Last October, Advanced Analogic Technologies acquired a Chinese independent design house (IDH), Analog Power Semiconductor Corporation. Analogic is nowhere near the size of ADI or National Semiconductor, so acquiring the 25-person company literally doubled its engineering headcount.
These days, many Asian-born entrepreneurs get a few years of analog experience in the U.S. under their belt before returning home to found startups like AP Semi and train a new generation of analog engineers. But given the global competition, what does the future hold for companies like Analogic, ADI, and National?
Richard Williams, CEO of Analogic, believes engineering really is about innovation. He says a lot of things haven't been invented yet, and Western culture has proven itself particularly good at finding them.
So what should engineering students in this country study? Hasn't the shift in emphasis from circuit design to chip design made it nearly impossible to get an entry-level analog-engineering job without an advanced degree? Does innovation come from such specialization?
Williams says there is another path, that tomorrow's opportunities are on the boundaries between disciplines. He notes that some universities already foster interdisciplinary studies, and the schools that will be successful are probably at a level or two below the big brand-name schools, where the individual disciplines are hopelessly entrenched.
Smaller schools would be ambitious enough to try new tracks. But it will take some elements of prestige and size to be successful, so there may be a limit on how far these changes will trickle down.
We're already far removed from the technologies and business models that most of us started with, but the status quo isn't permanent either. There are new things waiting to be invented and young engineers training in college to invent them. How it will come about remains an ongoing adventure.