I am sad and distraught. I am shocked and horrified. In short, I am flabbergasted (I think it fair to say that rarely has my "flabber" been quite so "gasted"). And what is the reason for my current state of discombobulation? Well, I'm glad you asked...
A few days ago, my chum Adam Taylor posted a comment saying something like: "Max, you'd be surprised how many new electronics engineers don't know how to solder." Well, I must admit that I really didn't give much credence to this statement, and I sort of shrugged it off at the time, but now I'm starting to wonder...
The thing is that I just observed a young engineer making the most appalling botch-up of a very simple soldering task. Once I'd fought my way through the smoke, I was staggered to discover what he'd been doing -- the board was burned, the excessive heat was causing traces to pull away, a bunch of pins were shorted together, and the component in question had gone to meet its maker. The sight of that poor board brought tears to my eyes (or maybe it was all the smoke and solder fumes).
What do they teach electronics students at college these days? Isn't soldering one of the core skills one is expected to know? In my day -- when dinosaurs roamed the Earth -- all the students on my university course already knew how to solder before they'd even set foot on the campus (I don't know about the others, but I taught myself by reading hobbyist magazines like Practical Electronics).
On the bright side, I am heartened to see that companies like SparkFun actually offer hands-on classes in soldering. Also, I just heard from my old friend, Alan Winstanley, who is the online editor for the electronics hobbyist magazine EPE (EPEmag.com). Way back in the mists of time, Alan created an incredibly useful online soldering (and de-soldering) guide featuring oodles of high-quality, close-up photographs.
The great news is that Alan has just published a new e-book, which he describes as: "A much expanded and updated version of my original online work, with 80 all-new color photos showing everything a trainee or hobbyist needs to know to get started in electronics soldering." Alan kindly send me low-resolution versions of two of these images:
I just bounced over to Amazon to take a peek at the Kindle edition of Alan's Magnum Opus, which he's modestly dubbed "The Basic Soldering Guide." In addition to teaching you how to solder and de-solder, this tome also explains the correct choice of soldering irons, solder, fluxes, and various tools.
I think it's safe to say that I know at least one young engineer to whom I shall be recommending this little beauty.