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[Electrical] Engineers on the brink of extinction threaten entire tech ecosystems

valerianf

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Well, beeing a EE since several decades I can see the work changing. Products are becoming more complex. Design of the products are becoming more challenging. In the past, it was a team work of specialists: the analog, the RF, the power supply, the logic and the software guys.
Nowadays all has changed: those taking decisions do not know the fundamental of the technic, they are managers or software guys.
We see it with the AVRs that Amir tested: for most of them there is no serious technical requirement and validation.
There is just a list of required functionalities, mandatory patented stickers, and for sure a manufacturing price target that the bean counter will try to lower all along the project development.
Technical goals have a really low priority.
Rare are the new engineers that really have the motivation for the EE work: it is only a short period in their professional career.
They will switch to another opportunity as soon as possible.
 
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amirm

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The problem is college/University system. So hard to get into the degree program. And then get hit with a ton of theory/math. Interest and knowledge of electronics gets you very little in acquiring a degree. As the article notes, broad set of topics are covered no matter what the job market/interest of the applicant. Very little of that theory is needed in today's design work. You would learn far more from working in a design group/under a senior design engineer than any schooling.

Related is what I was told years ago. That the engineering school in many universities is under or married to the Math department. As such, a ton of advance math is required even though little of it is really needed. And much of it forgotten after school. The whole system is designed to keep universities in business than serving what is needed.

I would say only 10% of what I learned in University was useful to me. The other 90% came from learning myself from my brother who taught me electronics.

The hobby side is also hit hard as someone mentioned with advent of surface mount technology. It is just hard to dig into such designs, repair, mod, etc.

FYI there has been incredible surge of interest in engineering due to youtube and marker movement as noted in the article. I suspect however many smart kids can't get into the front door of any engineering company because they lack the above degree, and existing work history.

I think the industry needs to go to high-school and directly recruit smart and interested kids and teach them what they need in the company. Waiting for colleges to spit them out is a big mistake. Ditto for computer science.
 

Inner Space

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You would learn far more from working in a design group/under a senior design engineer than any schooling ... I think the industry needs to go to high-school and directly recruit smart and interested kids and teach them what they need in the company.
I think this is super-important and I wish it would happen. A new kind of 21st century apprenticeships, dressed up so they are sought after and competed for. Plus smart companies could really deep-dive into how these kids thought, how they did things, so they could get a glimpse into what is needed next.
 

DonH56

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I have wired houses but not in a while now except a few projects around our own. Analog electronics is barely taught in schools anymore. As for myself, I have been in management, up to the director level at a smaller company, but prefer the technical track. A rarity these days, for sure, but it's what I like to do. I do have more breadth than a lot of EEs, something harder and harder to do now but possible if you really want it. But, it's hard, it takes a lot of work and study, and other paths are both easier and often (perhaps usually) lead to greater pay and shorter hours.

As for teaching, I have lectured at colleges, and had family deeply involved (though in a different field), but the politics and internal strife was a big downer decades ago and has not improved over the years. That said, I would like to get back into it, maybe teach a course or two, if and when I retire. I do recall one of my undergraduate professor's comment that, after learning the day he planned for a test was a holiday and hearing the cheers and sighs of relief from the class, college students are the only people who wanted less for their money... :D
 

pma

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Technology gets more and more distant from being controlled …

 

valerianf

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@Amir "You would learn far more from working in a design group/under a senior design engineer"
After 4 successful years at school, in France, it is mandatory to finish the 5th year of the cursus working in a company under the tutoring of a senior EE.
 
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AlephAlpha001

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Technology gets more and more distant from being controlled …

Has more to do with what you’ll read in Sir John Glubb’s Fate of Empires than with Technology per se.

Whatever system manages the serving up of NOTAMs, it’s certainly not rocket science. But it’s only as good as the people maintaining it. Matters of budget and equipment maintenance aside, it’s fair to say that the present day inheritors of these systems are not of the caliber of the generation who conceived of and built them.

Fortunately not everybody everywhere is at quite the same point in the civilizational cycle (Glubb posits roughly 250 years per cycle).

Meanwhile, the bullet trains of East Asia continue to run on time and the 3 and 4nm Fabs proceed apace.
 

AlephAlpha001

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The problem is college/University system. So hard to get into the degree program. And then get hit with a ton of theory/math. Interest and knowledge of electronics gets you very little in acquiring a degree. As the article notes, broad set of topics are covered no matter what the job market/interest of the applicant. Very little of that theory is needed in today's design work. You would learn far more from working in a design group/under a senior design engineer than any schooling.

Related is what I was told years ago. That the engineering school in many universities is under or married to the Math department. As such, a ton of advance math is required even though little of it is really needed. And much of it forgotten after school. The whole system is designed to keep universities in business than serving what is needed.

I would say only 10% of what I learned in University was useful to me. The other 90% came from learning myself from my brother who taught me electronics.

The hobby side is also hit hard as someone mentioned with advent of surface mount technology. It is just hard to dig into such designs, repair, mod, etc.

FYI there has been incredible surge of interest in engineering due to youtube and marker movement as noted in the article. I suspect however many smart kids can't get into the front door of any engineering company because they lack the above degree, and existing work history.

I think the industry needs to go to high-school and directly recruit smart and interested kids and teach them what they need in the company. Waiting for colleges to spit them out is a big mistake. Ditto for computer science.

All true, but the problems IMHO are societal. Too many third-rail political traps to have a frank discussion here about why your average young Western Male would think thrice (not twice) about going into a field like Electrical Engineering in the current year. What’s the payoff? A career? Not likely these days.

Added to this the fact that the entire component sourcing and hardware manufacturing ecosystem is in the Pearl River Delta / Zhejiang, Taiwan, plus some legacy remnants along the Tokaido Shinkansen line.

Whaddya gonna do after graduating? Go work at Tektronix or HP or Bell Labs? H-What? It is to laugh. Outside of defense contractors there’s nothing much left.

It’s a tragedy. And then there’s the Travesty of MBAs who know everything about nothing making decisions which even the dumbest pass grade EE graduate could tell them wouldn’t work because if there’s one thing an EE degree gives you, it’s a gestalt feel for Systems of varying complexity, dynamics thereof, downstream effects of peturbations, etc.
 

pma

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Meanwhile, the bullet trains of East Asia continue to run on time and the 3 and 4nm Fabs proceed apace.
Yeah, since 0 series Shinkansen in 1964. Admirable.

I have enough personal experience.

img394s.jpg
 

Suffolkhifinut

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Was talking to an acquaintance who teaches EE at a major state university. He's young (PhD from a world famous New England tech-oriented university), in his third year of teaching. Came to the game enthused. But is already frustrated, and thinking of getting another gig. Why? For him it's the university's 'extra-curricular' program that impinges upon his teaching ability. He thinks it's setting both him and his department up for, if not failure, at least not excellence.

He told me that before each new year, the department meets with a 'diversity' counselor. A woman with a 'degree' in something he's never heard of asks him why his department doesn't have the expected student make-up, which means women, and certain minorities. He tells me that half his students could be considered 'minority', but that those students are not the ones she is talking about. He tells her that he'd love to have a classroom with more women and other 'non-represented' groups, but what is he supposed to do? He says the woman's attitude is as if the class makeup is his fault. That he (meaning the department) should be doing 'more' to fix a problem he didn't even know was a problem.

Then, faculty is asked about the department's plan to structure course material to include current social topics--topics that will foster 'inclusion' and be relevant to disadvantaged students? He tells her that he teaches a lot of math. He asks her how he is supposed to merge social problems with circuit design theory?

He tells her that he treats all his students equally, with respect and understanding. He never yells or talks down to them. He doesn't make jokes as he is afraid of unintentionally 'offending' someone. An hour later he comes away from the meeting thinking that in diversity counselor's eyes, he's some kind of trouble maker. Next year he promises to keep his mouth shut during meetings.

However, he's worried that the push for 'inclusiveness' will lead to the department accepting students who are unable to master the coursework, and that he will be held personally responsible for giving a failing grade if they botch the test. I tell him that's just the way it is, and it's the same everywhere, anymore. Besides, I say it's not like he's going to get a job at Bell Labs, where everyone wears white Oxford button down shirts with a pocket protector, and matching skinny black tie, like in the '50s. What can I say? What can anyone say? I'm happy to be retired and happy to be out of it. I want to offer him a drink, but he t-totals. That will probably change after a few more years in the work force.

It’s the way education has gone, lowering of standards so more students look like they are achieving. Course work is a bad joke with educators under pressure to show achievement. Assessing course work takes time and in many cases has become a tick box exercise. Used to take me a day and a half to assess a student’s end of course portfolio, had a colleague who could do it in just over an hour. When he left and I took over his students none of the students’ portfolios met the minimum criteria so they went back and had to be done again.
Joined a college where monthly tests were carried out and submitted to assess the students’ progress. The classes were of mixed ability, not the way it was meant to be but nepotism came into play. Marking the tests for a class a colleague who’d been there for years looked over my shoulder and asked why there was such a wide range of marks? Before I could answer he brought his test records over and no student had ever got less than 84%. Asked him why as they didn’t seem realistic? His reply you should think about your merit pay rise before submitting the test marks.
On returning to the UK and taking a job at a local college was shocked at how far the standards had fallen. The course which had been classed as the least demanding was now the gold standard and nationally the pass rate was 18%.
The only way to judge a student’s progress is by getting them to take externally set, marked and invigilated examinations. In the UK even that has become corrupted. Schools and Colleges can shop around for awarding bodies, usually selecting the one with a reputation for a better pass rate.
The head of the Motor Vehicle department tried his best to stop the rot. He was made redundant and his department was put under the supervision of Health & Beauty.
 
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sergeauckland

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I think this is super-important and I wish it would happen. A new kind of 21st century apprenticeships, dressed up so they are sought after and competed for. Plus smart companies could really deep-dive into how these kids thought, how they did things, so they could get a glimpse into what is needed next.
When I started working in the early 1970s, large companies like Marconi and Pye had their own training colleges, as did the BBC and The Post Office (British Telecom). These colleges took in school-leavers that for whatever reason didn't want to / couldn't go to University and provided practical engineering training without the heavy academic theory which Universities taught.

Sadly, by the end of the century, these colleges had either closed, or been sold off as uneconomic, not helped by the fact that engineers expensively trained by the BBC or Pye, got better paying jobs with their competitors a year or two after qualifying.

There are now attempts to increase the number of practical Engineering courses, but there's still a stigma against Engineers that don't actually have the magic bit of paper with a University degree. And of course, as we've been discussing, hardware engineering is nothing like as popular as software engineering, which can be done from anywhere in the World with an Internet connection.

S.
 

Suffolkhifinut

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When I started working in the early 1970s, large companies like Marconi and Pye had their own training colleges, as did the BBC and The Post Office (British Telecom). These colleges took in school-leavers that for whatever reason didn't want to / couldn't go to University and provided practical engineering training without the heavy academic theory which Universities taught.

Sadly, by the end of the century, these colleges had either closed, or been sold off as uneconomic, not helped by the fact that engineers expensively trained by the BBC or Pye, got better paying jobs with their competitors a year or two after qualifying.

There are now attempts to increase the number of practical Engineering courses, but there's still a stigma against Engineers that don't actually have the magic bit of paper with a University degree. And of course, as we've been discussing, hardware engineering is nothing like as popular as software engineering, which can be done from anywhere in the World with an Internet connection.

S.
My first job on leaving school meant I was 1 of 120 apprentices attending a training centre for the first 9 months. We made a complete set of tools, nothing bought in. We had to use a range of machine tools be able to weld and forge. Like the places you mention long since gone. With regards to restarting engineering courses, there aren’t enough qualified and experienced people to pass on the knowledge. A college not too far from you stripped out all the equipment needed to teach engineering practical skills, saw machine tools, electronic control equipment thrown into skips. What do you expect when the Head of FE was appointed for reasons of inclusion, her work experience had been as a Pub Cook.
 

fpitas

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You were only asked that once!?
Actually...yeah. Let's see. Do I fix toasters? Or TVs? And then there's the quintessential convesation:

"So...what do you do again?" "I design RF stuff" "R...F...what's that" You know, amplifiers, mixers..." Where do you work? I mean, what do they do there?" "We make software defined radios, mostly" "Radios? Really? They still make those?'

This is why we can't have nice things :facepalm:
 

sarumbear

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I think that is part of it. Among EE's I know, they keep getting shoved into management positions. Engineers would rather engineer than be a manager. I think it is a leverage effect. Electronics can be produced in great numbers so one engineer can be valuable for so many products sold it sort of doesn't take as many as it once did.
Very true but also a modern device is so much IT in it and so much integrated & miniaturised that the standard EE knowledge is no longer valuable in the design.
 

sarumbear

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I would say only 10% of what I learned in University was useful to me. The other 90% came from learning myself from my brother who taught me electronics.
But isn't that how it is supposed to be? University is not meant to teach you a job (with the only two exceptions of law & medicine). As the name means it is to teach you a 'universum' of knowledge (latin: all in one, relating to all, all things). Once you have such breath of knowledge, you can teach yourself further.

If you want to learn a job, one must go to a tech college. However, you will not be able to re-teach yourself through another subject life. You need to go to another college or take another course for that new job.

On his last class our professor at Imperial College, London told us: "I have bad new and good news. The courses on programming using punch-cards will be useless in a few years as computers with keyboards are around the corner. The slide-ruler that we often barred in exams will be replaced with calculators where you will enter the formula in directly and will be so small that you will sneak them into the class unseen. Almost every practical knowledge you now have will be useless in a decade. However, the most important thing we taught you is how to learn. The basics we impregnated you with should be sufficient to allow you re-learn throughout your professional life." How true was that.

That was in 1973. Less than ten years later IBM PC arrived and computing changed for ever. And my professor was right again; within ten years there was indeed watch calculators on the market that can solve scientific formulae.

I was able to re-teach myself ever, and ever. The basics that I learned at university allowed me to become a speaker designer because I could read Richard Small's PH.D. thesis, design a complex passive-crossover (LR4) and program a computer to optimise the component values. (Dr. Small wrote his thesis only a year before I was graduated.)
 
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sarumbear

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I would suggest with traditional power generation being at the forefront of global warming issues, electrical engineers are now needed in larger numbers to develop renewable energy systems and more efficient electrical devices that reduce energy usage.


JSmith
I'm confused. Why would you disagree with the top part of my post while the bottom part (below) says exactly what you say.

Electrical Engineers are still widely employed as not much has changed in power generation, transmission and to a certain level motors.
 

fpitas

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It is a fact of life that some parts of engineering evolve constantly. Some guys get stuck in a backwater designing the same things they did years ago, and soon have no job.
 

MCH

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But isn't that how it is supposed to be? University is not meant to teach you a job (with the only two exceptions of law & medicine). As the name means it is to teach you a 'universum' of knowledge (latin: all in one, relating to all, all things). Once you have such breath of knowledge, you can teach yourself further.

If you want to learn a job, one must go to a tech college. However, you will not be able to re-teach yourself through another subject life. You need to go to another college or take another course for that new job.

On his last class our professor at Imperial College, London told us: "I have bad new and good news. The courses on programming using punch-cards will be useless in a few years as computers with keyboards are around the corner. The slide-ruler that we often barred in exams will be replaced with calculators that you will enter the formula in directly and will be so small that you will sneak them into the class unseen. Almost every practical knowledge you now have will be useless in a decade. However, the most important thing we taught you is how to learn. The basics we impregnated you with should be sufficient to allow you re-learn throughout your professional life." How true was that.

That was in 1973. Less than ten years later IBM PC arrived and computing changed for ever. And my professor was right again; within ten years there was indeed watch calculators on the market that can solve scientific formulae.

I was able to re-teach myself ever, and ever. The basics that I learned at university allowed me to become a speaker designer because I could read Richard Small's PH.D. thesis, design a complex passive-crossover (LR4) and program a computer to optimise the component values. (Dr. Small wrote his thesis only a year before I was graduated.)

Could not agree more with @sarumbear

My field is very different to electronics or computer science (Chemistry), so my comments might be related to that, but after several years in academic and industry R&D, my experience so far is exactly the opposite to what Amir describes.

I see very often in industry how people doing R&D tend to relay on knowledge acquired in house, based on experience or learnings from more senior people and very often this results in not being able to solve problems when out of the comfort zone, on beliefs rooted more on tradition than on science (with ramifications not very different to what we call snake oil in this forum), etc, etc…

There are of course a huge percentage of exceptions and if you are lucky to fall in the right place, you are fortunate, but reality is that the former exists.
While knowledge based on experience is most often not only very valuable, but also necessary, it must be connected with the base knowledge that we learn, not necessarily but most often, through formal education.

Sarumbears professor was very right, the university is not there to teach you what you need to know, the university is there to teach you how to learn and to give you the tools to find your own way, and this is more true the more you are into real development of uncharted territory. All those Maths are not intended for you to remember the rest of your life and apply them every day, they are intended for you to know they exist and have a hint of what might be behid something and pull them up and relearn if necessary at some point.

Maybe our fields are very different, but I strongly believe that the lack of formal fundamental knowledge leads more sooner than later to impoverishment of the level of research and development.
 

Suffolkhifinut

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The thing is what would an EE (Electronics Engineer) work on, today? Is there any device category left that employs EEs in vast numbers who work on design, develop or repair?

Electrical Engineers are still widely employed as not much has changed in power generation, transmission and to a certain level motors.
Worked on generation, transmission and distributor systems in the Oil Industry for 9 years up to 2001, so if things have changed please don’t take it personally. Most of the equipment used in these areas were supplied by GE from the US and was so out of date it was unreal. Seemingly it hadn’t been developed since the 1930s, we tried to integrate some modern Siemens protection equipment into the transmission network virtually impossible. The technology was so far advanced compared to the GE equipment it was embarrassing and those horrible air blast circuit breakers unbelievable! The product of a trade protection system that meant there was no need to develop and manufacture new technologies.
On the other side of the equation I would have taken magnetic US motor contractors and relays over their European competition any day of the week. You could totally strip down repair and rebuild a GE contactor in a few minutes, try that with a Siemens or Klockner Moeller contactor and see how long it takes.
 
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