by Bryan Bergeron, Editor by Bryan Bergeron, Editor
Can’t Get There
My most frequent email inquiry is some version of "I've been doing transistors and resistors for 30
years, how do I get into microcontrollers?" The readers
that send in these inquiries invariably conclude that they
simply can't get there from where they stand. That may
be true, but it comes down to a matter of perspective.
What I mean is that learning is really about forming
links to existing memories (the psychologists call it
association), as well as forming new relatively stand-alone ones (accommodation).
Assimilation is easy because the new knowledge —
say, how a microcontroller operates — fits nicely into
what we already know about electronics. However, in
reality, microcontrollers don't really map well to, say,
Accommodation takes a lot more effort. You have to
build a new model of the universe. You might even have
to change your mind about some long-held beliefs. For
someone moving from a few decades of work with
analog components, a modern microcontroller is really a
Sure, there are pull-up resistors on I/O ports and
capacitors to filter the power supply spikes. However, for
the most part, there is little crossover from analog
component to digital microcontroller.
I think the frustration comes in when someone who
has been in electronics for decades picks up, say, a PIC
or Arduino and expects to know how to use it in five
minutes. It's the expectation that's the problem. In
reality, old knowledge just doesn't transfer.
Whether using and/or learning theory, becoming
fluent in microcontrollers involves a lot of
Children and younger adults often have an easier
time picking up microcontrollers, relative to someone
with years of experience with analog circuits. This is — in
part — because they have no legacy knowledge to get in
the way. They don't have any preconceived (and wrong)
notions on how the device should work, based on their
experience with discrete analog components.
So, if you're one of those frustrated readers, the
solution is to adjust your expectations. Admit to yourself
that you're a novice when it comes to microcontrollers.
Open your mind to new ideas and stop trying to fit the
digital world into your analog universe.
In addition to the "think different" approach, you
need to have some hands-on experiences to cement
what you learn. I usually suggest picking up a $20
Arduino Uno and spending a few weeks going through
the example code that's part of the integrated
development environment (IDE) that's available online.
Turns out you can get there from here, as long as
you're willing to nudge "here" a bit. NV
6 June 2014
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