Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divineLudwig van Beethoven
The journey began a long time back, and I was not even aware of it. It was one of the silly science competitions in my school. I was probably 14 years old. Or lesser, I don’t remember. Unlike the US where bright students were encouraged to take part in the science competitions, in India, the primary focus was on exams. All well wishers always advised, “Do well in the exams.” And it was for good reasons. The key to a good life (read: economic stability) lay in securing a high percentile in one of the many exams after one leaves school. The number of positions available in the better higher education institutes far outstrip the number of candidates vying for one of them
The journey began a long time back, and I was not even aware of it. It was one of the silly science competitions in my school. I was probably 14 years old. Or lesser, I don’t remember. Unlike the western world where bright students were encouraged to take part in the science competitions, in India, the primary focus was on exams. All good wishers always advised, “Do well in the exams.” And it was for good reasons. The key to a good life (read: economic stability) lay in securing a high percentile in one of the many exams after one leaves school. The number of positions available in the better higher education institutes far outstrip the number of candidates vying for one of them
As you can imagine, I had no active interest in the science fair. But I wanted to do something. So I went to one of the stores that sell these electronics DIY kits (I honestly did not now what DIY stood for). It had a bunch of components that needed to be soldered together. I borrowed a soldering iron and tried to figure out how to use it. It did not work.
My father was a big shot electrical engineer in one of the governmental power plants. But it was far from our city and he could come only for 4-5 days in a month. Next time when he came, he saw my kit and offered to take it to one of the electronics repair centers in his power plant and have it fixed for me. He got it fixed. Apparently, the issue was that the ground was not connected properly. I did not have the tools to analyze what was wrong. And I am talking of a time when the only thing all my friends could talk about was entrance examinations. I did have an internet connection back home but it was to be used sparingly so that I don’t get hooked to it.
I was good at physics, particularly in problems related to electricity, magnetism, and electromagnetism. There were parts on diodes and transistors but it was so poorly taught that I absolutely hated it. And because it was never a part of the examinations, I never studied them. What a mistake!
I appeared for a fair number of entrance examinations. I did not get into one of the premier Indian Institute of Technology. But I nevertheless got a good rank in the West Bengal Joint Entrance Examination. In India, you need to specify a major to get admission. With the rank I secured, I could not get into the electronics and telecommunication program. I decided to go for the instrumentation and electronics course.
And that is where the seed that was planted a long time back started getting its fertilizer. I joined the robotics club where I got a little more exposure to electronics. I had access to a huge library where I found the book, “Art of Electronics” by Horowitz and voila! I was hooked. In my final year, I applied to Cadence Design Systems and got a job as an analog design engineer! It was literally a dream come true.
In the midst of all these, I always felt that people cannot teach electronics properly. Back in my fourth year of studies, a new program was started called “TechKnowCradle”. It was a program to teach applied science and mathematics to school students. They asked me to teach robotics and electronics. And I received one of my biggest compliments in the course of that event. At the end of the program, one of the students went up to the podium and said, “I hated electronics before this. Now I love it.”
Electronics is hard. My first few months in Cadence were terrible. I always felt I was lost. But then I slowly started getting a grip. Eventually, I got bored and left to do my MS in KU Leuven. I picked up the design of a power amplifier as a topic for my thesis. It was in bipolar technology. It wasn’t easy either. But I learned the very tip of RF design.
Analog design takes an awful lot of time to learn and someone needs to put constant effort. To keep reading. To keep doing things on the side. I don’t know what success in this field means, but I hope to get really good at it. To force myself into its secrets.