Nothing like getting your hands on something new and taking time to learn about how it works, how it solves an engineering problem, what it cannot do, and so on. I work a lot with microcontrollers and like to get a small development board and jump into the hardware and learn how to use the software tools. Always something new to learn.
Chuck, I agree with your view on multiple sources for information. I'm sure that respected vendors are also providing education on a consistent basis. The relationships need to work, not just sales contact, but often engineers rely on industry contacts that they've come to trust to provide technological guidance especially in new technology areas.
I agree with Chuck on the use of multiple sources, and there are definitely days when I can give multiple answers to the same question. I also still rely a lot on phone discussions with industry sources. I try to find sources who are well-connected nodes in their own networks, so they see a lot and have a lot to say
One good way to stay on top of the latest developments is to participate in technical conferences. Participating doesn't just mean attending; it could also mean reviewing paper submssions. Not only do you get to read about advances in technology before anyone else does, you also get to give your feedback to the authors, and help them to improve their papers. You often also get discounts on conference registration. (Anyone who is interested in reviewing a materials-themed paper for the 2012 SAE Small Engine Technology Conference, please e-mail me).
I strongly recommend attending at least one conference per year, and going to the technical presentations, rather than just walking the show floor. Try to go with a friend in your field, maybe a former classmate. Take notes. Ask questions, both during the question-and-answer period, and afterwards during the breaks. Get business cards from people who have interesting things to say, and stay in touch after the conference. See how many new ideas you can take back with you. I suspect you'll find that it was well worth the trip.
As a test engineer, one of the most fun parts of my job was figuring out how to test the parameters required by the product engineer for products that were often new to market and thus new to us, including emerging technologies. This often required research on new technologies and was definitely an important part of the job. The internet has always been a great springboard for information that could lead to specific technical articles and application notes. Going to trade shows is a great way to learn of new technologies while providing excellent networking opportunities that can also lead to learning opportunities. Getting on the phone and asking to talk to tech support of a company that manufactures a product you are interested in can also be helpful. With the marketplace being so competitive, many companies are offering webinars and seminars - great places to get one's feet wet. One resource that is often overlooked is the online community - there are often forums available full of folks that are willing to share their knowledge in very specific areas.
Yes, Rich, if you ask five people you get five answers. You can also get five answers if you ask one person. Most of us have multiple sources. I like the comment that reader Rafael Lopez made above: "Read, read, read." My favorite sources are consumer pubs, first, followed by trade pubs, press releases and TRUSTED Internet sites, such as engineering societies. Consumer pubs get the news first, trade pubs add technical depth. One of the best sources for me, though, is the old-fashioned trade show and, finally, the telephone. Talking to people and being able to ask ask questions is still hard to beat.
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Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.