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Born with a Love for Electronics

By Frank Demarest

Understanding Radio I think I was born with a love for electronics. As a youngster, I played with batteries, wires, and light bulbs. My favorite books were “The Boy Electrician” and others by Alfred P Morgan.

Around the age of 5, a family friend visited us and taught me about electronics. I remember he put together a transformer with a rectifier tube (5Y3) and showed me the waveforms on an oscilloscope. He also gave me one of his old textbooks, "Understanding Radio" by Watson, Welch, and Eby, which my mother occasionally read to me. Don’t think my parents were coercing me, in fact they had to limit the quantity of available information when I was showing signs of stress. I read everything I could find. In the 3rd grade I was given permission to use the upper school library to get electronics books.

I learned a lot building Knight Kits, Heathkits, and projects from magazines. I built a Heath 400 V power supply and demonstrated to my 3rd grade class how grid voltage of a triode affected plate current. In 6th grade, my parents enrolled me in the RCA Institute's home study course in Electronic Fundamentals. I finished it in the 8th grade (that was all tube technology).

My father commuted to New York City, so I would occasionally give him lists of parts to buy for my latest project. He was a businessman, not an engineer, so I sometimes marveled at him buying things that he knew little about with often incomplete descriptions.

In the 10th grade, a teacher asked me if I knew anyone who would like a job in electronics. I said “Yes, Me!” My job was as an electronic technician at a very small local company, working for an engineer with an MSEE. I worked 2 hours, 2 days/week, and loved it!

My senior year in high school, I was in the work-study program – I had a shop class before school (learned welding, lathe, woodworking, etc), and left school an hour early every day for my job, which counted as a major academic course.

During my first year in college, my supervisor from my first job helped me get a summer job as a technician at a nearby electronics manufacturer. I calibrated and repaired electronic equipment. An engineer had designed a small project that didn’t work, so I made the necessary changes and got it working. I dropped out of college before the end of my second year, and the same company immediately hired me as an engineer! A few years later I took my one and only college-level electronics class, Network Analysis 1.

My electronics learning has been continuous most of my life. Before the Internet, I read magazines (Electronics, Electronic Design, and EDN), and bought books through the McGraw Hill Book Club. Now I use Google or IEEE Xplore when I need to learn something. I have been extremely fortunate that my jobs have fit my strengths and I have had other engineers who helped me fill in the gaps in my knowledge. Now, as I approach retirement, I am considered one of the top engineers at a high-tech company.