@OldSchoolTwidget: I'll admit to being older. Growing older is mandatory. Growing up, on the other hand, is optional.
That reminds me of one of my favorite quotes -- this one by Hunter S. Thompson who famously said:
"Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!"
Hank. Funny you should mention that. I got my soldering iron out a couple of weeks ago and realized that I'm still using the same roll of solder I bought at least 15 years ago. It may last me another 15 years.
When my father was in school, all engineers learned how to weld. I mostly did wire-wrap in school, wireless protoboard, and a little soldering. My first internship we did wire-wrap and stitch-weld wiring (probably no longer exists). Those technologies don't work at higher frequencies, so have faded. As semiconductor integration levels have increased, there is less hand soldering, since it is tough to hand solder a BGA package. With less practice, proficiency falls.
Due to the high NRE of chip design, the programmability of chips has increased to increase the market size. That means that computer engineers spend more time on software and less on hardware.
I would say that it is the analog and power domains where students do the most soldering, but they are a subset of electrical engineers.
In other words, hand soldering used to be a critical skill for all engineers working in electronics, but its importance has declined and will continue to decline.
"What do they teach electronics students at college these days? Isn't soldering one of the core skills one is expected to know?"
I went to college eons ago (pre-Watergate, if you must know), and even back then, the answer was "No!" Soldering is not a core skill. There were one or two courses where you had opportunities to solder (barely), but not everyone took those, and you could do a horrible job with the iron and still get by. The skill was not taught.
I learned to solder by building Heathkits, starting in elementary school. Where is Heath, and the interest in kit-building for the fun of it? Yes there are die-hard fans and homebrewers but they are in the minority. Most new engineers have few opportunities to pick up the skill.
Then when I went to work, I found that most working Engineers are not supposed to solder either! That was the job of a Technician. Years later, however, the situation reversed ... working in the lab and debugging our circuits or probing them for signal integrity. We do it ourselves now (fortunately with the aid of a good stereo microscope, and steady hands).
I recall a fellow EE student in college who was distraught over not knowing (a) how to solder, or (b) how to make a practical circuit that actually did something useful, despite earning a degree. He thought his degree was crap because it taught him lots of theory but nothing practical.
When I was in school (back in the dark ages) if you wanted to do hands on, applied engineering you went to the School of Engineering Technology (Purdue) and if you wanted to do theoretical (paper) engineering you went to the School of Engineering (Purdue). I started out in the School of Engineering but later discovered that all theory and no application was not where I wanted to be and moved to the School of Engineering Technology. In the School of Engineering Technology we did lots of building of circuits and measuring. I don't remember a specific class on soldering but like others have said I don't remember not knowing how to solder.
Wow, that was incredibly naive of him. That reminds me of students in lab class who were completely mystified that their measured results didn't exactly match their calculations. In later lab courses, after they learned a bit more about component tolerances and the min-max spread of datasheet parameters, they went from being mystifed to challenged when it came to doing a real analog circuit design. As a TA, I would get questions like "which transistor beta should I use? The data sheet says min 50 and max 300?" After answering "use both -- 50 and then 300 -- you need to meet the spec over that whole range," the look of mild panic on their faces was priceless. And thus did lab students learn about the magic of feedback :)
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