Welcome to the long-awaited latest instalment in my occasional series of interviews with people in the library, publishing and scitech worlds. This time around the subjects of my first group interview are the gang at EngineerBlogs.org.

From my welcome-to-the-blogosphere post, here’s a condensed bit about them:

  • Cherish The Scientist (EB)
    I am an electrical engineer with an interest in various areas of electromagnetics, including antennas and numerical simulation techniques, as well as IC packaging. I have completed a master’s degree in electrical engineering and am currently pursuing a doctorate in geophysics.

  • Chris Gammell’s Analog Life
    My name is Chris Gammell and I am an analog electrical engineer from Cleveland, OH. Though I grew up in Buffalo, NY, I first came to Cleveland in late 2001; I earned my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Case Western Reserve…This site is dedicated to teaching those who are new to the industry and continuing the conversation with those who work alongside me industry.

  • Flying Flux (EB)
    Who is Fluxor? I’m a worker bee located in the nation’s capital, the nation in question being Canada, and employed at FluxCorp for the purposes of building a Flying Flux. And what is a Flying Flux? It’s a mixture of analog and digital integrated circuitry designed for mass consumption, although I focus mainly on the analog side.

    So that’s what I am — an analog IC circuit designer …

  • Design. Build. Play. (EB)
    Just another engineer, formerly of the humanities discipline, writing about cars, aerospace, economics, coffee, design, school and exciting workplace adventures at MegaCorp.

Enjoy!

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Q0. First of all, tell me a little about yourself/yourselves — who you are and how you ended up where you all are, career & blogging-wise.

Cherish. I did my undergrad in physics and masters in electrical engineering, both at NDSU. Currently, I am a PhD candidate in geophysics at University of Minnesota. However, after I finished my coursework, I chose to go back to NDSU and work part-time as a research engineer while working on my dissertation. I started blogging while doing my MS, primarily as a means to keep in touch with friends and family. A couple years later, I found the science blogging community (primarily Science Blogs) and realized there was a lot more to it. I like to write up posts about science, technology, and education, but it’s still primarily a place to talk about whatever is on my mind.

FrauTech. This is a second career for me. I went into Mechanical Design because CAD is something I really enjoy and my experience in industry led me to believe this was a discipline I wanted to pursue. So I went back to school for Mechanical Engineering and that was that. I started blogging because I had all these grand plans of things I wanted to build and showcase on a blog. I ended up being too busy between work and school to dig into these as much as I wanted and the blogging instead became a really great outlet for my frustrations, other school related projects, and a way for me to have a conversation about research and industry developments in my field.

Chris Gammell. I still feel like a student on many days of the week. I’ve only been in industry for 5 years, 3 of those in my current field (which was completely different from the previous field). But once I got into the field and began realizing the potential for analog (and EEs in general) in the blogging space, I jumped in to try and educate people.

Fluxor.. I’m Fluxor, the builder of the Flying Flux at FluxCorp. Someday, I’ll get myself some superhero tights to match my superhero monicker. Until then, I’m just an EE that’s been working close to a decade and half in analog chip design, having specialized in that area in my master’s. My first blog post on flyingflux.com tells why I started blogging.

The impetus was a fairly major layoff at FluxCorp in Jan 2009 which made me go through a quick period of introspection, during which I started blogging and haven’t stopped since.

Q1. How did you decide to start up EngineerBlogs.org? Were you inspired by the turmoils in the science blogging world over the last year or so, starting with Pepsigate and continuing with the mushroom-like sprouting of a whole bunch of new independent and commercial networks?

Cherish. I suggested the idea to Chris, who had tried starting an EE blogging community a couple years ago. The four of us who started EB were already actively reading and discussing each other’s blogs, so I thought it would be fun to do something as a group. I was particularly hoping that it would make it easier to find blogs related to engineering.

I think that while many of us knew about Pepsi-gate, that didn’t really play into our decision to start the group. Aside from the fact that it’s hard to find engineering bloggers, it’s also easy to get lost as a blogger with the millions of blogs that are already out there. As a
reader, it’s difficult to avoid information overload. People may not find or visit our individual blogs, but I think we’re making an effort to do some of our best, most relevant writing for EB, which is providing us with a good reader base. I think we all would like for our writing to be useful and interesting to people, and EB seems to be helping make some of our writing on engineering and engineering culture more visible.

Chris Gammell. I have absolutely no idea what Pepsigate is…so no, I wasn’t inspired by it. I jumped at the chance as Cherish says because I HATE when people sit around talking about starting a website. It’s so easy these days and it’s better to start a site first and ask questions later. I like ScienceBlogs but I prefer reading about engineering type issues. And most of all, I have had a hard time finding other engineering blogs…so when I found a group, I latched on!

Fluxor. What Cherish said. Plus, I love being elitist. And I love Americans. So when they asked me to become part of this exclusive club, how can I refuse?

Q2. You have kind of a unique model, both aggregating existing blogs and getting
your bloggers to add content directly to the site. Could you explain what that’s all about and what the rationale was for doing it that way?

Cherish. We talked this over a bit. All of us are pretty happy with our individual blogs and feel we’ve invested a lot of time and effort into them. Most of us write very regularly (and Chris has his radio show, The Amp Hour, along with other projects), so we were reluctant to try to fit all of our writing into some sort of formal engineering group context. We considered making EB a blog aggregator but felt it would be of more interest to offer some original content instead. The decision was that each of us would commit to providing a certain amount of content or support to EB. This allows us to contribute without a bunch of pressure to produce content and allows us to use our own blogs for whatever we want. Personally, I don’t think I’d enjoy writing about engineering all the time. If I were to move my blog to EB, I would feel a lot of pressure to do that, and I think that would take a lot of the fun out of blogging.

FrauTech. I agree with Cherish, I enjoy blogging about engineering but I like having a blog where I can talk about my cat or whatever else. So I think our personal blogs are pictures of us as whole people and engineer blogs just filters that down to who we are as engineers for readers who are looking for that key ingredient.

Chris Gammell. I listened to the others.

Fluxor. We don’t really aggregate posts in real time. We do repost our favourite posts from the past once-in-a-while. But there’s a limited supply of those posts.

Q3. Blogging has really taken off in the science world but somehow not so much among engineers. What do you think the reason is for that?

Cherish
. Personally, I think scientists want to talk about their interests, and for many of them, their chosen outlet is blogging. It allows them to discuss their interests in depth, sometimes getting into the subtleties and nuances of their field, talking about what they’ve learned. Engineers who are really interested in their field tend to do things like participate in HAM radio or similar groups. There are a lot of very active discussion boards where people are swapping ideas, but I think engineers would rather be building things rather than talking about building them.

FrauTech. I think also most science bloggers work in academia or in science journalism and so have free reign to discuss their work specifically and either a secure academic or government funded job to where they don’t have to worry about what they say online putting them out of a job. If an engineer is working in private industry he or she doesn’t have the same flexibility and might be able to talk about hobbies but anything remotely like what they work on at the job could be seen as harmful or violating proprietary regulations. I think this kind of business atmosphere extends even to engineers working in academia with just a general tendency to be more secretive, careful and private.

Chris Gammell. I think the academic environment that most scientists work in really has a beneficial effect on the blogging community. Engineers obviously battle stigma and stereotypical lack of writing skills. More recently the spectrum of engineering disciplines has popped out a few engineers who enjoy writing and we’re hoping to meet them all!

Fluxor. *shrug*

Q4. Related to that I guess, why do you blog?

Cherish. Personally, I blog to talk about things that I find interesting and to meet other people who share those interests. It’s both an outlet and way of socializing.

FrauTech. I enjoy reading STEM related blogs and feel like having my own blog is like being a part of a larger community of like minded people who care about a lot of the same things I care about. It’s also a way for me to keep working on my writing as well as force myself to keep learning new things. A blog writer to be effective I think has to be able to change and grow with time and writing about engineering helps me realize what topics I’d like to learn more about or where I can grow and improve as an engineer in a way my job is too narrow to make obvious. I think in the end it will make me a better engineer.

Chris Gammell. I blog for personal development, not monetary. Pushing myself into situations such as writing, especially about topics that I’m not completely familiar with, really forces me to learn about subjects enough to not sound like an idiot. I like the connection, especially given my former statement about feeling like a student…whereas
engineering in school is very social, engineering in the workplace is less so. I think writing and interacting with others online really helps keep connected and meet new people.

Fluxor. It’s an outlet. And getting to know other bloggers online has made it more rewarding. Plus, I once entered a writing contest on a whim and won. Even got to read it on CBC radio 1. That was a surprise because I really hated English in high school and barely passed the English proficiency essay requirement in undergrad. My perception of my own writing abilities took a turn for the better after that event.

Q5. Is there a difference between science and engineering blogs?

Cherish. There can be. I think that those of us blogging at EB tend to be more like science blogs: we have a lot of interests and cover different ground. A lot of other engineering blogs I’ve come across, however, tend to be sponsored by magazines and focus on things like tech trends and offering information on specific technologies or advice for certain fields.

Fluxor. Don’t read enough science blogs to know.

Q6. You have a good balance of bloggers so far, men vs. women, Canadians vs. Americans, different career stages. Was that planned or did it just happen?

Cherish. We’re even somewhat diverse racially. The diversity just happened, but probably this is due to the fact that we started reading each others blogs because we like getting perspectives that are different than our own. We’ve discussed how we’d like to preserve this aspect of the group, although we’ve acknowledged that it’s already hard to find engineering bloggers, so we’re not sure how feasible that will be.

Fluxor. Serendipity. And I would drop the plural on “Canadians”.

Q7. What are your plans for the future?

Cherish. We would really like to add a few more bloggers. Primarily, we feel like we’re too heavy on electrical engineering and would like to find established bloggers who might be in other fields like mechanical, chemical, civil, or industrial engineering. We’re playing around with ideas like themes and wondering what we can do as a community that we might not be able to do as individual bloggers.

Fluxor. Cherish said it all.

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