element14: Let’s start with you telling the element14 Community audience a little bit about yourself: what you do, who you work for and what was your formal education?
Victor: Okay, good. My name is Victor. I live in the Netherlands. I've got two sons now (Editor’s note: the most recent is a newborn, congratulations to Victor and his wife). My formal education is in Electrical Engineering at a school that translates best into something like “Polytechnic”: Saxion University in the Netherlands.
element14: Okay, who do you work for currently?
Victor: I'm currently working for the University of Twente in Enschede, Netherlands. Previously, I worked at an engineering firm designing hardware, and sometimes a small bit of software. I have been working at the University about 3 1/2 years now.
element14: Do you teach there? What do you do at the university?
Victor: No, my official title is Research Engineer. I have worked on a diverse set of projects-- from motor control to ultrasound. I'm designing test set ups and projects for faculty PhD's who will need to measure something. Sometimes I teach, but that is a very small part of my job.
element14: Can you give me an example of a project that you were involved in at the school, or something that you've recently done, which would give element14 Community members a better feel for your job at Twente?
Victor: Yes, what I'm doing now is designing electronics for a robotic exoskeleton.
element14: Would the exoskeleton be used for people with disabilities? Would it be used for a military application?
Victor: No. it’s for spinal cord injury, People with spinal cord injuries are the target audience.
element14: You became a member of element14 Community,- if I remember correctly, in 2010. How did you first hear about it, and why did you decide to become a member?
Victor: I was involved, professionally, ordering stuff (from Farnell Nederland ) then I saw element14 Community opened, and I looked at the website a few times, and at first didn't really get involved that much. Then, I was working with a friend, and a member of a hacker space here called tkkrlab and someone started with a project involving a Lego train, he wanted to add wireless charging to that and at the same time there was an element14 Community RoadTest Challenge where they asked for contributors to build something for wireless charging, and I thought, "Hey, this is a nice opportunity. Let' me try to get my hands on it first." Then, I got selected, and we made a Lego train and a Chihuahua-- I don't know if you've seen the project. (Editor’s Note: Victor demonstrated the capabilities of Qi wireless charging by liberating his son´s toys from their cords. With the Qi-train and Qi-huahua, Victor proved he was able to charge anything, anywhere. He was cited in the challenge as “truly integrating the Qi-standard into our daily lives with great creativity and lots of entertainment.”)
element14: Tell me a little bit about your experience in participating in the challenge. How easy was it to sign up, to get the material, to write about it, etc.?
Victor: Well, in general, once you have been selected everything is run by Farnell. You get a contact person and you get the materials. The application is-- well, I got selected for the Wireless Power one and again for the Energy Harvesting Challenge, You write in the entry, "I'd like to do this, this, and this." I've also written applications that did not get selected. I think over the years the level of entries has gone up.
After you receive the materials you're pretty much on your own to make your journal entries and write about what you're doing. To me, a lot of the time it takes - which, due to the recent changes in my family life will mean that I won't be applying for a lot of projects in the coming year—it took me about one or two evenings a week to participate.
(check out Victor's winning entry to the Energy Harvesting Challenge)
element14: Do you think the members should have more of a say in what products are being road tested?
Victor: There is a place where people can actually suggest things, but I think element14 Community is very heavily relying on what the manufactures provide. Something like the “Energy Harvesting Solution to Go” Road Test, for example, would never have come from the community members themselves.
element14: You do also participate in forums where you answer questions, and comment on other member’s blogs. Do you find that element14 Community gives you as an engineer, a sense of community? Is that one reason why you participate?
Victor: Yes, I think it should-- It could-- be larger, because I see a lot of people asking one question and then just (seemingly) leave the community. My feeling is there could be much more community, there could be more involvement. I'm not quite sure how that could be shaped, but I think it could be larger. To me, one of the reasons for community is that I've learned a lot from colleague engineers, and I think when people come up with a good question or have interesting ideas it's a good thing to get some comments from colleagues.
element 14: I noticed for example, at one point you had a question that you raised to the FPGA group. I believe you were looking at a high speed analog digital converter, and you asked about an FPGA choice . Were you happy with the response that you got? Was it worthwhile asking the question?
Victor: Yes very much. This is the good part of such a community. I could have asked the same question of FPGA vendors [like Xilinx or Altera] and I would have gotten a sales-oriented answer. The community of people who are actually using the product are more likely to respond: “Oh, you are thinking the wrong way" or "Don't forget this option" or "You have the wrong concept”. FPGAs are new to me. I can easily get a concept the wrong way. It's good to have some feedback like that because I don't have a ton of colleagues working with FPGAs. Normally it would be something to discuss with colleagues, about their experience in this.
element14: What you are saying is that a peer-to-peer discussion has more validity than - as you pointed out - simply going to a vendor who's going to have a particular point of view.
Victor: Yes, and also because that vendor might be put out by my lack of knowledge on the subject or might not understand the question I'm asking, because I'm not in that field or work, or whatever. I think you first ask a question to the community and they can point you in the right direction. Maybe later, I'll go and ask a vendor but by then I have the right vocabulary, and I’m able to ask for the concepts behind the technology.
element14: An engineer once told me that they like forums where engineers can ask other engineers questions, because in some cases they can do so almost anonymously, whereas at times the engineer might be concerned if he asked a question of a colleague or a supervisor that he might be thought of as not having the proper knowledge. Here, you can ask a question of another engineer without that fear. Is this a factor—having a place to anonymously ask a question without any fear of creating doubt about your abilities in the workplace?
Victor: For me, the places where I have I worked previously, and currently, welcome people who ask questions and say they don't know. It's better to say you don't know, than do something without knowledge of what you're doing. That might also be a cultural thing.
element14: What other areas of element14 Community do you follow? For example, do you follow what Ben Heck does? What other sections of the site do you find yourself looking at from time to time?
Victor: Mostly the forums and experts sections. Those are the areas where I find the most interesting questions. Of course, RoadTest. I follow Ben Heck because sometimes there are some interesting discussions there.
element14: And as we’ve discussed you also participate in the design challenges that appear from time to time.
Victor: Yes. I took part of the Road Test Challenge, and I participated in the Energy Harvesting challenge. One of the things that I really found a bit discouraging in those RoadTests was that there wasn’t enough involvement from the community. It's a bit weird to get only a response from one guy in a post on a challenge. I wanted to increase the involvement of people reading the blog. So what I did was not participate as a contestant but I wrote like a weekly summary of what had happened, that way you could inform all the participants. Also because in the Energy Harvesting thing there were-- I think-- eight people who originally get involved and only three came up with a working design in the end. I think that was really a shame. I'm quite happy when there are a lot of participants and a lot the people finish.
element14: Thank you Victor. I appreciate your time and your answers to my questions.
Check out what vsluiter is up to on the element14 Community by checking out his profile here.