Reader Question: Design Contests? Meet-Ups? Quiz Bowls? What Online Events Do We Need More Of?
Seriously, we want you to tell us. If you could hang out with a group of fellow electrical engineers online, what would it look like?
Even though many workplaces and businesses are gearing to reopen from the previous year of pandemic lockdowns, it looks like 2021 will be another year where virtual interactions reign supreme. With that in mind, what kinds of interactions do you prioritize when you have the chance to hang out with other engineers?
Other than our excellent AAC forum (of course), how do engineers actually like having fun with their peers online?
If you had to select what kind of event would be most interesting to you or helpful to your career, what would you go for?
- Happy hours/Meet-ups
- Design contests
- Quiz bowls and engineering trivia competitions
- Live Q&As/Discussions/Roundtables
- Guided design workshops
Let's break it down.
One thing that's extremely difficult to replace in the COVID era is the concept of face-to-face interaction. Without the typical conferences or local meetups, we haven't exactly been drowning in opportunities to hang out with other people in the industry.
Networking events at in-person events can range anywhere from mixers with chit-chat to groups that are more formally focused on professional development.
An online EE meetup. Never you mind the graphic design.
If you were invited to attend a virtual gathering, would you want topics of discussion laid out ahead of time? For example, would you like the option to visit the RF "table" or the robotics "table" or go between the two? Or would you prefer a more open forum for general mingling?
Obviously, design contests are pretty popular, especially among makers.
Design contests can run the gamut. Some require months of preparation for complex projects. Some are more immediate and off-the-cuff. Some require using a particular type of hardware and some focus on a particular type of application. There are even design contests that allow public voting!
Is there a style of design contest that you think would be fun to join? Or is there a type of design contest that you'd love to see other people compete in?
...or does it all more or less depend on how cool the prize is?
Quiz Bowls and Engineering Trivia Competitions
Could you best your peers in engineering know-how? Quiz bowls and trivia competitions are more casual, fun-focused ways to show off skills and earn prizes and/or bragging rights.
There are as many methods of choosing a winner as there are stars in the sky. Bracket-style? Jeopardy! champion-style?
How about individual play vs. teams?
And what kind of questions would you want to see? That is, what would earn an engineer the respect of their peers?
Would you rather be quizzed on identifying circuits by their diagrams? How about knowing the contributions of historical engineers? Identifying the most power-efficient semiconductor substrates?
Live Q&As usually feature someone well-known, sometimes an expert or a personality who is recognizable in a given field. Audience members can submit individual questions that are typically conveyed to the guest through a moderator.
AMAs are a slightly different beast. AMA originally meant "Ask Me Anything," but most guests are pretty picky about which questions they choose to actually answer. This form of Q&A has become popular because there's usually a mechanism wherein community members can place votes to make sure preferred questions rise to the top and are therefore more likely to be answered.
Roundtables typically pull in multiple people to discuss a topic and engage the audience in the conversation. This kind of interaction can often feel less formal in nature because guests can speak to each other directly and to the audience, as well as to the moderator.
The types of questions can vary immensely, so perhaps the better question to the community is:
Who would you want to host as a guest on AAC?
Guided Design Workshops
Guided workshops are a staple of many large conferences and exhibitions. They give attendees the ability to get hands-on experience with new things—sometimes dev boards, sometimes kits, sometimes programming languages or new software interfaces. As a bonus, you also get a chance to interact with other interested attendees, as well as the instructor(s).
An Android Things workshop from the Before Times. Photo by Kate Smith.
While most workshops are very narrow in scope and everyone ends up with a specific result, some are more open-ended and discuss design techniques or toolsets.
Of course, it's worth asking whether the draw for attendance is the free hardware that's occasionally offered as part of the deal, something much harder to replicate virtually.
Are online workshops a feasible option in your book? What workshops would you jump at if you had the chance?
The Not-So-New Normal
It seems likely that this move towards virtual events and interactions will be more permanent than the situation that made them so necessary.
If online events are here to stay, what would you like to see become the new normal? I've given you many things to ponder in this Reader Question, so please share your thoughts in the comments below.