How do we promote electrical engineering when we're surrounded by an increasingly software & solution based world? Microcontrollers and increasingly so, full-blown microprocessor system-on-chip designs integrate a bedazzling array of top-notch analog and digital peripherals. Watching electronics parts catalogs, there's an ever growing profusion of special-purpose ICs, a low cost on hand solution to every problem. And in this state of being well served, I'm curious how we maintain proficiency, expertise, and interest in hard electrical engineering when soft skill-sets can carry us so far, when so much is provided. It seems great to me that we have NodeBots and AVRs &c &c that get people excited and spooled-up so quickly doing hands on work in amateur and professional electronics projects, but at the same time it seems cause for worry.
Reflecting on myself: I've gone through a number of high speed signals and systems books but still cower in fear for that day when I'll have to wire up DRAM to a microcontroller: I keep fingers crossed that my vendor will include an application note specifically for wiring RAM, that I'll have reference designs I can crib from, and I look forward to the day when RAM comes package-on-package with my micro. I want to have a better mastery of electrical engineering, want to be better equipped to face these challenges, but education has only taken me so far. Or, another example, I can carefully step through design of a flyback converter to plan out the behavior of that analog based system, but these days I'd tend to rely on some microcontroller functionality: take advantage of some comparators and timers, and begin with a much less carefully planned out and much more stripped down set of hardware components that I can fudge into near working order with software.
I'm wondering what the response is, if any, to this shift in skill set, and how we ourselves in touch with and unafraid of first principles, hard as that hardware-oriented knowledge might comparatively be.