I have a couple years of experience with computers - I can program, and I know computers really well. But I don't understand them.

This leads to a broader scope - I don't understand electronics in general. I have read some internet articles, like howstuffworks.com, that kind of thing. I understand the basics, but about 90% of it is beyond me.

Where do I learn? What books can I read? What websites can I go to? I'm especially interested in knowing what books I can read to understand more about electronics.


8 Answers 8


Considering you're of 'high school age', I think the MIT courses are maybe very difficult (from Mark's post) They generally require a lot of math and previous knowhow from highschool. Or am I only able to pick out the courses that handle circuit theory and maths?

You may find this very interesting:


Start at chapter 1 and read through. You may find some parts that you think is familiar, but read through it anyway. You may already know what a Volt and an Amp is, but it might also be nice to read through some literature so you can conform your previous knowledge.

This website is focussed on analog electronics. It's about understanding how electricity and electronic components work. This doesn't have a particular big focus on digital electronics, which you may want to know more about considering you're interested in writing computer programs.

As Mark said, Arduino is a great platform to start from for digital electronics. It contains a small microcontroller with an easy to pick up language to start with programming embedded systems. Out of the box you won't be that concerned with configuring registers of microcontrollers. You can get a ton of addons created by 'the community' for it. You can get a ton of stuff from Sparkfun.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'd actually recommend the mbed before the Arduino. I think it's easier. Compiler is online, no drivers to install for the programmer, and you get a lot more bang for your buck. Only problem is the community is a bit smaller. \$\endgroup\$
    – Earlz
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 2:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've personally never heard of mbed, I will look it up. \$\endgroup\$
    – Hans
    Commented Apr 6, 2011 at 17:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ basically a super charged Arduino. It's an ARM board designed for prototyping. Has 512k ROM, 64K RAM, ethernet and USB in hardware, and is only $50 USD or so. Also, fits in a breadboard out of the box. \$\endgroup\$
    – Earlz
    Commented Apr 6, 2011 at 21:53

Get yourself some basic components (either individually or just get a starter kit from a supplier):


  • Wire / alligator clips
  • LEDs, Lamps, buzzers, motors, etc
  • Resistors, Capacitors, Some transistors (TIP120 are a great start for learning about switching)
  • Switches, pressure sensors, etc
  • Breadboard
  • Battery holders (can be scavenged from consumer electronics / toys). Batteries are a good way to start out playing with electronics because there typically isn't enough juice to hurt yourself.


And some very basic tools (if you don't already have them):

  • Multimeter (so you can get an idea what is happening at various points in your circuit).
  • Some alligator clips

Note that I left out a soldering iron. You don't need one to start out with (but you'll likely want one if electronics holds your interest).

Start Hacking!

The best way to learn is by playing with circuits. Try making buzzers buzz, LEDs light (without burning them out). There are a tremendous number of resources available on the web, and some great starter kits available from many vendors.

Good luck!

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ You missed out 555 timers and some counters(4026 and 4017). Great for a beginners to produce things with flashing lights. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dean
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 21:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dean - good call. Also, there is the basic electronics book that got many people started (including myself): radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3433933 \$\endgroup\$
    – RQDQ
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 12:31

MIT's Free Online Courses are a good place to start.

Another option is to just grab an Arduino and start hacking from there. They have a pretty large and helpful online following.

As for books, hopefully someone else can provide some good starter references, my only experience with intro books are the ones I had to use in college which were...meh...


Make - Electronics Discovery. This starts at a very basic level explaining resistors, capacitors and transistors. It is more a small taste in the different areas of electronics.

Getting Started in Electronics. This is also an introductory text. It is an older book but many of the principles still apply. The author Forest Mims is well known. He published a few small books which you were able to purchase from radio shack they dealt with different areas of electronics. It would be great if you could get your hands on them.

Finally at a more advanced level

Art of Electronics This book is considered the standard text on electronics in some circles. It is still considered an introductory text but it is a little more advance. There is some math sometimes but you can still get the general ideas without fully understanding the math. I am currently studying this book.


I'm a high school student. A good basic introduction is the MAKE: Electronics book. It teaches you hands-on. The handbook I use for my Electronics class is Teach Yourself Electricity and Electronics by Stan Gibilisco. It's good, if not dry. Another good way to learn it is to become a Ham Radio operator. That's how I learned the meat of my electronics.


When I was in high school my understanding of electricity was very flawed. I eventually worked out my misunderstandings in college, but if I had done it sooner I could have built actually working circuits earlier, instead of just being confused.

I think this list of Electricity misconceptions is really helpful to read.


Fix stuff. Get all kinds of broken electronic things and figure out how to fix them.

"Oh boy, it's broken! Life doesn't get any better than this."

Make sure you don't do unsafe things (mains voltage is deadly, for example, and microwave ovens are no toys because they present numerous safety issues when the cover is removed), but otherwise, go and fix whatever you can.


If books is what you want, you might want to look at this thread: Basic Electronics Book


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