Niche Social Networks: Do Engineers Need Them?

Online groups and sites are cropping up to cater to specialized interests

3 min read
photo-image of hands shaking
Photo: Muharrem Oner/iStockphoto

In December 2008, Richard Savoie, an electrical engineer and avid snowboarder, was getting fed up with his ski-lift rides—and online forums. To ride the lifts, snowboarders sit sideways and unhook the rear boot so that the board hangs only from the front foot, thereby fatiguing the foot. Savoie wanted to make a magnetic binding system to link the dangling board to the rear boot, but he couldn’t coax a strong enough field from some rare earth magnets he owned. While looking for help online, he found that general engineering forums were “populated by students trying to get answers for their homework,” says Savoie.

The binding system wasn’t the only offbeat project for which Savoie wanted ideas or some esoteric tool. “I was often trying to create champagne projects on a beer budget,” he says. So he set up a group called Engineers Looking for Stuff! (ELFS!) on the professional networking site LinkedIn, “specifically tuned to people looking for ideas, tips, or resources to finish a project or prototype.” The group now has over 2000 members (and yes, Savoie got an answer to his magnet problem).

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

Asad Madni and the Life-Saving Sensor

His pivot from defense helped a tiny tuning-fork prevent SUV rollovers and plane crashes

11 min read
Asad Madni and the Life-Saving Sensor

In 1992, Asad M. Madni sat at the helm of BEI Sensors and Controls, overseeing a product line that included a variety of sensor and inertial-navigation devices, but its customers were less varied—mainly, the aerospace and defense electronics industries.

And he had a problem.

The Cold War had ended, crashing the U.S. defense industry. And business wasn’t going to come back anytime soon. BEI needed to identify and capture new customers—and quickly.

Keep Reading ↓Show less