I am a graduate student majoring in automatic control. But very
shamefully, after studying many control algorithms, I have so poor
idea on how to implement control schemes in real world.
I feel that I can't wait any more. I have to start practicing. And
before I get a job, I'd better do some experiments which are not
complicated and not expensive.
So I am wondering whether there are some sample equipments - hardware
and software - for beginners to start with like PLC, DSP, or any kind
of embedded/ real time system as well as tutorials and references.
Very very thankful for any relevant information.
All the best,
This may seem strange but why not enter competitive events like
"micro-mouse" or "auto-bot wars". You are then pitting your skills
against others and you will learn quite a lot from building and
running your devices.
I think there are plenty of kit-of-bits type solutions for the
micro-mouse machines (includes wheels, encoders etc) to which you
need to add micro-controller and I/O conditioning before beginning
to programme. After all any control job you get will benefit if you
have some practical skills and a feel for real world parameters.
How you then apply what you learn is in how well you see the
similarities between systems and your analytical skills in classifying
the diffeent types of control you gain experience in (there are after
all only 28 control system types - from an I/O viewpoint). What changes
after that is merely the quantity of I/O and the processing power
you have to hand.
You aren't a big toe type when you hit a pool, are you? Talk about
jumping in with both feet. I like that spirit. I have to agree that the
only way to practice controls are to do it. The robot wars suggestion will
definitely get you a lot of practice and experience in a hurry.
What kind of control system are you interested in working on? Motion
controls require one set of worries, flow controls quite another. One major
thing to do is to look around at every day items to see where control
systems are already used, and then to supplant those with one of your
advanced systems. Perhaps it will work better, perhaps not. You might just
find a better way to do things. I would avoid playing with the cruise
control or internal controls of your automobile for the time being, but a
lot of other things are fair game.
Buying a simple a/d and d/a board, a relay, a few thermocouples, and
perhaps a bit of wire will let you write a thermostat control on your
computer for your house. That isn't much of a control system, but it has
the advantages of being relatively easy but quite extensible, as you can
figure out how to model the thermal properties of the house.
Try controlling a bank of lamps to maintain an even amount of light on a
table throughout the year. Dim them when the sun is bright enough to
contribute. Extra points for maintaining a particular color of light on the
table by controlling several colored lights.
Turn on house lights in response to your location.
Control the temperature of water from a tap. This may be a bit more
expensive, as control valves aren't always cheap.
Toys are oddly enough a great place to start. Indeed, there are a
number of toys which were the first commercial application of some chips and
technologies. Check into the Lego robotics kit.
You have a point, Walter, but I'm surprised you would underestimate
the importance of practical experience. While Haoyu shouldn't use
this as an excuse to delay the job search, the lack of practical
experience so far will be an issue. How would you feel about hiring a
new graduate who simply floated through his/her classes by passing
exams? Who never took the time to try to build a tangible control
device? Who expects the employer to spend a year training him/her to
be productive? Who can solve any textbook problem but can't engineer
his/her way out of a paper bag?
How do you expect Haoyu to respond to the question, "So what control
projects have you done?" Or "Why should we hire you?" Would "I
haven't done any control projects, but I can pick up the practical
know-how by osmosis even though I have made zero progress in doing so"
suffice? If I were a hiring manager, I would NOT hire Haoyu. In
fact, I would probably exclaim in disgust, "What kind of engineer are
you? You spent thousands of dollars and hours studying control
theory, but you couldn't spare a few more to attempt the simplest
And if Haoyu does get a job, how long will it take for him/her to be
productive? The ideal new hire is someone who can get the job done on
Day One blindfolded. Without practical experience, it will be a big,
long uphill battle for Haoyu to become reasonably productive or even
to know what's going on.
Jason Hsu, AG4DG
usenet AAAAAATTTTTT jasonhsu.com
Which is why I suggested the Micromouse and/or Robot Wars competitions
in the first place. Micromouse would probably be the better project of
the two as you have to programme the controller to solve the maze in
as rapidly as possible as well as move the mouse according to the
solution. A competition is still run annually in the UK but I suspect
that there are similar competitions run in other countries too. The
UK event gets quite a bit if International participation.
Even in an ideal world I would not expect any new hire to be able to
be on top performance on day 1. I'd give him at least until the end
of day two. I mean, he has to find the coffee machine, the loos and
where lunch/pizza's might be obtained. ;>
I don't at all underestimate the value of practrical experience. On the
contrary, I suggest Haoyu get some as soon as possible. I'm afraid there is
no easy answer to the dilemna of no experience, no job; no job no
experience. Unfortunately there is no way to get industrial experience
except in industry. No one "...simply floated through his/her classes by
passing exams." But I would very much be interested in his history of
If a recent graduate, prospective employee told me about a significant home
project I would have to think carefully. Is he showing initative or is he
trying to evade the real world? Hopefully a chat would reveal this. If he
said nothing I would draw no conclusions at all.
I'm afraid that nothing he could do in his own time would have any direct
bearing on how long it took for him to be productive. He would be given
small, closely supervised assignments. The quality of work, especially in
small things, would reveal how much freedom would be given in the next
This may be beneath you but i figured i'd throw it out.
Have you tried a class at a local technical college? I'm a currently a
student and we are learning Servo's, synchro's and plc's. The level I'm at
is mostly hands
on with very little math involved.
This is a toughie. I guess what I mean is that if I am interviewing a
person for a job and he spent the whole time talking about his hobby I would
start to conclude that his job would have a lower priority. The fact that
it is a technical hobby would help a bit, but not much. If the person is a
recent graduate I would listen carefully to see if this enthusiasm would
transfer to his work.
I get the impression that people who have been in the workforce for a while
and who still are very enthusiastic about technical hobbies are so because
they do not find their work interesting enough. Their enthusiasm and
ability is being diverted.
Could be I'm wrong.
I started in industry right after getting my degree with no real
experience. I think that most people do. My first employer did train
me; it was many months before my productivity as an engineer began was
worth what I was being paid. Such is typical in engineering and many
That said, any work at home on a "hobby" type project, as long as it
does not take time away from the job search, is worth while. It is
certainly better than spending the evening at rock concerts or such.
But a young graduates first goal should be to get the entry level job
with an employer who knows he is hiring a new graduate and is willing
Now we're getting somewhere. Now I see what you're concerned about.
What would separate the candidate with the technical hobby that's a
plus from the candidate with the technical hobby that's a minus?
Isn't there also the possibility that the work and the hobby have
synergies? And why wouldn't an engineer who loves his/her work still
be enthusiastic about a technical hobby?
You have some interesting points of view that seem to conflict what I
have been learning. I would like to resolve some paradoxes.
Some more questions for you, Walter (and anyone else):
1. How did you become more productive than your peers who graduated
with you? People don't become productive engineers by accident.
2. How did you become interested in the career you have now?
3. Describe for me the ideal new hire.
4. Describe for me the ideal new graduate. Since the new graduate
won't have much direct experience (and nobody was born with such
experience), this definition will be somewhat different from that in
#3. If you have had experience recruiting new graduates, what types
of things will convince you that a given candidate is in the top .1%
(or 1% of 5%) that makes you say, "I MUST hire this person before the
5. What does it take for a new engineer to become competent? No
productive engineer was born that way, and nobody has ever become
competent by accident or through a mysterious flash of divine
inspiration. If your answer includes past co-ops and internships,
then what is the ideal candidate for these positions?
6. Whose job is it to make an engineer more competent? The school?
The employer? My answer is that it is the engineer's job. As I see
it, the school and the employers keep passing the buck. The school
will say that its job is to teach the basic fundamentals and that it's
the employer's job to train people. The employer will say it's the
school's job to graduate more productive engineers. The conclusion I
draw is that the training is the engineer's job. Contests, projects,
co-ops, internships, etc. are ways for students to gain the practical
experience they need. Those who get practical experience but don't
like it will know that they should think about changing fields right
away, not several years into an unproductive career.
Jason Hsu, AG4DG
usenet AAAAATTTTT jasonhsu.com
I am very thankful for your kind advices. I am trying to
get a job first. In the mean time, I am also looking for
universities with good real-time/embedded system program.
As an international student at USA, it is really hard to
get a job nowadays.
All the best,