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Getting engineering courses can be seen like learning how to drive; you can study the highway code (or learn the theory) for years, but nothing can prepare you for the real thing, which is getting behind the wheel and hitting the open road.
Actually, this vague metaphor suddenly came to my mind when I have decided to write this blog a week ago. I realize that I won't be able to find a better metaphor as an engineer I am sure all of us were excited about starting the university and getting to know new friends, a new environment and to take a big step for our careers and to begin our professional lives. We met too many new principles. Most of the time engineering curriculum contains theoretical topics in the first half of the university and if you are lucky, the second half includes more practical work with the help of project tasks and of course laboratory sessions. The adventure starts at the meeting point of the theory and practice. OKAY, this is a wheel, here you have the clutch pedal, the brake pedal, and the gas pedal. The gear is at the right-hand side and of course the keys. Let's go! Gear to 1, hold the wheel and leave the clutch slowly. Congratulations! You are driving… Ohh what why did it stop?
We all know that driving a car is not that easy and knowing the theory is not enough to expertise the real traffic. Before hitting the highway, we need to get experience on the private roads. Think of the highway as your job, wouldn't it be better to have more experience and to get familiar with the hardware used in the industrial world? There is no need to discuss how important the laboratory curriculum is for practicing the theory. However, the infrastructure of a laboratory can be problematic since the industrial equipment are pretty expensive, and space is limited. Because of the problem above most education equipment providers offer accessible, small-scaled equipment similar to the ones that are used in industry for the students.
On the other hand, how long does it take to acquire a new skill or the experience? 10,000 hours? Really! If you search on the internet or read a book on the topic, you will meet this huge number everywhere. When I first faced up with this theory, I thought I would need a full-time job for five years to learn only one topic in my curriculum. Nobody has that much time what's going on! We have all had the experience of learning something new, and it didn't take us anywhere close to that amount of time. The rule of 10,000 hours comes out of studies of expert level performance. Professor K. Anders Ericsson who is the first one to claim the 10,00-hour rule, studied professional athletes, world-class musicians and experts on their domains. He is right, being an expert on the domain needs time and practice. On the other side in an experiment, researchers give participants a little task, and they measure how long a participant should study to learn the skill
The graph shows that when they start the task, it takes a longer time cause it is new for them. With a little bit of practice, they get better and better. The interesting result of the experiment is if we relabel the practice time in the figure above to how good we are, the graph flips. Below we have the learning curve, which has a threshold.
The question is how much time do we need to reach the threshold level. Twenty hours? If you put 20 hours of focused practice into a topic, you will be greatly surprised. Twenty hours is doable for a laboratory session of an engineering class. Right?
At the end with enough time and tools, we will be ready to hit the highway. We may not be Michael Schumacher with a Ferrari as soon as we graduate from the university, but we all know where are the gas pedal and the wheel.