How did you learn engineering and process control? I learned electronics (and many other things such as playing guitar and changing brakes on an MG) through a parallel system of building circuits and studying theory–how to read schematics, do voltage and current calculations and the like.
Recently I had a conversation with Invensys Operations Management Vice President Peter Martin about the demise, yet the necessity, of experiential learning. I’m sure I’d have completed my EE if I could have built circuits along with learning the math and physics. I just lost interest. I wonder how many other potential engineers are lost because we’ve become a nation of book-learners (read and regurgitate) rather than a nation of builders.
Here is a Website, the Dumb Little Man, whose essay here is Why You Should Learn by Doing. Here are a few tidbits to whet your appetite:
- You gain a better understanding of what it actually means to do the activity
- You’ll know if you actually like the activity or not
- You know what you can tweak
- You get a deeper understanding of the subject
- It promotes critical thinking
The good news is that there is renewed interest in making stuff; it never really went away, but there's been a definite increase in interest over the last few years. On the electronics side, part of the problem was been technological progress; a lot of the cool stuff is high density QFP (hard to hand solder) or BGA (impossible to solder). FPGA's may be cool, but they have a huge learning curve.
On the flip side, modern proto PCB houses are wonderful (for business, not just hobbyists), eBay makes getting industrial stuff affordable (if you're patient), and the internet allows much better sharing.
On the never went away side, there are companies like Parallax (Basic Stamp, Propeller) that have been in business well over a decade.
Now there are Arduinos (simple, easy to use AVR microcontroller based boards), all kinds of dev boads (especially the BeagleBoad), the whole Maker movement (Maker Faire, Make magazine, etc), personal CNC (CNC zone web site, people making home built rapid prototyping machines, etc), Sparkfun (for prototyping stuff, tutorials, etc), Bug Labs (snap together hardware), and more.
My personal weaknesses is getting used motion control equipment off eBay; I've managed to get some pretty neat stuff, such as my Baldor MicroFlex e100 servo drive — and yes, I do try to use it, although it happens a bit here and there, since my family comes first.