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Computers and Electronics

updated 12/19/10

I can't decide which would be a more useful field in which to gain skills to be more competitive in my job hunt...computers/IT or electronics. I like both, so which would be best for me?

Computers and Information Technology

Something in IT would be a nice complement to my existing skillset. I've been working on the software end for a while, though I have some interests at the hardware end also.

Web Design/Editing/Maintenance

I've been doing web design since 1999; that's over 10 years now. I enjoy the visual element of placing things on the screen, laying things out just right, and working with soothing colors and images. You can check out my design portfolio for some examples of my work.

I haven't been doing this much since there is one big thing missing from pure web design, and that's the science/research aspect. Clients come from all different fields, not necessarily science, and thus it becomes difficult to develop content when I don't have a good understanding of their field. It is possible to do, just not preferable when I have a scientific background and want to be doing science in some way.

Also, pure web design jobs are extremely difficult to find. Almost every position involving web design is actually for web development, and the list of languages that one is required to have experience in is far greater than mine. So even if I did want to do pure web design, there are no jobs.

Web Development and Computer Programming

I've thought about increasing my skills as a web developer. Right now I can edit CSS, Javascript, and PHP, but I'm not yet proficient at writing my own code as I am with Java.

I have experience with C++, Java, and some Python and Visual Basic. I like the satisfaction when my code is working, and I love the idea of making computers do new things. I'm not sure if I would rather work with non-web vs. web-based applications, which would dictate which set of programming languages I should concentrate on. However, I'm trying to decide whether I should concentrate on them at all.

My main operating styles are the following:

  1. to compile huge amounts of information about something and summarize it in some way (i.e. research), or
  2. to change something and observe what happens (i.e. scientific experiment).

It is more of a stretch for me to take a problem and envision a full-blown solution to it (i.e. problem-solving in programming). I solve complex problems through trying something, seeing how close I am to the solution, then making a change and seeing how much closer I am (i.e. experimentation). A programmer seems to be able to envision the big picture of code, filling in the details as time passes. I can do that too, but it's much more automatic for me to start with a set of details, and find some description that summarizes them (i.e. research).

My local community college, Durham Tech, offers a 2-year degree in computer programming. It would provide some useful skills, even if I find a job before then. They also have a degree in Web Technologies, but I don't think it will be as useful to me coming from a web design background already.


Working with Electronics

If I knew more about electronics, I'd get my computer to do even cooler things. Like working on human-computer interfaces, or having my computer remotely control my house. Such a backlog of ideas and no time.

My whole experience with electronics comes from working at HiViz.com. I assemble flash trigger circuits for high-speed photography, solder cables, perform testing/troubleshooting of circuits and cables, and package everything up for shipping. However, I've often wanted to be able to design circuits from scratch (i.e. electrical/electronics engineering) or to take any broken piece of electronic equipment and be able to fix it.

The following two degrees from Durham Tech would give me some hands-on, practical experience with circuitry at very low cost.

If I had more money to spend, there's the following:

  • Master of Engineering (NC State) - an online program that is the only local program in engineering whose prerequisites I meet. I could do courses in electrical and computer engineering, or even try some in mechanical engineering where I could get some exposure to fluid mechanics.

That's it, 2 years for a hands-on AAS or 2 years for a virtual Master of Engineering. If I did the latter, I'd have two master's degrees but would I have the experience to design/troubleshoot my own circuits? On the other hand, I could get more exposure to computer science while learning electrical engineering.


Conclusion - What's Right For Me?

Nothing beats solar power! It's what I'm doing right now, and alternative energy will be a good compliment to my M.S. in Ecology. I'll be taking some classes in Electrical/Electronics Technology from Durham Tech anyhow in 2011, so it looks like I won't be choosing between computers and electronics after all. The solar field is where I'll be headed, which will require electrical knowledge, something different altogether.


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