[EAS] EE Prospects (Industrial)

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Wed Jun 23 01:37:26 EDT 2004

Subject:   EE Prospects (Industrial)

Dear Colleagues -

The prospects for engineering, and in my case that means mostly
electrical engineering, have been the subject or undercurrent in
many recent EAS-INFO mailings. This mailing is prompted by some of
your thoughts and a couple of recent articles that came my way.

<http://jove.eng.yale.edu/pipermail/eas-info/2004/000692.html>, the
item on IDEO, exemplified a changed roles of engineers. Few of you
may have pursued the examples at the IDEO Web site, but they are
there to ponder:
- Cell phones, an already nearly antediluvian term ("personal
network devices" is more progressive), are turning into fashion
accessories, cameras, Web browsers. And IDEO is designing them:
<http://www.ideo.com/portfolio/re.asp?x=85681>. This is a very good
example of how a product that was earlier thought of as defined in
technical terms, now has as much technological meaning to its owners
as Armani shoes or a Gucci handbag.
- IDEO designed a hand-held remote for Lufthansa
- IDEO designed the LifePort Kidney transporter
- TiVo Personal Video Recorder

These are just four from among hundreds of items in the IDEO
portfolio. Look at the "view by client" and "View by category"
drop-down menus, e.g. at the top of the Lufthansa page. 

And when I say "designed", I mean IDEO did _all_ of it. Their client
companies then put their name on the design, and had the mass
manufacturing done in Asia.

The IDEO story is in the "good news" category, because the tight,
rapid interplay between IDEO's design teams (look at the Lufthansa
item) means it is much more likely to be done in the US.

The outsourcing that accounts for much else in electrical
engineering continues. Not just manufacturing, but R&D is moving to
India and elsewhere. We are left with inaccurate reports about
business recovery, e.g. in Silicon Valley, where the semiconductor
and IT industries have become the hardest-hit victims of their

When I prompted him with an item claiming a business upturn in
Silicon Valley, one of our EE alumni there sent me this:

> I would say that the following article comes close to the truth,
> with a few caveats:
> http://www.iht.com/articles/526067.html
> First of all, we did not lose 20% of the jobs. It was 33%. This is
> well documented by CalTrans, the SEMI, and others.
> Second, the venture capital firms are irrelevant. Their investment
> cycle has no correlation at all with the underlying economic
> realities.  It is more affected by interest rate cycles and by the
> perceived state of the stock market.
> Third, until we fix the immigration problem, there will not be any
> incentive for US citizens to major in Engineering or Science.
> Fourth, housing prices continue to go up.  Silicon Valley is the
> last place I would choose to start a new company, due to the extreme
> shortage of housing. And, as all of the ex-Tech workers who now sell
> houses are delighted to point out: "The Bastards Can't Import Real
> Estate."
> Still, this is the most realistic mainstream media article that I
> have seen in years . . .

Finally, there is an important article by Stephen Unger of Columbia
Univ. <http://www1.cs.columbia.edu/~unger/> in the current (Summer
2004) issue of the IEEE Society and Technology magazine. As he has
been for some years, Unger is critical about EE employment practices
in the US. Those with tenured comfort in academia should read this
article. (I am trying to attach it in .pdf form to this mailing --
my first such try. If it doesn't work, we'll try something else.)

As someone who as a consultant has been in touch with industry for
some 35 years, I feel a little closer to these realities. The
sociology of the present situation is indeed grim. Tradition and
loyalty, and hence longer-term predictability, are given little or
no value in the corporate profit/loss assessment.

I'm planning another mailing about "EE Prospects (Academic)" as the
companion to this. Understanding the industrial scene is esssential
for educational policy. The future that awaits our "constituents",
as ABET would put it, is not what many educators assume.


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