close this bookVolume 1: No. 33
View the documentNews -- computer industry
View the documentNews -- operating systems
View the documentNews -- graphics
View the documentNews -- industry moves
View the documentNews -- NASA fellowships; D.E. Shaw; job opportunities
View the documentNews -- Lisp machines; young scientists; Internet/NREN
View the documentComputist -- Chris Welty
View the documentDiscussion -- engineering careers
View the documentDiscussion -- library automation

A speech at the Business/Professional Advertising Association portrayed the typical engineer as follows: "As a child, he had an innate sense of spatial relations, a good memory, and a need for logical, precise answers. He was not gifted athletically, and intuitive social discourse was not easy for him. He often had difficulty dealing with the emotions and seemingly irrational interpersonal demands of parents and peers ... He learned to avoid social intimacy and, over time, he developed feelings of inadequacy, a lowered self-esteem and problems with his sexual identity. ... Under the surface, we find that his psycho-social development appears to have been arrested in his early teens, thus his humor is coarse and his values are superficial. ... He is not a leader, a risk-taker, or a creator. He is not good with people ..." [Lon Cantor. EE Times, 10/14.] There's truth to this, especially for young engineers and scientists in technical positions. (OK, OK ... I used to be a nerd.) Letters to the EE Times editor have been outraged, however, pointing to many well- rounded, eclectic engineers in management.

How often can you expect to change employers? One survey of EEs showed that 28% never change. 17% change once, 16% twice, and on down to 13% changing more than four times. [EE Times, 10/14.] AFSM International, an association of high-tech service executives, says that the average worker should expect to change jobs/careers five or six times. The fastest-growing workers group will be technical assistants for scientists and engineers, and 85% of the labor force will be working in firms of 200 or fewer. [EE Times, 10/28.]

In a survey of EE design professionals, only 29% said their companies had well-developed technical career paths and only 36% said they had a management career path available. 59% say their companies don't make the best use of engineer's time, and only 33% said their companies will retrain them for open positions. [Donna Coco, EDN, 10/3.] (Readership may be concentrated in a few large companies, though.)

From the same survey, EEs note that it remains difficult to match trained engineers with specific job requirements. Still, 78% say there's no shortage of engineers. Hires are down, salaries are stable, and layoffs have risen. 88% of design EEs are interested in continuing education classes, and 69% would switch disciplines to match company needs. Engineers are also willing to act as mentors (83%) and to work longer hours (69%). [Donna Coco, EDN, 10/17.]

Not that there isn't demand. IEEE says that the unemployment rate for engineers has been a third of that for the general workforce over the last 30 years -- 0.3% in 1966, 3.8% in the recession of 1983, and 2.2% in July of 1991 (and declining). A recent survey of 645 companies by Hudson Institute showed that 65% had experienced shortages of skilled workers and that a shortage of gold collar workers was the biggest concern of most corporations. NSF predicts a shortfall of 700,000 by 2011. George Lazano of the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers predicts a shortage of 45,000 engineers by 2000; other experts estimate 100,000. [James Coppens, EDN, 10/17.]

(A world-wide shortage of R&D people means less R&D or less- efficient R&D, not necessarily bidding wars for scarce talent. Companies tend to slight research unless out-paced by their leading competitors. Companies large enough to buy the best talent are usually too large to exploit internal research effectively, and innovative start-ups pay in high-risk equity rather than top salaries. What we are certain to see, however, is competition for new graduates plus a big market for intelligent tools to increase the efficiency of available personnel.)

In Arizona and New Mexico, the electronics industry is having trouble finding specialists in AI, object-oriented programming, and systems integration for industrial automation. (Intel needs AI and OOP for logic design, embedded controllers, and military applications.) There are plenty of unemployed engineers in the area -- due partly to layoffs at Hughes Missile Systems Group, Loral Defense Systems, Motorola Government Electronics Group, and Honeywell Defense Avionics Systems -- but 30% are finding jobs matching their skills by moving elsewhere. The rest are finding work at small companies. [Kate Colborn, EDN, 10/17.]

The problems of U.S. industry are not due to technically ignorant management. A recent survey of Fortune 1000 CEOs showed 33% from engineering and science backgrounds, 27% from finance, 12% marketing, 10% law, and 18% other disciplines. [Bob Bellinger, EE Times, 10/28.] (Input from the engineering side may be even higher if you include founders, chairmen, board members, and non-CEO presidents.)

With companies shaving middle-management positions, there are now fewer opportunities for engineers to move into management. Companies are compensating with increased lateral mobility, or "open systems" instead of dual-path career ladders. An individual may move back and forth between managerial and technical stints. [Peggy Hutcheson. Robert Bellinger, EE Times, 10/21.]

Once you're a manager, it's very hard to make the transition back to technical engineering. Managers must have an overview, while engineers have to understand the details. It's not enough to know about a technology; you have to know the technology -- and that takes years of hands-on experience. The higher you rise as a manager, the less chance there is that your technical knowledge will still be useful. Social integration is also difficult, as coworkers will view you differently once you've been a manager (and had access to confidential files). Finally, there's always the stigma of the "fallen manager." [ibid.]

When technical companies do have managerial openings, they tend to fill them with powerful communicators who "exude confidence, charm and assertiveness." These people are "bright, articulate, sensitive, likable, aggressive, energetic, participative, communicators -- but neither leaders nor managers." They tend to be influencers rather than leaders, responders rather than initiators, individualistic rather than team-oriented, not risk takers, and not profit-oriented. They use the "smile factor" to get ahead. (And some of them are not above lying about their accomplishments. Check them out.) [Marlys Hanson, Hanson & Associates, Livermore, CA. ibid.]

Jean Hollands, Growth & Leadership Center (Mountain View, CA), stresses that you must always sell yourself. In other countries, CEOs are often technical. In the U.S., only engineers who communicate well can make it to the top [in large companies]. You must sell your goals and needs at all levels, and you must be willing to take risks and to accept rejection. [ibid.]

Minority engineers and professionals have been reluctant to take personal risks, according to one black personnel specialist. Much of their early success came through assimilation. In a corporate environment, though, success doesn't count unless it's visible success. [Amy Bermar, EDN, 10/17.] (Until your work is seen to be done, it isn't done. Visibility is an important dimension of any project.)