Saturday, September 04, 2010

How to study engineering ?

A number of readers may be engineers who want to get into investing so do comment on this article whether you agree or disagree with it.

A friend wanted to me to give some advice on how to study engineering. In particular, would there be fundamental ideas and equations that can make a person a good electrical engineer.

I can't answer that question directly. Like finance, engineering is a mixture of disciplines. Engineers need a strong foundation in mathematics, physics and computing before you can really start doing work in research, programming and systems integration. Finance majors need statistics, accounting and economics to even start making meaningful investment decisions. Finance majors in the future probably need C++ programming to engage in statistical arbitrage and high-frequency programming.

What I can offer is a set of strategies on how to study engineering that is unique in the physical sciences and not anywhere else.

Here are my tips :

a) Study of engineering subjects always involves solving problems.

You can understand or memorize an equation or physical theory but the rubber meets the road in solving problems. This is why sometimes great engineering students look at a typical problem in a tutorial first before diving into the lecture notes. Equations and theories exists as a means towards the ends which is to resolve a technical problem.

This means that the much-maligned 10 year series method of learning is actually the ideal one to master engineering subjects.

A savvy engineering is always hunting for new problems to solve using their newly learnt theories.

b) Best engineers use their foundation in problem solving to imagine or invent more complex problems.

This is the difference between a B student and a dean's lister - the ability to imagine problems of greater complexity and solve them independently of the lectures. We all learn about resistors in series or parallel in secondary school. A smart physics student can mentally arrange resistors in a three-dimensional cube edge or a mesh and use the basic equations to solve problems of this complex nature.

c) Best engineers have toys which reinforce their understanding of technology.

Engineers must align their hobbies with their discipline. This allows them to gain a kinesthetic understanding of the technologies needed to create value for their employers or clients.

If finance lets you buy the biggest toys, engineering is the professional discipline with the most absorbing toys.

The modern engineering student has a really nice set of toys to play with outside school. Find a VC trained in finance who likes the stuff you build and he'll then proceed to buy you even more toys. Android phones are programmable in Java. Arduino is a very simple, low-cost way to understand micro-controllers. Even better, Android phones can control Arduino microcontrollers.

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