DON'T IGNORE THESE FACTORS
I just finished reading "We Are Fighting A Battle That We Dare Not Lose" (July/August 2004, p. 17). I started to write a "classic" response like the ones we have all been taught in college and through years of professional correspondence. But interruptions and work kept me from finishing it. So here are some quick observations of mine:
- Today's college graduates are not functional as they come out of school. There are too many of them this way for it to be the total fault of the individual.
- Professors do not seem to be "goofy" and in love with their field of study as they were in the '60s and '70s. They seem more interested in their socio-theological feelings.
- College graduates come out with a "you owe me a great-paying, easy job" attitude. It is almost like working with members of the Teamsters or the IBEW. A college degree today equals the union card of the '50s and '60s.
- Every time your subject comes up, the phrase "We need more money for education" surfaces. I don't buy it anymore. I see billions of dollars going into a system that is producing worse and worse results. I almost feel that our universities have become the U.S. Post Office of the 21st century—an archaic, inbred, inadequate system that is only interested in self-perpetuation and preservation.
- Greed: We are all lost to it. Our 401Ks and investment portfolios are more studied than our technical magazines.
I think that us older engineers have lost the dream and wonderment of our respective technologies. As for the young ones coming up, most got into engineering for the same reason Frank Burns of the TV show "MASH" got into medicine: MONEY. We all need to get back to the first love: the feeling of awesome accomplishment after making science and long hours of hard work solve a problem for another human being.
Paul A. Lowe
Senior Project Engineer, Eaton Electrical,
HMI Engineering Dept.
OTHER ISSUES ARE AT PLAY HERE
Rarely have I seen anyone tackle the cross-currents that are influencing what is perceived as a general decline in technical ability in the U.S. and cover it as well as you did on one page. You conclude that education is the key issue in concert with a combination of social factors including visa restrictions, engineering unemployment, and declining R&D funding. I don't agree that educational funding is necessarily the key component. But I do agree that it is one element in a variety of factors to which I would add patent and copyright law, offshoring, domestic tax law, and our social culture here in the U.S.
So far, we've been successful in maintaining our lead. But it is clear that our future national prosperity will be more strongly influenced by intellectual property than geography. We're way overdue in waking up to that fact.
MAYBE WE'RE OUT OF LUCK
I consider the battle virtually lost. I think that our lack of respect for technological advance and China's concentration on it have already doomed us to a temporary consumer nation until we run out of cash selling stuff to one another and buying from those who invent.
Frankly, I don't think investment in education is going to accomplish anything. Universities respond to demand for fields of study rather than the other way around. And we reward those who make rules rather than those who find better ways. Why would one want a career in technology when attorneys drive the Lexuses and embedded developers are "geeks?" My problem isn't with the law field. It is with the fact that the best and brightest gravitate there because of the rewards rather than being attracted to more technically creative fields.
So we sit with politicians running our insanely expensive space agency—which now has nothing to do—while the Chinese will be staring down at us from the moon. The nation that got men to the moon now has to use the maligned Russian Space Agency to get back and forth from just outside the atmosphere. And no one gives a damn. They will. But by that time, you and I will be relegated to the role of sour-faced "I told you sos."
Vice President, Software & IP
Quantum Medical Imaging LLC
ENGINEERS AREN'T THE PROBLEM
Okay, let's talk about where the best and brightest in America do gravitate and where the rewards are far out of proportion to the value created: professional services (the legal profession in particular). Why should anyone be an engineer and hopefully make $100K per year—if they can find a job and if their company stays in business? And that's best case. Most engineers, if they still have jobs, make much less than $100K per year.
On the other side of the equation are the million well-heeled lawyers in the U.S. They are creating mountains of documents and turning our country into a bloated, stultified bureaucracy nearly as hide-bound as the former USSR. For this nonsense—this predatory, parasitical, almost always useless make-work—attorneys bill fees of $300, $400, $500 per hour and make hundreds of thousands per year (if not millions).
You want to save American industry? Turn the legal profession into a public utility and put an hourly cap on its billings of, say, $30 per hour. America has more lawyers than the rest of the world combined. It's obscene. If you want to know what's going to kill American innovation and competitiveness for good, it's not outsourcing. It's not that we don't have enough entrepreneurs and engineers. It's that we have too many lawyers.
Ed "Redwood" Ring
CEO, EcoWorld, Inc.
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