Some projects are just too complex, that’s for sure. But I’d be willing to bet that some things you think are too difficult actually aren’t, and it may be that all you need to get over your personal hurdle is a good demonstration. Here come three cases in point.
I was looking at the new Raspberry Pi Compute Module last weekend. They have a whole bunch of high-speed traces: things like Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, and those crazy-fast SDI serial camera interfaces. I have no experience in high-speed design and layout at all, and frankly it gives me the willies. But the Raspberries also shipped me an IO demo board, and concomitant KiCAD design files, with the review board. Looking at it, they were just wires — maybe pairwise length-matched and impedance controlled — but also just wires. Opening up the KiCAD board file and clicking on the traces just like I do with my own designs, I’m a lot less scared. That was a revelation for me.
In a great writeup of his experience building ten different Linux single-board-computers from scratch, Jay Carlson had a similar effect on me. I would never have considered breaking out the hotplate for some CPU-and-DRAM action, and I’ve never had to lay out a PCB with a high density BGA chip before either. I’m not quite into Dunning-Kruger territory yet; I still have a healthy respect for the layout intricacies in fanning out a tight BGA CPU into a DRAM. But Jay’s frank assessments of what is easy and what is hard make it all seem within the realm of the doable.
As Mike and I were talking on the podcast about Jay’s work, Mike came clean about his fear of BGAs. I’ve done enough reflow-plate soldering, with parts that have a lead pitch that’s a factor of two finer than the 0.8 mm pitch BGAs in question, so it doesn’t seem implausible to me. And I’m 100% sure Mike could pull it off too, but he is in need of a BGA guru. Any good hobbyist videos out there?
Being a nerdy type, I’m much more focused on the knowledge and the inspiration, but maybe the courage is equally important — at least I think I undervalue it. I don’t need to lay out HDMI lines, or build a from-scratch Linux box, but I am no longer afraid that I couldn’t, and that’s because I’ve seen detailed examples of fellow hackers who’ve done the same. I might not get it right on the first shot, but I’m not afraid to try, and I wouldn’t have said the same before looking over other folks’ shoulders. Forza e corragio!