Considering Electronics as a Career? You'll Need to Learn PCB Design!

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: March 15, 2022  |  Updated: March 16, 2022
Learn PCB Design

When most students get started in electrical and electronics engineering courses, they probably don’t consider the potential career paths related to printed circuit board (PCB) design. However, today’s modern electronics wouldn’t work without high-quality PCB designs that hold components and provide electrical connections required for leading edge technology. PCBs are much more than a tool for making electrical connections, they are carefully engineered products that are fun to create and fun to build.

More importantly, advanced electronic systems like robotics, connected cars, smartphones, industrial systems, computers, and just about every appliance you can imagine need PCBs. Designing hardware for these applications requires a collaborative approach across engineering disciplines, and PCB designers have a role to play in all engineering aspects of complex systems. If you’re thinking about pursuing electronics as a career, learning PCB design will only make you stronger as an engineer.

What You’ll Do as a PCB Designer

In the past, PCB design was seen as simply solving a puzzle, where the designer’s job was just to locate parts and make connections between electronic components. As technology has become more advanced, the designer’s role has expanded to the point where they are a central part of an electronics engineering team.

Today, PCB designers participate in solving many different engineering problems, and they perform many of those last-mile engineering tasks needed to create a functional, manufacturable product. As a designer, you’ll sit at the intersection of high speed computing, application development, wireless systems, electromechanical systems, power electronics, and other areas of electronics engineering. You’ll also have a role to play in manufacturing, where you’ll help prepare products for full-scale production.
More than any other area of electronics engineering, PCB designers participate in a broad swathe of engineering challenges, including:

  • Front-end engineering, including circuit design and component selection
  • Circuit board layout
  • Packaging and enclosure design, usually with mechanical engineers
  • Simulation
  • Test engineering and measurement
  • Software and firmware development, testing, and deployment
  • Fabrication and assembly of PCBs

The range of tasks, focus areas, and challenges to be solved is truly diverse, and it makes PCB design a rewarding career. Even if you’re not planning to pursue PCB design and layout as a career, the skills and knowledge gained in a PCB design course are extremely valuable in all these other areas of engineering.

Job Prospects for PCB Designers

Although some formal engineering programs might not focus exclusively on PCB design, the job market for PCB designers is expected to grow significantly going into the future. There is a generational gap between the current crop of designers in the workforce and the next generation of designers. According to 2021 survey results published in Printed Circuit Design & Fab (PCD&F) magazine, nearly 78% of the design workforce is projected to retire in the next 15 years. Much of the current workforce is nearing retirement age, with 61% of designers reporting being aged 50+ years. This leaves plenty of opportunity for new designers to enter a critical, exciting, and high-paying field of engineering.

Learn PCB Design
Percentage of the North American workforce expected to retire in the coming years. [Data taken from PCD&F 2021 Annual Compensation Survey Results]

If you want to make yourself more knowledgeable as an engineer and more valuable as an employee, then you should consider learning the basics of PCB design while you’re still in school. Taking a free PCB design course alongside your regular electrical engineering curriculum will give you a head start compared to your peers and will make you more attractive to employers. It also expands your available job prospects once you finish school and are ready to transition to professional life.

If you can complement your design skills with some important skills in other areas, such as simulation and application development, your list of job prospects will only expand. You’ll also have a much greater opportunity to participate in building advanced technologies that require a multi-disciplinary approach to design and development.

Where to Get Free Resources for Learning PCB Design

If you’re having trouble finding online resources to help you learn PCB design, then we have the solution for you! Altium wants every new designer to be successful and have access to the highest quality design software. That’s why we created Altium Education: to give students freely available access to the resources they need to learn PCB design and manufacturing.

The Altium Education program was designed to help students and new designers learn PCB design in a modular, self-directed format. The online curriculum is available to students for free and it can be consumed at your own pace. Any student that has an email address from an educational institution can request a free educational license of Altium Designer so they can work through the design examples in the course. The concepts taught in the course aren’t specific to Altium Designer, you can apply these practices in any PCB design application and to most types of PCBs.

By the end of the course, you’ll get exposure to the entire design PCB process and different types of designs. Some of the main concepts introduced in the program include:

  • Where to place parts and how to route electrical connections
  • How to design a bare circuit board
  • How chips communicate with each other
  • How to prepare a PCB for manufacturing
  • And most importantly, how to use PCB design software!

 

By the end of the course, you’ll get exposure to the entire design PCB process and different types of designs. Some of the main concepts introduced in the program include:

  • Where to place parts and how to route electrical connections
  • How to design a bare circuit board
  • How chips communicate with each other
  • How to prepare a PCB for manufacturing
  • And most importantly, how to use PCB design software!

 

If you’re interested in learning more about the Altium Education curriculum for college students, register for course access today. It’s free to sign up and start exploring our educational resources. We hope these resources can inspire you to learn PCB design as part of your electrical engineering coursework.

About Author

About Author

Zachariah Peterson has an extensive technical background in academia and industry. He currently provides research, design, and marketing services to companies in the electronics industry. Prior to working in the PCB industry, he taught at Portland State University and conducted research on random laser theory, materials, and stability. His background in scientific research spans topics in nanoparticle lasers, electronic and optoelectronic semiconductor devices, environmental sensors, and stochastics. His work has been published in over a dozen peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and he has written 1000+ technical blogs on PCB design for a number of companies. He is a member of IEEE Photonics Society, IEEE Electronics Packaging Society, American Physical Society, and the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA), and he previously served on the INCITS Quantum Computing Technical Advisory Committee.

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