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5 things I wish I knew when I started learning electronics

March 8, 2019 article

1. You don't need an expensive, dedicated power supply to get up and running. Use batteries instead!

The simplest thing is to just use batteries! Either use a 9V block battery (useful for most LED circuits) or three AA batteries in series for 4.5V which will work for most microcontroller circuits. The advantages of using batteries are that the power is very clean: there are no voltage spikes that can influence logic gates and circuits. Also, the power is limited. If you short your circuit (which most likely will happen at some point) the total power is limited, and usually nothing bad happens if you discover your mistake soon enough. With a dedicated power supply the short circuit current may be a lot larger, particularly when the supply is not short circuit protected. Sure, a disadvantage is that you need to keep buying batteries, but you can easily switch to rechargeable batteries instead. It will be a nice investment.

Note: this only makes sense if you are experimenting with circuits, of course. As soon as you want to build a permanent circuit it makes sense to acquire a dedicated power supply.

2. If you get a power supply, get a good one!

If you get decide to buy a power supply, get a good one. For the reasons listed above, a cheap power supply may not be a good option for you: if it does not come with short circuit protection, you may end up damaging not only the power supply itself but also your circuit in the event of a short. Is it really worth it? This comes down to personal preferences, in the end, but I recommend to buy a power supply that has several regulated fixed voltage output (5V and 12V are enough to begin with) with a built-in short circuit protection.

3. Soldering is not dangerous!

A soldering iron is a good investment as well. Sure, in the beginning you can get away with not using any soldering at all, but consider spending a few dollars on a cheap iron and it will help you along your first steps. Also, it will come in handy later down the road, even if you decide not to pursue electronics: whenever some wire needs to be reattached (it happens!) you will be well-equipped. So maybe don't buy the most expensive soldering iron you can find, but get one that you feel works for you. Also, don't be afraid of the soldering iron! :) It gets very hot, up to 450C, but how many times have you used a lighter to light a candle without burning yourself? Probably many times. If you are careful, nothing will happen and you will not injure yourself with a soldering iron. I have used soldering irons for more than ten years, and only almost slightly singed my pinkie, once. If these odds are favorable to you, go ahead!

4. You are not alone. Find some friends!

Find a local community of makers. I hesitated for a long time because I did not know these communities exist. But they do! Especially in cities with universities or technical colleges there typically are rather sizeable maker communities. And the best part: people are friendly! At first I was quite intimidated to get in touch, but then I finally thought “Oh well, let's just give it a try!” And I am glad that I did! I was surprised by the friendliness of other electronics enthusiasts. Give it a try!

5. Datasheets are your friend!

Believe it or not, but datasheets can be your friend! Especially for simple applications, many datasheets contain sample circuits that you can copy and build in real life without any modifications.

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