Refashioning the Concept of Engineering

A Tale of Overcoming Obstacles (From Personal Experience)

My first steps to becoming an engineer started with assisting the design process of my graduation hat. You can make your own by following the Instructable here.
My first steps to becoming an engineer started with assisting the design process of my graduation hat. You can make your own by following the Instructable here.

About a year ago, I started my job at Digilent with only a small grasp on the concept of engineering. Since most of my engineering references were gathered prior to my interview by listening to friends discuss their schoolwork and projects, one could assume my first few steps inside an engineering company were a little intimidating. Despite no background in circuits, coding, or anything else one might use while conversing with engineers, I led with a strong background in apparel merchandising and a willingness to learn whatever came my way. Looking back, this willingness to learn is still the most important skill that I use regularly when starting something completely new and outside of my comfort zone.

With no prior experience, I was determined to find my niche within the culture created at Digilent and quickly decided that I would try my best to align with the Maker community. Even from an outside perspective, this community felt like home, with unique projects that enabled creativity from an intellectual perspective. My lack of engineering experience was transformed into hope due to the creativity I consistently cultivate in whatever projects I accept. The only problem ahead was figuring out how to become one with the MakerSpace and prove to myself that engineering did not have to be intimidating.

If I could make anything at the Digilent MakerSpace...

Starting with the basics, I quickly realized that Digilent Learn would be my first best friend while venturing into the depths of engineering. I started getting my feet wet with the teaching modules, then attempted to apply this new knowledge by perusing the projects section. These projects were at first a difficult undertaking to read through considering background, but soon I moved on to reviewing Instructables posted by fellow coworkers. While I was amazed by some of the ingenuity of these projects, many were still intimidating without hands-on experience. Something needed to change.

Everything a young or aspiring adult maker could dream of! Check out the project kit components here.
Everything a young (or aspiring adult) maker could dream of! Check out the project kit components that kickstarted my imagination here.

After a few months of intermittent learning, I finally built up the courage to start out with a simple microcontroller project inspired by our robotic box monster project box. Following advice once acquired in a management class, I chose to focus on “small wins” with my first engineering project. Revamping a project originally designed for younger audiences helped me feel comfortable and eliminated the drowning sensation I have often experienced after jumping headfirst into a subject. The provided uC32 microcontroller was easier to use than I originally expected due to the enormous amount of code available online via similar Instructables projects. This did rule out questions along the way, however, I found answers easily by writing my inquiries in the comments of the box monster Instructable.

By the time I completed my project, I was amazed with the result! Not only did I find myself capable of completing an engineering project, along the way I created something I am still proud of today. While I have a lot more to learn, using the resources available and finding inspiration from online communities was incremental in developing my confidence as a budding engineer. So if you ever feel down or overwhelmed by starting a new project, or branching out into a new discipline, just remember that anything can be accomplished with a little hard work and reliance on the communities built to help you. And if an apparel merchandising student can learn engineering concepts, you certainly can too.

My Monster Book of Monsters project displayed on my desk.
My Monster Book of Monsters project displayed proudly on my desk.

How did you start your journey into engineering? We would love to hear your stories below!

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About Quinn Sullivan

I am an apparel merchandiser who found comfort in the world of electronics after discovering a passion for making projects with copious amounts of glitter. Every day I work on learning and uncovering novel solutions that guide me towards solving life’s little problems. My optimism and two rescue puppies have kept me sane throughout this endeavor as I figure out how to blend two diverse backgrounds in fashioning something amazing that will eventually lead to world domination.

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