutes, throwing your best ideas and debugging techniques at it before you realize, “Whoops!” you never plugged in the display cable. Or you can’t get your software to work once you load it onto your electromechanical whizzbang toy…but you actually loaded the wrong version of the software or the toy doesn’t have any batteries in it. The silly things will waste your time and throw you off the trail of the real problem if you’re not careful.

[STUDY] Next is researching the problem to see if it has happened before. Some of you out there will have unique situations, like making a new analog chip that no one has ever made before. But I’d guess more of you will be encountering problems that can be researched. Even the analog chip designers will see issues that are similar on some level to other products or models within a corporation. Oftentimes the best troubleshooters are those who are able to compartmentalize problems and then analyze where those problems came from and research how others have fixed it in the past. I’d rather have a boring problem that someone else can easily tell me how to fix than one that I can’t figure out at all.

[TRY] After trying and then studying all of the really obvious stuff, I start to go back to my resources–either online or in print–and start to search for information on the topic. Obviously the online information is much easier to search, but I also have some trusted books that I turn to on a regular basis. I might see a chunk of a circuit that looks familiar and try flipping through the pages to see if I can’t find a similar circuit. If that doesn’t work or the circuit looks extremely foreign to me, I’ll go back and study some of the basic properties of the components within the circuit to see if there might be a certain property the designer used that I have overlooked. And if all else fails, I’ll start to ask around to try and gather others’ knowledge of the circuit. True, this isn’t quite studying, but can often be more effective. I try and balance asking others for assistance only after I have tried to solve the problem on my own and not made any progress. I think it is important for my personal growth to struggle with a circuit before asking for help and I think it’s important to not get in the habit of running off and asking for an answer so I don’t waste the other person’s time. However, I don’t want to be so stubborn that I waste my time and the time of those who are paying me.

[STUDY] Alright, so now you know what the circuit is and how it sort of works. But you also know that you need to change the circuit in order to make it work better. What now? Next I would try and write out any equations I know that are relevant to the circuit. Not necessarily any equation, that could end up being a waste of time. Keep it simple and make sure you know where the currents and voltages are in different parts of the circuit. If there are components (such as capacitors) in the circuit, include basic equations that can help to describe their behavior. If you don’t need 3 chalkboards to do so, try and figure out the transfer function (relationship from input to output). If you have a circuit that is too complicated either break it down into smaller pieces and try and figure out the transfer function or take the plunge and try it out in SPICE. This will help you to better understand how the circuit might behave when presented with certain inputs. All of these exercises are done in order to present you with a solid starting ground for when you actually construct the circuit, so you know what to look for and what behaviors to expect.

[TRY] After all of the studying and simulating and pondering about this circuit, you should have at least enough knowledge to begin building up and trying the circuit. This is an important step in any circuit creation process because of the nuances the real circuit will show you. Perhaps you forgot to model a realistic op amp in your SPICE simulation and it was outputting 500 A. Perhaps you didn’t realize in your equations that a resistor will have different properties depending on how much current you actually put through it and that your circuit happens to be particularly susceptible to those changes. Perhaps you completely disregarded a simple concept such as bandwidth and your circuit is now oscillating so hard it breaks. All of these things will be uncovered when you begin to build up your circuit and try out different inputs. Once you realize what some of the realistic problems are you can go back and modify your assumptions and models and start to delve into whatever topics you believe will get your circuit to the optimum operating point.

Finding the right balance between slowing down and taking your time to figure out a circuit or jumping in and seeing what works can be a fine art. Sometimes projects are on a very tight schedule and need a product cranked out the next day (think startup). Sometimes you have one shot at making a final product or else your company will fail (think chip fabrication). Finding your own personal mix will take time and trial and error.

What is your personal mix of trying vs. studying that gets the best results? Leave your tips and tricks in the comments!

Analog Electronics Engineering Learning

Where Will I Use This Electrical Engineering Stuff?

I find myself sitting around these days trying to catch up on knowledge I feel like I missed in school. Worse, I feel like I learned it at one time but it all fell out the other side once I took the exam. Pretty standard really, when you don’t think you’re going to need to the knowledge some day. Haven’t you ever sat in class wondering if you’d really ever use the material you were expected to learn? How much did you pay attention?

I feel that a requisite of every college class should be at least an entire class devoted to how you can use the knowledge contained in the remainder of the course material. It should probably happen close to the beginning of the semester or quarter. I have always lobbied for this kind of explanation and have always tried to include it whenever I am teaching something. Better yet, if someone from the field come in and explain how they use the knowledge in their working lives it would really drive the point home. When you know that you will definitely use certain knowledge, you’re more likely to sit up and pay attention.

Some of the material that I have been relearning lately has been tangential to the actual material we covered in classes back in my school days. Some of this is because I needed to go back and re-learn the absolute basics, such as semiconductor physics. I didn’t quite need to learn why a PN junction behaves as it does, only how it behaves and how it relates to larger devices such as transistors (basically a couple PN junctions specialized for certain behavior and placed in a certain configuration). I also don’t need to know why certain materials carry magnetic fields, only how they do and how you can use them to build a transformer. Other than re-learning the absolute basics, it’s driven by things I encounter in my daily work where I feel I was lacking. Very general topics but things that have very specific application in my job. Transformers are an area where I felt it was necessary to get more info, so I used my favorite resource (OhioLink) to get some textbooks based on co-workers recommendations. Hey, you just end up reading the textbook in some classes anyway, right? So why not?

So I guess that’s all I have to say about this topic. If you don’t know something, go to the library and and figure it out (I love libraries). And if books don’t show you what you need, ask a friend. Most importantly, find out where you might use the material you’re learning the first time you see it. If you’re not being directly told why you will need a certain piece of information, do the legwork yourself and figure out why you should care (someone saying “because it’s in the course outline” isn’t good enough). The application of the knowledge is much more important over the long term.

Got something you can’t figure out? Ask me in the comments.

Analog Electronics Digital Electronics Engineering Learning Life Work

How to get a job as a new electrical engineer grad

I was going to call this post “A portrait of an electrical engineer as a young man (or woman)” but decided against it. I’ve got nothing on James Joyce, neither in loquaciousness nor confusing writing.

Anyway, I have been pondering what kind of employee I would hire out of school for an electrical engineering position. There are some basic skill sets that will allow just about any young engineer to succeed if they have these skills (the best situation) or at least appear they will succeed if written on their resume (not the best situation). Either way, let’s look over what a new grad should have on their utility belt before going out into the scary real world.

  1. Conceptual models of passive components — This has been one of the most helpful things I have learned since I have left school…because this kind of thinking is not taught in classrooms (at least it isn’t in the curriculum). The idea is to conceptualize what a component will do, as opposed to what the math is behind a certain component or why the physics of material in a component give it certain properties. Why does this matter? When you’re looking at a 20 page schematic of something you’ve never seen before, you don’t care what kind of dielectric is in a capacitor and how the electric field affects the impedance. Nope, you care about two things: What is the value and how does it affect the system. The first question is easy because it should be written right next to the symbolic notation. The second is different for each type of passive component you might encounter. Let’s look at the common ones
    • Resistors — The  best way I’ve found to think of resistors is like a pipe. The electrons are like water. The resistance is the opposite of how wide the pipe is (if the resistance is higher, the pipe is smaller, letting fewer electrons through in the form of current). Also, the pressure (voltage) it takes to get water (electrons, current) through a pipe (resistor) will depend on the thickness of the pipe (resistance). Well whaddaya know? V=IR!
    • Capacitors — At DC, a capacitor is essentially an open circuit (think a broken wire). If you apply charge long enough (depending on the capacitance), it can consume some of that charge; after it is charged it will once again act like an open circuit. When considering AC (varying) signals, the best way to think about a capacitor is like a variable resistor. The thing controlling how much the capacitor will resist the circuit is the frequency of the signal trying to get through the capacitor. As the frequency of the signal goes up, the resistance (here it is called “impedance”) will go down. So in the extreme case, if the frequency is super high, the capacitor will appear as though it is not there to the signal (and it will “pass right through”). Taking the opposite approach helps explain the DC case. If the signal is varying so slowly that it appears to be constant (DC), then the impedance of the capacitor will be very high (so high it appears to be a broken wire to the signal).
    • Inductors — Inductors have an opposite effect as capacitors and provide some very interesting effects when you combine them in a circuit with capacitors. In their most basic form, inductors are wires that can be formed into myriad shape but are most often seen as spirals. Inductors are “happy” when low frequency signals go through them; this means that the impedance is low at low frequencies (DC) and is high at high frequencies (AC). This makes sense to me because if the signal is going slow enough, it’s really just passing through a wire, albeit a twisty one. An interesting thing about electrons going through a wire is that when they do, they also product tiny magnetic fields around the wire (as explained by Maxwell’s Equations). When a high frequency signal tries to go through the inductor, the magnetic fields are changing very rapidly, something they intrinsically do not want. Instead it “slows” the electrons, or really increases the impedance. This “stops” higher frequency signals from passing through depending on the inductance of the inductor and the frequency of the signal applied. Looking at the how they react to different frequencies, we can see how inductors and capacitors have opposite effects at the extremes.
    • Diodes — I think of diodes as a one way mirror…except you can’t see through the one way until you get enough energy. The one way nature is useful in blocking unwanted signals, routing signals away from sensitive nodes and even limiting what part of a varying signal will “get through” the diode to the other side.
    • Transistors — I always like thinking of transistors as a variable resistor that is controlled by the gate voltage. The variable resistor doesn’t kick in until the gate voltage hits a certain threshold and sometimes the variable resistor also allows some energy to leak to one of the other terminals.
  2. C coding — Sorry to all you analog purists out there, but at some point as an engineer, you need to know how to code. Furthermore, if you’re going to learn how to code, my personal preference for languages to start with is C. Not too many other languages have been around for as long nor are they as closely tied to hardware (C is good for writing low level drivers that interpret what circuits are saying so they can talk to computers). I’m not saying higher level languages don’t have their place, but I think that C is a much better place to start because many other languages (C++, JAVA, Verilog, etc) have similar structure and can quickly be learned if you know C. Even though the learning curve is higher for C, I think it is worth it in the end and would love to see some college programs migrate back towards these kinds of languages, especially as embedded systems seem to be everywhere these days.
  3. How an op amp works — I set the op amp apart from the passives because it is an active component (duh) and because I think that it’s so much more versatile that it’s important to set it apart conceptually. I’ve always had the most luck anthropomorphizing op amps and figuring out what state they “want” to be in. Combining how you conceptually think about op amps and passives together can help to conceptualize more difficult components, such as active filters and analog to digital converters.
  4. The ability to translate an example — A skill that nearly every engineering class is teaching, with good reason. Ask yourself: are homework problems ever THAT much different from the examples in the book? No. Because they want you to recognize a technique or a idiosyncrasy in a problem, look at the accepted solution and then apply it to your current situation. Amazingly, this is one of the most useful skills learned in the classroom. Everyday engineering involves using example solutions from vendors, research done in white papers/publications and using even your old textbooks to find the most effective, and more importantly, the quickest solution to a problem.
  5. High level system design — This is similar to the first point, but the important skill here is viewing the entire picture. If you are concentrating on the gain of a single amplification stage, you may not notice that it is being used to scale a signal before it goes into an analog-to-digital converter. If you see a component or a node is grounded periodically, but ignore it, you may find out that it changes the entire nature of a circuit. The ability to separate the minutiae from the overarching purpose of a circuit is necessary to quickly diagnose circuits for repair or replication in design.
  6. Basic laws — It is amazing to me how much depth is needed in electrical engineering as opposed to breadth. You don’t need to know all of the equations in the back of your textbook. You need to know 5-10; but you need to know them so well that you could recite them and derive other things from them in your sleep. A good example would be Kirchoff’s laws. Sure, they are two (relatively) simple laws about the currents in a node and the voltage around a loop, but done millions of times and you have a fun little program called SPICE.
  7. Budgeting — There are many important budgets to consider when designing a new project. In a simple op amp circuit, there are many sources of error and inefficiencies. Determining and optimizing an error budget will ensure the most accurate output possible. Finding and determining areas that burn power unnecessarily must be discovered and then power saving techniques must be implemented. The cost is another consideration that is usually left to non-engineering, but is an important consideration in many different projects. Finding cost effective solutions to a problem (including the cost of an engineer’s time) is a skill that will make you friends in management and will help you find practical solutions to many problems.
  8. Math — Ah yes, an oldy but goody. Similar to the passive components, having a conceptual notion of what math is required and how it can be applied to real life situation is more important than the details. Often knowing that an integral function is needed is as important as knowing how to do it. And similar to the basic laws, you don’t need to know the most exotic types of math out there. I have encountered very few situations where I need to take the third derivative of a complicated natural log function; however, I have needed to convert units every single day I have been an engineer. I have needed simple arithmetic, but I’ve needed to do it quickly and correctly. Sure, you get to use a calculator in the real world, but you better learn how to use that quickly too, because your customers don’t want to wait for you to get out your calculator, let alone learn how it works.

Each of these skills could be useful in some capacity for a new electrical engineer grad. There are many different flavors of engineering and the skills listed above are really modeled off what would be good for an analog system engineer (who develop commercial or industrial products). However, a future chip designer and even a digital hardware engineer all could benefit from having the skills listed, as it is sometimes more important to be open to new opportunities (especially given the possibility of recession and potential shifting of job markets).

Did I miss anything? Do you think there are other skills that are necessary for young electrical engineers? What about general skills that could apply to all young engineers?


Analog Electronics Learning Life Work

What is an engineer?

I’ve been having what some would call an identity crisis. How, you ask? I’ve been working on digital electronics.


I found out that in the early 90s and even earlier, analog engineers routinely switched from working in the analog domain to the digital domain…because it was paying really great. Not only that, most analog engineers had the expertise to do what most early digital engineers were doing (basically stringing together a lot of digital gates in DIP packages). It wasn’t until later that digital engineers started acting more as programmers and VHDL/Verilog experts.

So why do I bring this up? Because I’ve been thinking about the versatility required from engineers in general, not just analog or digital engineers. Routinely engineers are asked to switch modes or tasks or careers in order to get a job done. It’s not that other professions are never asked this; it’s just that the chameleon-like requirement placed on engineers seems to define the profession. Allow me to explain.

What is an engineer?

An engineer puts theories into practice using available devices and elements. They create new products and pass on knowledge through design iterations and trial and error. Their work should be directly applicable to the real world (sometimes in the form of an end-product, sometimes not) and hopefully able to be reproduced successfully in the same form for multiple parties (mass manufacturing). Engineers are often rooted in math and science but require a wide range of skill-sets in order to properly construct an end product.

I think it is important to note that an engineer is different from a scientist, although the line can often be blurred (especially when looking back at the inventors of the early 20th century). In modern times a scientist is usually tasked with pushing the barrier and finding new theories and concepts. This means that the concept will not necessarily be available in product form right away (although this is not always the case), as the product form must be iterated upon and improved for production.

Another interesting point is how the above definition manifests itself in higher education. When I was in school, the focus was definitely on making engineering scientists, that is engineers who are taught to research new methodologies and concepts with the final product in mind. There was much less focus on using existing products (i.e. discrete transistors) to create something new or to solve a problem. I do not think that it is a huge problem, as some of my classmates went on to work on their Master’s degrees or to work in research labs. The rest of us trying to break into industry were a little more strapped on what is expected from an engineer. Let’s go over what some of these things might be.

  1. Flexibility — This could be a theme of this article. Engineers have to be flexible and think on their feet. Again, I’m not saying scientists and other professions do not have to do this, only that it is required for many engineers. I went into my first job (working in a fab) as an electrical engineer student and ended up looking at chemical reactions and doing process engineering. The company I worked for didn’t want an electrical engineer, they wanted and engineer, someone they could teach their methods to and who could pick up the nuances as quickly as possible. I think it’s also important to note that they didn’t just hire engineers, they also hired scientists (don’t worry, I like scientists).
  2. Science and math knowledge — No surprise here, you have to know the basics in order to really get going in the field. However, I think that the interesting thing is that the basics is usually the majority of what you need. I used Ohm’s Law more often in practice than I use the knowledge of how to do the third integral of a sphere.
  3. Design re-use and not trying to re-invent the wheel — This was actually the reason I wanted to write this post, to point out that engineers often enter the field thinking they will be designing every piece of a system from the ground up. First off, this is irresponsible. The industries would never have standards if every engineering firm was trying to redesign a buck-boost converter everyday. Instead, engineers use optimized solutions available from vendors. Not only does it help standardize, it saves time.
  4. KISS — This directly relates to the above point. You have to keep it simple, because there are only 24 hours in a day. I have claimed to be a system designer before (or at least will be). To design a full system, you have to look at the simplest and fastest solutions because they are often the best and most elegant solutions. Not only that, if you don’t do it as fast and simple as possible, someone else will, and then you’ll lose out on a customer, contract, etc.
  5. Learning is pain — Even though continual learning is one of the main reasons I got into engineering, it’s not always fun. It’s not a great feeling when someone asks you to do something and then you have to slink away because you have no clue how to do it. Hopefully you’re slinking to go learn about it and not running away, but that is dependent on the person. The point is, learning is a difficult process and we really learn the most when we’re in situations that stretch us to the limits. In my experience, I always learned more in classes where I worked to get a C than in the ones where I breezed by and got an A.

Engineering is a field I entered because of the myriad things I could work on throughout my career. I did not switch to the digital domain for the money. I switched to digital work because I was asked to and it has been really interesting so far. Programmable logic is something I’ve worked on in the past and something I’m sure will become more prevalent in the workplace as design requirements become more stringent and timetables get shorter. If you are an engineering student or an aspiring engineer reading this article, I would highly suggest the profession (just make sure you note the above points). If you’re an experience engineer, please feel free to leave your experience in the comments. Thanks for reading.

Analog Electronics Learning Work

My name is Chris…and I’m an analog engineer

Or am I?

I read technical publications on a pretty regular basis. And more and more lately, especially with the lull in the economy, I read about how jobs are going offshore or overseas. Sure, this concerns me, I’m human! Plus, I’ve inherited a worrisome nature from my mother. But I’ve had the fortune of reading a lot of articles about how analog engineers are in short supply. Even how they’re moving into green technologies!

Yahoo!” I think.

But wait a second, what’s all this.

I have read how analog engineers are hard to find. I know that the experience is both rare and valuable. But what kind of analog engineer I ask? Most of the articles I see are regarding silicon design and regardless of what I have done in the past with Samsung, I have never had the opportunity to look at analog design on silicon. And I have to wonder, am I allowed to call myself an analog engineer? I’m going to go with yes.

Here’s why:

  1. I know how to use an op amp
    • That’s one of those triangle things, right? I use these all the time and they are the basis of any analog engineer’s work. I feel like the main difference between myself and an engineer designing in silicon is I go out and buy a part for a dollar, they just go into a CAD library and plop one down in their design (and maybe mess around with it to get the specs they need). Anyone out there know if this is true or not?
  2. Yes, I even know how a transistor works
    • Granted, my silicon level knowledge is a little weak (I never liked calculating the number of electrons flowing through a PN junction…it just seemed so anti-Heisenburg). But plop an NPN transistor down in front of me (or a symbol of one), and I think I can fare pretty well. A great test of basic knowledge is in the chapter “A New Graduate’s Guide to the Analog Interview”. See how many of this limited passage you can get right.
  3. I know how to put it all together
    • There is a lot more to analog electrical engineering than knowing equations. A good example in my specific branch would be talking to vendors and getting pricing on parts. There are some big swings that can occur on prices of parts! Another example of putting it all together includes other aspects of design you might not think about. How about supporting a product 10 years down the line? I haven’t done this one personally (given my relatively short career thus far), but I’ve had to help out with some designs where the original designers were no longer around. And I’ll tell ya, some of those components were not meant to last! Needless to say, there is a lot of other tasks out there than just thinking up a circuit.

So even though I don’t intend on changing what I call myself anytime soon, I will clarify my skills. I am an analog system designer. Is that too far off? No, I don’t think so. Even the limited amount of design I’ve done really fits into that category. I have strung together a lot of components in order to create systems capable of processing analog signals. Further, sometimes the available system components (op-amps, buck/boost converters, etc) need to be made with passive components because of individual system constraints (meaning the stuff that vendors offer just don’t do what we need them to). I think more and more though, the industry will go towards system designers, simply because of rising costs. As systems get more and more complex, economies of scale mandate that people specialize in order to win business. We have also seen trends where chip makers are beginning to reach practical limits of how much better they can make certain devices (op amps, for instance). As such, we’ll see that the chip makers put more and more functions inside of chips.

So maybe one day I will work for a chip maker, trying to shove more components into a package? I enjoy the thought of creating a component that thousands if not millions would use. Perhaps this will be all that will be left to do? I’d obviously like to start learning it all before it’s the last frontier of design. Perhaps one day our tiny cell phones and other gadgetry will be nothing more than a screen and a single chip with every required function in it. But if I’m not making the screen or the chip, hopefully they’ll still need someone like me to hook that chip up to that screen. Who knows what the future will hold?

One final (and mostly unrelated) note I’ve been meaning to put in a post; writing about analog issues seems to be as good a time as any.  I’m sure at least one or two people noticed (probably not), I changed the tag line on my blog from “Chris Gammell’s Renewable Life” to “Chris Gammell’s Analog Life“. A few reasons: I think it makes more sense (I’m not Hindu, so I don’t really think life is “renewable” per se); the world around us is truly analog (as much as marketers would have us believe that music is “digital”); and to be blunt, I like the sound of it better.  Plus, I doubt too many people will be like “Wait, where is my favorite site??? Ohhhh, it just changed names…”.  This doesn’t mean I will stop looking at issues facing renewable energy, just that I want the focus of my site to be on analog.

That’s all for now. Chris Gammell, analog electrical engineer, out.

Blogging Learning Life Supply Chain


Welcome Alltop visitors!

I am unfortunately becoming an information junky. I have friends in DC and they have mentioned on multiple occasions that this is the norm at least in our nation’s capital; that people consider being news-knowledgeable to be a social status. Well, I guess I’m part of it; I love being connected and being in the know, especially about engineering and analog electronics. Don’t worry though, I’m still pretty low on the social ladder and I like it that way :). is a news aggregator community and I am now a part of that community. I found out about it from a badge on Penelope Trunk’s blog (my favorite for career related issues) and I requested to be a part of the community (yes, I’m that guy). It was started by Will Mayall, Kathryn Henkens, and Guy Kawasaki. (EDIT: I had confused Guy Kawasaki and Robert Kiyosaki. Sorry!) As far as I have read, all are serial entrepreneurs and Alltop is a great start.

Anyway, if you are interested in finding a lot of information in one space, this is it. I kind of think of it as a Google Reader, but someone else is filing all the stories into neat little compartments. You’ll find my site under “E” for engineering, but I’m thinking about lobbying them to file me under “N” for nerd. We’ll see. Enjoy Alltop!

PS. Fun fact about…the “Moms” feed has the most of any, so they have to limit the story listing. Who knew there were so many Moms out there blogging and writing? (well, Moms apparently…and

Analog Electronics Life Work

Analog Definition

I have been working on a doozy of a blog post for about a week now. It’s almost there and I will definitely release it this week. However, in the interim I have been thinking about my blog and my (analog) life and realize I’ve never really defined it for many people. And like some others, I get questions about it:

What is Analog? What is my definition of Analog?

Analog is everywhere. Analog is the opposite of digital. It is continuous. It is real. Analog are the sights we see and the sounds we hear. Analog is the beauty of a symphony and the complexity of a transistor.

OK, maybe that last part is a little out there. But let’s get down to it. When I say that I am an analog engineer, what does that mean? It means that I work on devices that are primarily in the analog realm. As an example: If I made an electronic circuit that counted to five, there would be many different ways to do it. However, I think there are two basic definitions when it comes to circuits. I could create a circuit that counts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. This would be a digital circuit, because there are only 5 values, and they are not continuous. However, an analog circuit would count something more like 1.00000, 1.00001, 1.00002, 1.00003… 4.99999, 5.00000. There would technically be an infinite amount of information in between 1 and 5, and the precision would be infinitely more that what I have shown. However, as humans, we decide to define numbers to explain the world in finite amounts, either because of time constraints (it would take a very long time to count otherwise) or because of simplicity (we all learn to count to ten because most of us have ten fingers).

Alright, so that’s a good start. Analog = continuous, digital = not continuous.

So why did I choose analog? Well to be completely honest, I didn’t. I got lucky and was presented with an opportunity to work on analog. It seemed to fit many of my goals and it was a welcome change of scenery, not to mention that analog engineers are pretty scarce (and therefore being one has inherent value). However, the best part is that every day I discover something new about it. The weirdest thing I find though, is that I am working on problems that have been around for 50 years. There are people working on the newest digital devices at the bleeding edge of technology, but that stuff doesn’t really interest me. I like the problems that have been around because there need to be more succinct and elegant solutions. Plus, I think the most interesting stuff actually happens when you take all that digital information in the form of 1’s and 0’s and try and put it back into analog. Or vice versa, getting analog signals into digital form isn’t easy either.

Ok, one last example then I’m done. Here’s a decent way to think about what I do. Say you have an iPod. You hit the play button to turn on your favorite track. What happens? Well to start with, all the digital electronics pulls the data off of the flash memory. Then it says: “OK, I have 1’s and 0’s, now what?”. It pushes these 1’s and 0’s into a digital to analog converter (DAC). Now it’s a tiny little sound wave (but an analog signal, yay!). Ok, so now the iPod says “What volume did they want?”. So it takes the volume you select and it amplifies the signal so it will come out of your headphones at the proper volume (not too loud, kids) and you can walk down the street boppin and groovin. Everything from the DAC forward, is similar to what I work on (I don’t do audio, but the ideas are the same).

So there’s my analog definition. I hope it helps and I will reference and revise this post as my career and life change. Cheers!

Analog Electronics Renewable Energy Supply Chain

LED supply chain

As LED lighting and nearly all aspects of energy saving and/or renewable energy come into focus in the real world, we need to keep an eye on the economics of it all. You know the big players are. Big attention means big money and as you can see, lots of people want a slice of the action.

A quick synopsis of the above article could be: LEDs don’t work on their own…people need to buy other stuff. I have already written about one such component, the LED driver, in the past few weeks. Other than touching on drivers, the article also mentions other aspects of LED design including heat management, logic control and LED internals. Each of these parts of the whole design will need to ramp production in order to introduce economies of scale on each part level. The most striking number from the above article is that for every dollar spent on a LED (in this case a HB LED, used in commercial and residential lighting), the user must also spend $2-5 on auxillary components. This means that as the use of LEDs increase, so shall the semiconductor interest in driving those LEDs.

Another sign of this is chip makers entering traditionally non-lucrative markets. National Semiconductor has recently added a power management line of silicon aimed at taming the fickle nature of solar panels. When Nat’l enters the fray, you know they have projected some serious growth. So while my optimism for the entire subject of solar power is restrained, things like the new solar chips and the LED articles mentioned above make me happy. Hopefully we’ll see more news like this soon.