Jeri Ellsworth’s wildly entertaining and informative videos.
And every corporate attempt in between. It’s happenin’, kids, hey what’s that sound? Every look what’s going down….
If you need another example of social media traction among engineers, let's look at design contests. We’ve done them forever, but social media takes this to a new level.
Just ask Gammell and Ellsworth, who teamed up to build—almost on a whim—a design contest around the (age-old, even "venerable"--yep that's what Bill Schweber called it) 555 timer IC. (It's ironic that this ancient device is the focus of a social media-driven design contest, isn't it?)
“Aside from the history and the instructional information available, the 555 is accessible to a broad range of people,” Gammell said in an interview. “With some care, it's possible to use in more complicated systems, as a lot of our early entries have shown. However, students and hobbyists can just as easily pick one up and use it in a new application.”
Next Tuesday, March 1, is the deadline, so get cracking if you're interested.
Why does social matter?
Flexibility: This project started out as Twitter chatter and once the decision was made, was rolling in two days
Reach: The chip’s creator, Hans Camenzind, is one of the judges
Openness: “Once we started working on the project, other tools like Skype, Wordpress, Email and Google Docs (to help keep track of our sponsors) was all we needed to get the project off the ground. And this all across a 3 hour time difference and 2,500 miles away,” Gammell said.
More traditional design contests, like the ones EE Times is involved in, also are leveraging social media in a big way, building microsites to house information and entries, using video to show design examples, and leveraging comments to get audience votes.
Cypress' challenge and the contest from STMicroelectronics are the most recent examples.
Engineering arguably is one of the most collaborative professions around, so it all makes sense, even if it took a few years for traction.
And if you wanna develop a new generation of engineers, what better way to engage and inspire than through social media and stuff like design contests.
P.S. Here’s Ellsworth’s video explanation of the origins of the 555 contest.
That's right... social media is catching up with us engineers. But I think the reason why is that being sit in front of a computer screen removes a part of the social interaction and thus makes us think we're still working and doing some engineering stuff.
And the fact that the internet allow it to address a broader audience makes us think of it like an OpAmp amplifier doesn't it? Social Engineering perhaps :-)
My hypothesis is that it's not that Engineers are not compatible with social media, but that hardware engineers are about half a decade behind the rest of the world in this respect. It's important to differentiate between hardware and software. Many software folks have been living on the Internet for a very long time.
Most electrical engineering types that I've known over the years are fine being early adopters, provided the technology being adopted has a high usefulness to time-wasting ratio. Certainly there are aspects of the Internet that meet that criteria and are embedded into the lives of just about every EE. Digikey has been on the leading edge of the Internet and has always been far more function than form. Amazon and many of the other online retailers make many life tasks quick and easy.
The biggest problem that I've seen with much of social media is in its roots. So much of it started with the non-technical youth set or was over-hyped by high-ego'd promoters.
That is changing now though. The 555 contest is a good example. Last year, electronics folks really didn't spend much time with social media. Next year, we won't remember that social media ever didn't exist.
Duane, couldn't agree more. Sometimes I call that the engineering paradox (that hardware guys lag the software guys in adoption). The software guys are in many ways responsible for the user experience, so they have to be involved.
And to your point, hardware guys are early adopters in other areas (I'm thinking back to the EV-1 electric car and the all the engineers who had early versions and hacked into their computers for fun.
By the way, if you haven't seen Michael Barr's useful guide to social media for engineers (Duane's already weighed in!), here's a link:
As an engineer I worried about putting my reputation on the line with social media.
What if a potential employer reads my posts and it hurts my chances of getting a job?
Will my colleagues look down at me if I make a mistake when discussing an engineering topic?
I had a wake up call about my online image after an interview around 2007. The interviewer on the other side of the table said "I Googled you."
What was he seeing? I was surprised to find top Google hits were blogs by fans of my work with incorrect or incomplete information and a vandalized Wikipedia article.
From that point on I decided that I would be more active online and present the story I wanted to be told and not let random people who chatted with me for 15 minutes at a trade shows fabricate my online persona.
It's a well known bug here. The first time you see your post it looks like crap. Just do a refresh and all will be well. As you've probably already found out. Successive editors have failed to sort it out (there's a challenge for you Brian!!) But once you know about it, no panic.
All social media is important to be involved with. Twitter give great access to other engineers and companies. Access that you just can’t get any other way.
Having LinkedIn account allows others to see exactly who you are and what you have done - it’s not just about posting your CV. It’s an important port of your online profile.
And writing blogs allows you to voice your own views, talk about what interests you and will encourage others to connect and talk to you.
It may all means like hard work - but the benefits is having a network of engineers and resources at your finger tips.
I still have not been convinced to join Facebook or Twitter (been tempted to, haven't got there yet....), but I did open a HackHut account for the 555 contest. I guess I am being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century....
Love the 555 contest. Finally something a dummy like me can enter!!
I will join soon in face book and twitter. The engineers social media face is like a robbot and the arts person looks like a doll and a science person looks like a scientist and a doctor looks like supreme in the social media
I've always enjoyed playing with new toys primarily to understand the use cases and the potential value. I signed on to Twitter in 2007 (I think), tweeted a few times and thought "this is bizarre." Facebook made more sense, but there weren't many people in my social and business orbit on FB a few years ago.
It took many months of love-hate interplay with Twitter and FB for me to understand how to really use each (and that changes even today).
We can debate the benefits and distractions of various platforms, but I think the larger issue of digital social interaction and collaboration is undeniable.
I think the larger challenge is that the software will continue to adapt rapidly, and we may always be in a state of chasing after the next shiny object without perfecting the uses of the last shiny object.
To be continued (for sure).
I would submit that just leaving comments on this site is a form of social media; particularly when we're talking about pop culture. Facebook and Twitter are just tools that you may or may not find useful. I have a son in Taiwan and three scattered around the States. Quick updates, sharing funny stories, sending pictures are all part of our interaction with each other.
I'm always surprised at how dismissive people can be when something new comes along. Often times just name along sends them into a tailspin. How could anything named Twitter be useful? YouTube, give me a break? How stupid that must be.
As the Grateful Dead pointed out it's "Just a box of rain... Believe it if you need if, if you don't, just pass it on."
The 555 - close but no cigar?
Did everyone love this device? I never thought the 555 was a properly finished design. It was a cheap and cheerful first attempt, and many circuits could be warped around its odd architecture, but it had several foibles that should have been fixed in the next iteration (the 556? -oh no they used that number already).
However, the chip took off so fast that it became the standard, warts and all, and not until the Intersil CMOS version appeared did another appear with any improvements.
While the 555 was good for some single-chip circuits I also saw circuits that used dozens. Gakk. I found that people loved it because it encapsulated several easily understood pieceparts: the monostable, the RC network, the standalone flipflop. These are the parts beloved of the newbie designer.
But then I was taught that the mark of an amateur design was the number of monostables all over it (kinda like using hard-coded constants, see?)
The 555 made monostables cool again and I am not sure that was a good thing because that stunted your growth as an designer.
I am probably just complaining because the 555's warts stopped me using it so often e.g. it couldn't do 0-100% PWM without help, its output spiked and it was actually not all that flexible (there were many things it could do but very few ways to get it to work right).
Maybe the smart follow-up to the competition would be to analyse the various entries and collate the positives and negatives for each device's usage, extract some generalised wisdom, then publish that intelligence into a guide for the next generation of utility chip designers, be they analog AND/OR digital.
Save history repeating itself, kinda thing?
Lastly, I would love to hear from anyone who was party to discussions about producing a follow-up or competitor at that time?
The openness of social media can help engineers in more ways than they can think of. It reminds me of how open source projects helped create Linux and OpenOffice, and social media is able to replicate that too by spreading the word for help on a certain project or enlisting the opinions of many for a test run.
Julian - http://www.mediasnap.co.uk
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