Soldering workshop: UTP cable tester

project: , published: by Maarten Tromp.

Some of my friends are interested in electronics, but had never soldered before. Since I love to talk about electronics and teach people new things, the idea for a soldering workshop was born. Recently I had designed and build a simple UTP cable tester. I figured this would make an ideal workshop piece. It took me half an hour to build it on breadboard, so how hard could it be?

The design ticked all the boxes. It has a couple of parts, but not too many. There are no tiny bits, just conventional through-hole componens. The tester does something useful and it has blinkenlights.

I had followed a couple soldering workshops when I was in school but they were all absurdly simple, overly prepared and over-explained. I was usually nearly finished by the time the rest made it through the first page. This would be the first workshop I was conducting myself, so I would make it a bit more realistic. After all, we're not in school anymore, we could deal with a bit more real-life situations, right? My idea was to supply everyone with a schematic diagram, bring a bin of parts, some perfboard and soldering irons and let everyone figure it out themselves. I concidered designing the schematic during the workshop, but that might be a bit much people just starting out.

So I went ahead and ordered parts for 20 kits, borrowed some soldering irons from friends, drew up some a schematic diagram and started inviting people to the workshop. I thought I was prepared for what would come next.

The first workshop was a real learning experience, mostly for me. People asked me things I didn't prepare for, such as how to read a schematic diagram, what do all those symbols mean, which physical part corresponds to which symbol? Then I had to explain about polarity, how to count IC pins and how to translate from schematic to perfboard layout. Most people gave up after about 6 hours and very few kits were actually finished. However, everyone enjoyed "an afternoon of fiddling with electronics".

I had operated under the false asumption that this workshop would be about how to solder. That would be feasible over the course of an afternoon, but the workshop turned out a comlete introduction to electronics. I had completely misjudged the participants' understanding of electronics. I take some pride in being able to explain IT subjects to people with varying levels of understanding IT concepts. You estimate their level of understanding and build from there, shifting up or down a gear when needed. With IT concepts I had been dong that for years, of which several professionally. For electronics I lacked this level of experience without realizing it and I understood "being interested in electronics" as "having a working knowledge of".

So I learned a lot about giving workshops and explaining electronics. And for the comming years I have plenty of stock of NE555s, 74HCT4017, RJ45 connectors and 1N4148.