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Electrical Engineers – Crowdsourcing Help on Social Media

JDishy on Reddit is clear about his desired career path: “I want to become an electrical engineer when I grow up but my effort in math DEFINITELY needs to change... or else...” JDishy has obviously already learned that when you need help, turn to where engineers turn when they get stuck — social sites where problem solvers are waiting and eager to help.

We all know that phone-a-friend feeling. You’re stuck and need a very particular type of help and simply Googling for a solution won’t cut it. If you’re an electrical engineer working on something tricky at work or on a personal project, you crowdsource options and answers. Social networks of fellow engineers on subreddits, engineering forums and hobbyist blogs, as well as Twitter and YouTube all provide excellent resources for problem solving.

JDishy needed help with his ham radio handset, as he hacked together electronic parts and software patches to do what he wanted it to do. We listened in… “I manually put the frequency of the local police in to use it as a scanner. I know of software called Chirp to program the radio and I have the programming cable too. I need to install drivers for the radio and download Chirp… Any tips or advice? How long will this take to program the frequencies?” The comments and resulting conversation in the discussion thread were as practical as they were supportive.

In another subreddit thread, a user was more direct, if not more open-ended, in seeking advice: “Has anyone any experience with devices like this? It's a really cheap Wi-Fi enabled IR emitter. If one could reverse engineer the http commands it would be really handy for controlling all kinds of infrared controlled devices (ceiling fans, blinds, stereos, and all that cheap stuff that includes a remote control). So any experience? Any advice?”

The helpful responses were equally succinct, one including a link to their personal Git on Github (the gold standard in software code repositories), where the commenter shared ready-made software code to help the stumped maker adapt the controller he wanted to develop.

For a different kind of stuck, one user on the popular EEWeb forum turned to the social crowd to help troubleshoot the design of his proposed circuit. He attached a detailed circuit diagram (which we include below) asking, “How can I Isolate the analog voltage? I want to measure voltage with the microcontroller by this circuit and my question is 1- is this circuit safe for the microcontroller? 2- how I can I isolate the output of the circuit v(an) AN1 to the pin of the microcontroller AN1? I want to protect the microcontroller. I refer to opto-isolator.”

Circuit diagram

For the untrained, this is mostly unintelligible. But, as we see in almost all the threads we listen in on, the suggestions from the community of electrical engineers came fast and specific.

Matt Wiehe is one of Aerotek’s most seasoned recruiters, so we asked what he thought about electrical engineers and their routine reliance on social networks and forums for problem solving. “Electrical engineers are brilliant when it comes to stuff like hacking together electronics components in their spare time. It makes sense that they rely on each other, crowdsourcing like you say, to help problem solve when they hit a wall with their projects. These social communities of engineers makes group problem solving extremely attractive for the types of electrical engineers I work with every day. They clearly love giving advice as much as getting it.”

For a newbie to the world of social collaboration, we recommend a visit to All About CircuitsProjects Forum, which serves as a sort of crowdsourcing clearinghouse for electrical engineers seeking help, advice and technical assistance on their projects. A quick scan of the top topics reveals such intriguing projects as Sleep Inducer, The Idea of a Very Flat Speaker, Biomedical Application and ‘I Built It. Now Can I sell It?’    

From more recent Projects Forum posts, we were hooked on the back-and-forth problem solving sparked by one user with this post: “Building a[n] HD LED Projector help needed: What Watt is this COB LED? & other questions.” As you’ll see, a considerable part of the problems the engineer needed solving concerns those “other questions.” “I recently bought a part to build an LED Projector and made some mistakes and bought all the LED parts individually. When I got the driver, the cheapest one available with Amazon Prime for the 50 Watt LED I ordered came with a chip LED. Here are the specifications… I am curious if I get a 70 watt driver, if the brightness will be increased? Right now, I am not getting any light on the wall past 4 feet with the 50 watt, and that is while using a 44mm lens & 50 mm collimator reflector on the LED. Does this seem right, in terms of light output forcing me be within 3 feet of the wall, and being dim even then? Any recommendations on the lenses?”

His questions go on, and to help illustrate, he includes a picture of the LED he is trying to identify the best wattage for.

LED part

At one point in his breathless litany of specs and questions, he casually notes that, “I do have an Acer Switch 10 S1002 Windows Tablet I got about a year ago, … then got hit by a Muni train, and the screen, PLUS keyboard dock got cracked, though the LCD itself was fine … I had gotten hurt pretty badly in that train accident, so being able to actually put this Acer to use would be such awesome closure.”

You don’t have to be an electrical engineer — although it helps — to follow this thread through to its resolution, where our enquiring engineer finds a solution with all credit going to the crowd for helping out.

Every day our faith in the human potential to help each other is renewed by working with the Aerotek community of engineers. The jobs they do — whether at work or on their personal projects — can be extremely complex. Our job is pretty simple — we help them reap the professional gratification and reward that they have worked so hard for and earned.

If you’re an electrical engineer with a problem to solve, there’s a vital community of eager-to-serve colleagues waiting online to help. If you’re an electrical engineer curious about how we might be able to help your career progress, we invite you to create a free career account or take a look at our current electrical engineer career opportunities.