Electronic Design

Bob's Mailbox

You readers already know how I feel about the correlation between a BSEE, a BSEET, a PhD, and the ability to be an electronics engineer.  I laid out my opinions in the column about Mr. X, a BSEET who was "demoted" by his boss for not having a BSEE (What's All This Bachelor's Degree Stuff, Anyhow?, May 28).  Many readers wrote in to say that they agreed with me - up to a point - and then expanded on their opinions.  Here's a good sampling of some of those opinions and suggestions.... Dear Mr. Pease, I just read your article in the May 28 issue of Electronic Design, which was about Mr. X with a BSEET who was demoted from being an engineer back to a technician by his company. You mentioned the American Association of Concerned Engineers (AACE) in your letter as one possible place Mr. X could contact.  I am an AACE member myself, and brought your article to the attention of the AACE Board members. The plight of Mr. X isn't new or unique to his company.  It's just another example of how many companies mistreat engineers and technical people.  It is not widely known, but many companies are doing similar things to engineers and technical people over about age 35.  That is if they don't down right lay them off.  And let's call things as they are, a "layoff" at least implies the person could be called back to work when things pick up.  Laid off for someone over 35 usually means fired, because a snowball in the hot place has a better chance than these "middle-aged engineers" do of being called back. It could well be that what Mr. X's company is trying to do is encourage Mr. X to quit his job.  Then they can state he left of his own accord, etc., and they're free and clear of any age discrimination problems.  I wholeheartedly agree with you about companies (or employees) not changing the rules.  This, however, also applies to governments that arbitrarily change the rules.  It happened here in Ohio with the Workers Comp deciding that people they had signed contracts with were suddenly no longer qualified to receive payments.  I believe this came down from the governor's office during his efforts to balance the state budget. I've been making my living in the electronics/electrical field for just over 23 years now, and I know I'm experiencing the "glass wall" of age discrimination.  I started "consulting" just over four years ago after being laid off from a well-known company that closed the facility where I worked.  In that layoff, some 350 employees lost their jobs while another 150 people (all under age 35) were offered similar jobs at other company facilities. As I started into my job hunting, I did the usual things of getting registered with several employment agencies, mailing out lots of resumes, etc.  That first 12 months I personally sent out over 100 resumes, plus I was registered with about seven technical employment agencies.  In that same time frame, I got less than five interviews, and NO job offers once I attended the interview.  So I've been consulting since then to generate at least some income. Your article came at an interesting time, too.  I sent out some more resumes about two weeks ago, looking for a full-time job.  After all, consulting doesn't have paid vacation or medical benefits.  I felt perfectly qualified for one job with an area company that advertised it wanted someone with a minimum 10 years experience in industrial controls, PLCs, and custom circuit design; all of which I've done for at least 15 years.  Their ad also stated they preferred an EE, but would consider comparable technical education and experience. The company personnel manager called and left a message on my answering machine hinting he wanted to go over my resume and get me in for an interview to cover the opening I applied for, which was a full-time design person.  I called him back yesterday, and while we talked, he asked if I had at least 10 years working with PLCs, motion controls, etc. He also asked why I was a consultant, and I told him my reason was I liked to eat and pay my bills, and consulting allowed me some income while looking for a good full-time job.  He was reading through my resume, and noticed that I graduated tech school in May of 1969. His next reply was to state that that gave me 23 years working in electronics now, and pointed out my age should be around or over 40 now, and then asked if that was correct. I'm not going to lie to the man.  I said YES.  He paused a while, then said, "Well John, I'd like to get you in here to talk about possibly doing some consulting work for us.  Would you be interested in that?"  Funny how the tone and direction of the conversation changed when my age became known for sure. Another area where AACE is very much concerned is Bill #1706 in the U.S.  Senate (which is how I learned about AACE to begin with).  The bill would ban electronics, electrical, and computer people from being consultants, period.  We could not have our own business, and would HAVE to be an employee of a company.  If passed, it could make my little consulting business illegal.  This kind of thing, in my opinion, just kind of reinforces the third big lie.  You may remember them:  #1 - The check is in the mail, #2 - Your part is on backorder, and #3 - I'm from the Government, I'm here to HELP YOU.  Well in this case, the government is at least thinking of helping several thousand technical consultants out of work. Name And Address Withheld We should all be thoughtful of such problems, which may vex us if we are guilty of living long and growing old.  AND watch out for preposterous notions like that Bill #1706 - that would prohibit consulting?!!?-RAP Dear Bob, What's all this B.S. about the BSEE degree?  I'll admit it, I'm prejudiced because I have no degree (quite a few years as a physics major at five universities and colleges).  I preferred working to school; the part-time jobs I got as an electronics technician or field engineer were always so much more fun than school.  I always ended up chucking school to work full time.  I do regret it at times, because I wasted so many years working as a bright tech for really dumb engineers!  Only a few were like you (if there were more, I probably would still be working as a technician).  I finally started my own company so I could do engineering.  I love it. Tom Edison didn't have a degree, and if I remember right, he didn't do too badly.  (Although ac power theory did seem to be too much for him, as it is for me.  So what!)  As the owner of H&L Instruments, I've had the pleasure (?) of hiring degreed and non-degreed engineers, and I can't tell the difference.  My ex-partner (a BSEE whom I considered to be a very good hands-on engineer) tells me that he thinks I am a better engineer than he is.  I'll take his word for that. I've just been promoted to be a Senior Member of the IEEE after spending almost 20 years as an Associate Member (because I had no degree).  Apparently, I finally had enough experience (age) to make up for a four-year degree.  Senior and Fellow Members recommended me and the board had to vote me in.  It was (and is) an honor, especially if you could have seen my college G.P.A. Mr. X should quit working for those turkeys and go where he will be appreciated.  Forget the lawyers, the company will only hate him for making a stink.  If there is one thing I've learned in my 30-plus years of work, you should try to be where you will be appreciated.  Money is great, but being appreciated (and respected) is greater. Bob Landman, H&L Instruments Burlingame, Calif. If you're not having fun at your job, something's wrong.  Being appreciated is the key.-RAP Dear Bob, I just finished reading your advice to Mr. X, holder of a BSEET "degree." If all of the details are correct, then I agree that Mr. X's company has treated him badly and deserves what it gets in the form of retaliation.  Generally, however, I don't think that someone with a BSEET should be considered an engineer.  If engineering is ever to be truly regarded as a profession (right now we're just technical laborers), then I don't think it should be encouraged. If you had really read Irwin Feerst's newsletters and those of the groups that followed him, you would not suggest that he contact them.  He is not likely to find a sympathetic ear among those trying to abolish the BSEET. Nor should you advise him to contact the IEEE, which has a history of doing nothing in such cases. I find it difficult to believe that there is a negative correlation between advanced degrees and creativity.  You did not cite any references.  If true, then PhD engineers should be the lowest paid, not the highest. In my opinion, you neglected to give Mr. X the most important advice that he could possibly have:  Get a BSEE (at least).  If he's indeed qualified, it shouldn't be that difficult.  Without it, he will be stuck at one company and be forced to endure a lifetime of frustration and the type of shenanigans described in your article. Stephen D. Anderson, ANSCO Inc., Minneapolis, Minn. For Mr. X to go back and get a BSEE would be a retreat from his principles and a waste of time for a good engineer.  AND, PhD engineers get paid for many other things besides creativity.-RAP Dear Bob, I just read your column regarding the engineer who was demoted because his company lost respect for his work and his BSEET degree.  It made my blood boil.  During my career, I have worked for five companies.  At each of the last three - Avion, GE Valley Forge, and Hughes Aircraft Company - some of the best work was done by engineers who had no degree whatsoever; we even had some highly competent engineering managers who lacked formal college degrees!  So, I am happy to report that leading companies like Hughes and GE look at ability as well as sheepskin.  Incidentally, at one company I worked for, a rather inept "engineer" had a PhD! No, I am a degreed engineer, so it is not a personal axe I am grinding.  I still get mad when I see the idiocy going on in the industry, even though I am now retired.  By the way, I wonder if the case of the demoted engineer is not a mis-directed case of belt-tightening by the company (I assume that their salaries have also been reduced).  In any event, somebody out there deserves a spanking. Gerard L. Zomber, PE, Venice, Calif. I'm glad to hear that some smart managers appreciate smart non-degreed workers.-RAP Dear Bob, While my personal situation is not exactly like the one you wrote about, it's close enough to send you my tales of woe. I am one of those non-degreed engineers you talk about, and I think I am very good at what I do - designing power supplies. I earned my ASEE degree the hard way (at night) from Lowell Technological Institute in Massachusetts 25 years ago.  I worked at several military-aerospace companies that circled Route 128 around Boston.  A major laser company hired me as a project engineer and moved me to the state I currently reside in.  I stayed with them for ten years, then went on to start my own company, which I ran for ten more years. I have stayed pretty current with the trends in electronics design.  I sold my company to another similar electronics firm, with the agreement that I would do the design and technical support, and they would do the sales and marketing. Well, here is the real zinger.  My "boss," owner of both companies for three years, just announced that effective right now, my salary will be cut exactly in half.  There was no discussion, or any opportunity for me to discuss this pay cut.  This has sent my head spinning.  This is less than the going rate for technicians in this area. I don't know what to do.  Like other places, our state is overpopulated with unemployed engineers from the military and government agencies.  In addition to working every day "full speed ahead," I do most of my computer design time at night.  So I put in a very long day, typically 60-70 hours a week. Obviously, the company is in financial trouble.  But I certainly think my technical skills shouldn't be reduced by 50%. Name And Address Withheld If your boss must suddenly offer you a 50% pay cut, somebody was asleep at the throttle.  And if your company doesn't even offer you stock or paper for the other 50% of your pay, as an incentive for you to help the company, they aren't very bright.-RAP Dear Bob, HOORAY for your response to Mr. X in the May 28 issue.  I can't believe any company could give in to some prima donna and demote engineers, BSEE'd or not, without regard for engineering performance.  As you pointed out, there are engineers everywhere, without any degree, engineering or otherwise, who are as creative and productive as most of the rest of us. So how can a company justify demoting employees because they just figured out what degree they have?  I think that the company needs to do some real soul-searching:  With an attitude like this, they either have a cozy government contract, or they don't care about being competitive in their market.  Obviously, their first concern is the paperwork, not the product or the people. I have a BSEET from Capitol College in Maryland.  My experience has been mixed regarding my acceptance as an "engineer."  I have recently started working toward an MSEE at a local university.  I'll be driving about 30 miles each way for classes (after work).  There is a college about two miles from work, where I am taking some classes to transfer to the other school.  When I applied at the closer school, I was (I thought) prepared to defend my academic background.  I brought course descriptions and most of the books I used for the engineering and math classes.  So I plopped my stack of books on the desk of the department chairman, and he proceeds to tell me how impressed he is with them (he seemed to be familiar with most of the books).  Then he announces, "...too bad we can't accept any of these class credits..." After some discussion, the final result was that I must first obtain a BSEE from the school before being considered for graduate work. That's OK, but as it turned out, they wouldn't accept credit for any technical or mathematics classes from my BSEET.  It was clear to me that they didn't want an EET in their graduate school. About six months after this, a co-worker of mine taking classes at this school showed me that the instructor for a junior year circuit design class was using a paper that I had written as required reading.  The paper was a mathematical derivation, and was published by an engineering magazine.  After being booted out of the graduate admission office a few months before, this was a real surprise. So now I'm taking classes at this school to transfer to another.  I'm taking the same classes that other engineering students take, and my grades are above average.  I'm satisfied that I'm academically redeemed, but as with Mr.  X, a lot of other people are still in the position of having to defend their choice of an undergraduate curriculum.  Just as there are engineers with non-engineering degrees, there are people in all sorts of jobs with degrees in other fields.  I have always thought that college prepares and trains us to learn how to learn:  In the real world of engineering, we must keep learning new things.  It's the ability to adapt and to apply what we learn that makes a good engineer. Daniel N. Meeks, Lead Engineer, Q-Bit Corp., Melbourne, Fla. A school is a place to learn how to learn.  Later on, the challenge of learning keeps you on your toes, not the fear of flunking.  Good bosses respect that, not any mere diploma.-RAP
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