I recently got a phone call from an engineer at a semiconductor company who wanted to comment on our February editorial: “Moore's New Law.” This engineer had worked in Europe for several years before coming to the United States. While the power electronics industry is excelling at training young people for technical careers in Europe, he believes that in the United States, it's usually “what have you done for me lately.” Questioning why anyone goes into engineering in this country, he advised his children not to do so.
Another issue he brought up was job security. Unfortunately, very few companies can offer you a job for life, whether it's engineering or just about any other profession. Even Japan, after priding itself on providing its workers jobs for life, is changing. The only real job security an engineer has is money in the bank (or investments) and the education and experience to use to obtain another job.
As a past member of the aerospace industry, I can relate to job security concerns. As long as the contracts kept coming in, we were okay. If a contract was lost or failed to come in, we were in jeopardy of losing our jobs. We were constantly looking over our shoulders to see if someone was going to tell us that we had been laid off, going through peaks and valleys of job security worries. Those were the “good old days,” but most of us managed to survive.
Yet another area of concern for engineers was and still is company reorganizations. Depending on the company, reorganizations are a way of life. Borrowing from the reliability people who use MTBF (mean time between failures), we even coined a new technical term for this situation: MTBR, mean time between reorganizations. In one company, our MTBR was about 30 days.
In an industry as dynamic as power electronics, companies must be organized as efficiently as possible. However, sometimes reorganizations can get out of hand. Depending on management strategies, some companies go back and forth between horizontal and vertical organizations. That is, market or application orientation (vertical) and functional orientation that supports all market or application areas (horizontal). Other organizations can be a hybrid of both types.
Regardless of the trials and tribulations of engineering, I always enjoyed being an engineer. I'm sure other industries have their own set of problems, but I never lost my desire to be an engineer. Engineering courses were difficult and required a considerable amount of time. Differential equations were hard to understand and microwave theory was even harder. Even after graduation, the learning process continues. It's clear now that college only prepares you for a start in engineering, the rest of it is up to you.
Despite all of this, engineering is still an honorable profession. If I had to do it over again, I would do the same thing. Unfortunately, not enough people are becoming engineers today. It's hard to say what would make engineering more appealing for today's generation. If you have any ideas, please send your comments to [email protected].