20 Replies Latest reply on Aug 17, 2018 7:38 AM by jack.chaney56

    "What courses were most and least useful to you in your engineering career?"

    danzima

      Hey there, community! It's a pretty muggy Friday here in Chicago, but also it's Friday, so on the whole things are good.

       

      One of our Chicago colleagues is writing an article for another publication on the topic "What courses were most and least useful to you in your engineering career?", and he thought it would be interesting to get input from our community, so I wanted to open the question up to the members area.

      Any response that makes it into the article will be credited to you, so maybe that'll be the start of your second career as a public intellectual and you'll wind up doing TED talks in Palm Springs soon enough?

       

      Thanks in advance for your input!

        • Re: "What courses were most and least useful to you in your engineering career?"
          genebren

          Interesting topic.

           

          My education dates back nearly to the age of dinosaurs, but as an electronics engineering student, the most valuable classes were in computer programming (Fortran and Assembly Language, 'C' did not exist yet).  These lead me into programming, which at the time of my graduation was an understaffed field, leading me to wide open areas of engineering and proving to be a good source of employment throughout my career.  Equally important was a combination of 'hands-on' and theoretical courses, building knowledge in layers, from basic to advanced, that formed a well rounded 'core' education.  There were no real 'least useful' classes, but maybe some that were not well taught, like English, writing, public speaking, etc., that would have been useful to a career that led into leadership roles.

           

          My education was at a 'for profit' technical university, which here in the USA are really taking a beating in the press.  Some of it well deserved (I later taught at one of these schools, and it was clear the money was more important than the education of students) and some undeserved (I came out of college with an education that fully prepared me to exceed in the work place).  In retrospect, I would have thrived in any learning environment (I was born to be an engineer), but I would have benefited from a more rounded and challenging environment, like and state college/university, which could have allowed me to more fully realize my full potentials.

           

          Gene

          1 of 1 people found this helpful
          • Re: "What courses were most and least useful to you in your engineering career?"
            rsc

            This could be fun.....

            Let's start with the least valuable classes.  Under the topic of "general electives" we were required to take PE classes.  I would have to say that my 3 terms of ice skating classes were the least valuable to my engineering career.  The bowling class comes in second, but was more fun overall.

             

            Most valuable: Logic Design, Structured PASCAL, and working in the University theatre as "Special Effects Master"  I used a Sinclair ZX80 to control the theatre light board system (thousands of watts per channel), along with several hundred red LEDs for "rats eyes" embedded in the stage.

             

            Scott

            • Re: "What courses were most and least useful to you in your engineering career?"
              DAB

              Without a doubt, my technical writing class became the most useful in my career.

              Being able to communicate technical ideas with all ranges of people makes a huge difference to your career options.

              There were better engineers than I, but my superior communication skills gave me the edge, especially since I could describe complex ideas in simple terms with management. Trust me, managers do not fund projects they do not understand, so you really need to simplify ideas down into basic terms.

               

              After considerable thought, I would say there were no least useful classes. Being a systems engineer I was tossed into a wide range of projects and I ended up using just about everything I learned in school. You just never know what tidbit of knowledge will come in handy.

               

              DAB

              4 of 4 people found this helpful
              • Re: "What courses were most and least useful to you in your engineering career?"
                jack.chaney56

                Surprisingly enough... typing.  All the loop circuit stuff and antenna field concepts are all stuff that I go back to, because each new idea has a refinement that makes the stuff I learned long ago, a bit outdated. However, learning to poke buttons on an old Selectric hasn't changed (except for the spacing of the keys).  I did however play a little with Dvorak but always drifted back to qwerty.  For the amount of source code generation I have done over the years in assemblers of all types and C, Pascal, Java, Ruby, and now Python, I find being able to type well and not do the two finger dance, has proven to be most valuable.

                 

                Jack

                2 of 2 people found this helpful
                • Re: "What courses were most and least useful to you in your engineering career?"
                  shabaz

                  Hi Daniel!

                   

                  I feel the same as Gene, in that pretty much all courses were useful. Some vocational stuff can become obsolete quickly though.

                  Bullets successfully dodged: B-ISDN, Microsoft certifications.

                  Flak that hit me: I spent some time learning some voice technologies that are now obsolete - but still it was useful for a while, and was a spring-board to other stuff.

                  Most useful for finding jobs for me: Micro-controllers and digital design, computer architecture, assembler, C - I felt a bit fake for the first year in my first real software engineering job, since I only knew C and assembler and no real computer science or engineering stuff, but I stuck at it for a few years, and read as much as I could, not just on language but also techniques and design patterns, did a formal course on server admin to use the machines at my disposal properly, and finally was confident enough to realise I was doing adequately, and that there are plenty of other things I'd picked up that helped in the job - such as some maths, and some knowledge of how processors worked.

                   

                  If I have to pick the least useful course from uni, for me personally it was accounting, I was just not interested in it and it showed in my test result (22%! : ) But apart from that, everything was either useful or interesting to me.

                   

                  I still try to select courses and webinars these days too, typically just single-day courses.

                  2 of 2 people found this helpful
                    • Re: "What courses were most and least useful to you in your engineering career?"
                      Jan Cumps

                      shabaz  wrote:

                       

                      ....

                       

                      I still try to select courses and webinars these days too, typically just single-day courses.

                      I do the same. My favourite one is the Coursera Power Electronics series (University of Boulder, Colorado). Switch mode power circuits are excellent tools to (re-)learn a wide (and tough) range of analog electronics concepts.

                       

                      I've also refreshed knowledge by completing the Coursera Linear Circuits training - Kirchhoff and Thevenin again, network resolving, impedance.

                      All things that I got rusty on. It's been 30 years ago that I learned those.

                      2 of 2 people found this helpful
                    • Re: "What courses were most and least useful to you in your engineering career?"
                      dougw

                      By far the most important course I ever took was was called "Statics" (the analysis of static mechanics). This course taught us the fundamental engineering technique of how to solve any tough problem by breaking it down into manageable (solvable) smaller problems. The techniques were important and it has also been very useful to understand static mechanics, but coming away with an attitude and the confidence to believe we can solve any arbitrary problem with this fundamental approach was simply priceless.

                      As far as career related knowledge goes, I've learned far, far more on the job than in all my courses put together, but the underlying confidence to solve new problems has been a critical key to success.

                      The most useless course I ever took wasn't useless because of the material so much as the Prof who taught it. It was a math course. His English was so atrocious and he had such a heavy accent, it was impossible to understand a single sentence he uttered. Everyone in his courses had major problems figuring out what he was trying to teach.

                      1 of 1 people found this helpful
                      • Re: "What courses were most and least useful to you in your engineering career?"
                        fmilburn

                        For me the most useful courses were the introductory courses that all engineers had to take:  Statics (mechanical engineering), Introduction to Electrical Engineering, Chemistry, Introductory Physics, etc.  I found that some of the 3rd and 4th year courses were years behind industry in my area of specialty once I was out of school but the basics never change.  If I had to pick one that was best it would be Statics like Doug.  That was the course used to weed out first semester engineers where I went to school.  FORTRAN also turned out to be very useful in my first few years out of school (I never dropped a deck ;-).

                        • Re: "What courses were most and least useful to you in your engineering career?"
                          mcb1

                          I was rather lucky in that I left school and got a job as an Electronics Technician with NZ Post Office. This is your typical mid 1970's government department where things are done in a proper manner with reliablity more important than the final cost.

                           

                          They sent you on nine week block courses where we learnt electronics, and radio principles, through to digital electronics. (I had several goes as the tutor just could not get it across)

                          Most of the equipment was analogue, and covered a range from low frequency cable locators to microwave links carrying the tolls up and down the country.

                           

                          Back then computers were making an entrance and I recall learning BASIC to be able to program this 'HP Instrument controller' for some automation.

                           

                          As well as the electronics we also did a lot of mechanical fabrication, so welding and painting were skills learnt on the job.

                           

                          When I look back, the courses that relate to the actual work you are doing were more rewarding and the lessons stuck better than some stuff that we never touched.

                           

                          Most of the courses I've done lately are related to supporting the equipment we have, and I'm too old to start shifting sideways.

                           

                           

                          Mark

                          1 of 1 people found this helpful
                          • Re: "What courses were most and least useful to you in your engineering career?"
                            three-phase

                            I could well be on my own with this one, but the most useful course to me has been an earthing systems course. Learning about transfer of earth fault potentials helps me stay alive in the high voltage field I work in.

                             

                            A course on applied problem solving from my bachelors has been very useful over the years for justifying projects and analysing different solutions. For me I have often found it easier to teach myself technical aspects but have struggled more with the non-technical skills, so have looked forward to courses of that nature.

                             

                            The least useful course was Prince2 practitioners course (project management), weeks learning specific lingo for Prince2 to pass the exam for a system that the company dropped the following year.

                             

                            Kind regards

                            • Re: "What courses were most and least useful to you in your engineering career?"
                              lui_gough

                              I'm probably alone in saying this as well, but I'd probably say the most useful course was one of the first courses I took - ENGG1000 Introduction to Engineering Design and Innovation.

                               

                              Straight into university, fresh out of high school with literally no expertise whatsoever, mixed with people you've never met before, but united by a common problem defined by the course convenor, a set of constraints, defined teams and some limited mentorship. The course was the steepest of learning curves, but was also one of the most rewarding as a result. From feeling like we knew nothing and were completely powerless, we were able to branch-out and try things hands on, narrowing down a path toward a solution as if our lives counted on it. The mentors would answer some questions but ultimately didn't do much to "steer the boat". Team interactions and dynamics were defined ad-hoc and a feeling of camaraderie developed as we all learned to speak the same (technical) language, understanding we were all just as clueless in the beginning. I think this course did the most to reinforce to its students that there are many solutions to a problem, that we don't know what the solution might be at the beginning (but we can still get there), that research is necessary and a methodical iterative approach can provide solutions, that we learn along the way, that teamwork is important and that we should consider our decisions carefully because they matter.

                               

                              I'd probably say the second-most useful would be the ELEC4122 Strategic Leadership and Ethics course that came at the end of the undergraduate degree - it really made us all aware about the power that technology wields and the responsibility we must take to use it appropriately. A good reminder, especially in the present time when companies are undergoing an "at all costs" drive to boost profits.

                               

                              As for the least useful course - that's actually quite a tough one. I quite enjoyed all my university courses, although that doesn't mean that I did well on all of them ... I'd have to disagree with the sentiment that general education courses weren't useful - after all, I chose rather interesting ones from my perspective so I enjoyed them and learned something different from them. I'd have to say all courses are useful to some degree if you're interested, even if it's not entirely obvious initially. But some of the more foundational courses may teach you first principles that are rarely used outside of formal derivation ... so not useful but still good to know rather than taking it for granted.

                               

                              - Gough

                              2 of 2 people found this helpful
                              • Re: "What courses were most and least useful to you in your engineering career?"
                                snidhi

                                I studied electronics engineering in my undergraduate program. Getting in at a young age at 17 in engineering; I had no much clue about it in the beginning. My focus was more on enjoying the college life and having fun

                                 

                                The courses I found most helpful to start my career later were

                                • Some software programming languages Matlab; C programming
                                • Analog circuit basics and labs. Having good labs and doing projects really made a big difference in my learning.
                                • Hardware programming: FPGA; and microcontroller programming PIC, 89C51. Helps in creating something of your own.

                                 

                                What I missed and did not learn in university was some mechanical design courses. I would have liked to learn some basics of CAD to start with.

                                1 of 1 people found this helpful
                                • Re: "What courses were most and least useful to you in your engineering career?"
                                  Jan Cumps

                                  side note: my specialization was Measurement and Regulation (control?) techniques (Meet- en Regeltechnieken).

                                  In essence, this meant learning presicion,  the uncertainties and tolerances when measuring, feedback and control theory, closed loops and automation (with valves and PLCs).

                                  For electronics, pneumatic and hydraulics.

                                  I can't even start to say what I've forgotten since 1986. Digital I may know better than in the 80's. But PID theory, analog control, feedback and control loops are very hard now for me. Same for maths - that's a disaster these days. I can't cope with calculus 1 anymore. Used to be fluent with looking op logarithms in a book ...

                                   

                                   

                                   

                                  On the other hand, I gained other capabilities like managing big teams in harsh circumstances, managing budgets that scare me every day,  delive projects, stay when things get rough and others leave,  stand tall and own up when failing, grow, maintain a professional network, stay sane in corporate life  ...

                                  1 of 1 people found this helpful