Total beginner here. I know absolutely nothing about anything, but I want to build stuff. Preferably for cheap. Books, kits, anything?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I take exception to most of the answers below. I'd sooner think we'd start him on "this is a battery, this is a resistor, this is an LED, and this is Ohm's law." I don't think we need to be talking Arduino. And with the Arduino, we're now adding programming to the mix... \$\endgroup\$
    – Tony Ennis
    Oct 9, 2012 at 2:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Good insight @Tony It's true that one should start with the very basics! But you should also consider motivation. For me, learning the basics in class was boring and tedious. But with interactive resources you want to learn more and more! And in the end, you can always learn both at the same time. \$\endgroup\$
    – m3dl
    Oct 9, 2012 at 3:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Arduino things do not count as electrical engineering in my book anyway. Forgot that stupid pseudo code, and learn to program uCs in C or assembly. And guess what else, the timing issues will go away when the uC is doing exactly what you programmed it to do. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Young
    Oct 9, 2012 at 4:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ It would maybe be a good idea to mention exactly where you want to head with this (professional, hobby, or somewhere in between) so the answers can focus their advice appropriately. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oli Glaser
    Oct 9, 2012 at 4:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, I am sure all will be super happy to see this, but this is the type of list question that is considered a bad fit for stackexchange. This type of list/fun question is not what SE is about. I suggest to get started you take part in the site and just grab random projects off of the arduino forum. This is something that you could discuss in the chatroom. We have a pretty active chatroom as compared to most non-trilogy sites! \$\endgroup\$
    – Kortuk
    Oct 9, 2012 at 20:35

6 Answers 6

  1. Buy a friendly, practical, basic general electronics book. One of the best I've seen for a complete beginner is "Practical Electronics for Inventors" (a 3rd edition has just come out) It covers all the basic theory and components and their uses has a chapter on common electronics design areas (audio, optoelectronics, digital stuff, etc)
    Seen by many as the "bible", and probably required reading at some point is "The Art of Electronics". Quite old now (everyone is waiting for a new edition) but the detailed treatment of basic analog electronics (transistors/opamps/filters/regulators/etc) is still just as important. More good books recommended here.

  2. Buy/assemble a basic electronics kit to experiment with. There are plenty of circuits in the above mentioned books you will want to try out. This should include a breadboard, some batteries/small power supply, soldering iron/solder, common values of resistors/capacitors/inductors/potentiometers/crystals, common transistors, common opamps, LEDs, 555 timer, a few different logic gates and maybe a few sensors (LDR, electret microphone, pressure sensor, temp sensor) and a DC motor and/or stepper motor.
    Anyway, here are couple of lists/kits:

    Starter kit list
    Various kits of common components
    Basic starter component kit
    Starter electronics experimenter kit (pictured below)


  3. Spend lots of happy time reading, trying stuff out and making the odd bit of magic smoke :-)

  4. Maybe move on to a microcontroller kit if that's the way you want to go (almost all electronics nowadays involve a micro so it's a good idea at some point)
    Keep it simple to start with though, if you are serious I would maybe avoid Arduino and start with a simple standard microcontroller kit (e.g. PIC16F/18F(Starter Kit)/32F, Atmel AVR, TI MSP430), but if you want an easy/friendly/well supported platform then go for it. Note that you will need to learn how to program on a memory limited embedded device, which will (unless you want to stick to assembler only) almost certainly involve learning C (and a bit of assembler is a good idea)
    Here is another PIC starter kit:



Well, the obvious answer is to immerse your self in things electrical and electronic - anything that you find interesting - microcontrollers, firmware, motors, relays, power lines, radios, cables, the list goes on and on. Read - Read and Read more. The Internet is FULL of good information. Once you get your feet, arms, and head wet in this stuff then dive into getting an education in the field. If you love the stuff you'll never regret the opportunity to continuously learn and play with new things.

Your education could take many forms based upon what you think you want to achieve. But do consider that in the formal sense to be an electrical engineer probably involves an organized education program at a university or college that exposes you to important fields such as advanced mathematics, electonics theory, economics, electrical energy concepts, physics, technical writing, chemistry, public speaking, computer programming, logic design plus others that may apply to various types of specialization.

There are many electrical engineers in the world that made their way through self learning, practical investigation, expirmentation, reading books, going to a trade type course, learning through a mentor and outright determined self motivation. Many of these folks are valuable contributors to society and the places where they work. As such they are to be admired and respected. All that said though there still exists a bias toward those educated in a formal organized program.

  • \$\begingroup\$ how come microcontrollers, firmware come under Electrical engineering ? We are not going to write firmware for distance relays aren't we ? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 9, 2012 at 1:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @sandundhammika - I've edited my answer some to make you happy. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 9, 2012 at 2:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have a friend who will start his second year at college who really likes understanding the pros and cons of the design decisions and manufacturing of electrical and mechanical systems. He says that students in a select few upper-division EE/ME classes make it a huge struggle toeven pass. He says that he's more comfortable tinkering with breadboards and reading and solving problems from different textbooks used in the classroom just from the first 5 or so chapters. Since he's a textbook example of autodidact, would it be possible for him to learn all the relevant material on his own? Thanks. \$\endgroup\$
    – paulkon
    Jul 3, 2015 at 7:32

Well, as others said, the solution is to immerse yourself in books, experiments and problems.

We could be here all day talking about sites, books and other stuff for you to learn, but the point in electronics is to be self-taught most of the time.

So, here are my few recommendations:

I would recommend to start with Arduino.

Open-source electronic prototyping platform allowing to create interactive electronic objects.

Why? Because it's cheap, easy to understand and build simple stuff.


This site have A LOT of tutorials:


lastly but not least:

Have you ever heard about MOOCs? (Massive Open Online Courses)

Well, big universities are providing free classes for anyone with a computer.

The good news are:

  • There is a lot of classes and content about EE
  • Like a normal class, there is support from the instructor and TAs (teacher assistents)
  • You will learn from one of the best teacher in the world
  • Did I said it's free? :)

So, go and save these sites in your bookmark:

http://www.khanacademy.org/ (Here you can learn from basic algebra to calculus)

http://www.coursera.com/ (Tons of courses, very good ones!)




EdX is a partnership of MIT + Harvard. So, you can expect something amazing already. Also, you will have free access to a book about Circuits and Electronics for beginners. The course name is 6002x.

So now, it's up to you!

Also, a bit of motivation is good!

Good luck and study hard!


You need the basic knowledge of mathematics.This is known as engineering mathematics. You can't do anything without mathamatics. So your asking a book, this is the book that I could recommend.

Then you need the basic knowledge of bellow subjects.

  • Basic AC theory.

  • Electromagnetism.

  • Electrical Power Systems.

  • Electrical Machines.

^ above is more than 2 years [4 semester] subjects.

If you need to be success you need these bunch of additional knowledge too.

  • control theory.

  • communications.

  • field theory.

  • Basic Electronics.

  • Programming language like C/C++.

  • Experience with microcontrollers/microprocessors.

  • ability to review and understand a drawing. [ as oilin told:Most engineers are careless on this.]

No matter how hard you tried, it will require at least 3 years to complete these things. I don't know how you will manage to keep you in track without exams. I found exams keeping me in track and right pressure. So I suggest you to join somekind of open university if you can't afford your full time for this.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I do agree about a basic knowledge of maths (and an advanced knowledge of maths for advanced electronics), but the OP is a complete beginner so I think "Advanced Engineering Mathematics" that deals with (to quote the link) Deals with partial differentiation, multiple integrals, function of a complex variable, special functions, laplace transformation, complex numbers, and statistics might be a bit much to start with, and is certainly not necessary for basic electronics. Having said that, this is a pretty good list for someone wanting to know what it takes if you are serious. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oli Glaser
    Oct 9, 2012 at 4:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ He want's be to an electrical engineer, not electronics. How could you explain a electrical machine without PDE? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 9, 2012 at 5:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not saying this stuff shouldn't be covered, just that for s complete beginner to start with it may be a bit intimidating (e.g. a first book on Engineering Maths might be better, possibly something like Engineering Mathematics by John Bird). I've asked for some clarification about exactly what level the OP wants to head for. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oli Glaser
    Oct 9, 2012 at 10:49
  1. Decide on your first project - something you want for yourself, but not too ambitious, so you would succeed. Like a blinky bike light, small headphone amplifier, led collar for a dog, etc. You have to WANT it - this will make it easier for you to be motivated when you fail and reward you when you succeed.

  2. Search the internet on how to build it, pick one design that seems to be the simplest, consult people about it.

    2.1. Bonus points if you take some stuff apart to find parts that you need - taking things apart is a good way to look at real life electronic designs. At first you will not understand anything, but in the long run it will sink in. Ask people, what to take apart to get parts that you need. Oh, and your soldering skills will become better. Soldering iron and desoldering pump is a must.

    2.1.1. Not necesarilly all the parts in the design have to be exactly the same, ie if someone has specified a particular transistor in the design does not mean it's required here, maybe they just had this one in their junk bin. Certainly, it might be some specs are critical, but for many simple projects there is a big chance it's not. It might happen that any random small transistor from TV is ok. I've seen a lot of people who abandoned their projects just because they could not get a particular specific model of transistor for their guitar effect. Those can be substituted, their performance might not be optimal, but hey, all you want is to hear some buzz!

  3. Build it!

  4. Understand it! Understand the function of every component in the design. Change the values of components, find the limitations.

  5. Fail fail fail fail fail You will fail and it's normal, don't get depressed about that.

BTW, Arduino is nice if you already know some of programming, they have released their starter kit recently, but that's not on the "preferrably for cheap" part. It let's you play around, but does not give you focus on building something that you really need - IMHO that's the main factor to succeed. Poking around with kits is a nice hobby, but when you don't know what you want, then it's just that - poking around with kits


The question "how to get started?" is a bit different from "what should an EE know?", but perhaps the endpoint will inform the beginning point.

ABET says

Program Criteria for Electrical, Computer, and Similarly Named Engineering Programs Lead Society: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Cooperating Society for Computer Engineering Programs: CSAB

These program criteria apply to engineering programs that include electrical, electronic, computer, or similar modifiers in their titles.

  1. Curriculum The structure of the curriculum must provide both breadth and depth across the range of engineering topics implied by the title of the program.

The curriculum must include probability and statistics, including applications appropriate to the program name; mathematics through differential and integral calculus; sciences (defined as biological, chemical, or physical science); and engineering topics (including computing science) necessary to analyze and design complex electrical and electronic devices, software, and systems containing hardware and software components.

The curriculum for programs containing the modifier “electrical” in the title must include advanced mathematics, such as differential equations, linear algebra, complex variables, and discrete mathematics.

The curriculum for programs containing the modifier “computer” in the title must include discrete mathematics.

According to ABET, if your program does not do this, your program will not be accreditable. This is what the IEEE and other orgs think that every degree granting electrical engineering program should include. It's interesting to note the part about "systems containing hardware and software". It's perfectly appropriate, but probably wasn't there 20 years ago. I wonder when it was added.

In any case, I think there are two distinct steps that often occur in parallel.

  1. Learn a toolset
  2. Learn how to use that toolset to solve problems.

and maybe

  1. Learn how to extend your toolset, and recognize when you need to do so.

Step 2 is the big one. Guidance, like the kind you find in engineering programs, can help, but frankly some people never get there. As a corollary, learning the tools is not what makes one an engineer. Much of the advice you've been offered here mostly seems to go along the lines of "pick a problem", "learn the tools you need to solve it", and "solve it". A great way to start.

Once you've gotten through that, you can repeat as necessary, learning more tools. At some point though, I think its important to make the step to "pick someone else's problem" and then "solve it". This is what will continue your process, and force you to learn technical communication, needs identification, project management, .....

Another important aspect might be to form an interest group into a team, and collectively solve a problem.

As for right now, I'm not sure which tools you pick are terribly important in your path so long as they provide you with abilities "necessary to analyze and design complex electrical and electronic devices, software, and systems containing hardware and software components."


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