Electronic Design

All About You: At Work And At Home

EEs At Work: The Good And The Bad

Engineering isn't easy. You wrestle with the laws of nature to make your next project faster, smaller, and less costly. You also grapple with shrinking budgets, longer hours, and management and co-workers alike. And you can't forget about all of the problems outside the office, from the sagging economy to stresses at home. On the surface, wouldn't it be easier to hang it all up and try something a lot less taxing?

No, it wouldn't. At least, that's what you said in our recent survey, where we asked you to take a closer look at your own job and evaluate all of its joys and frustrations. While things are tough right now, on the whole, most of you truly enjoy your work. We asked if you would recommend engineering as a career path to a young person looking to choose a profession, and an overwhelming 82.4% of you said yes.

That makes sense, because few of you are planning to leave your current job anytime soon. We asked how long you intend to stay with your current employer, and 73.4% responded that you would stay indefinitely (see figure). Of course, the weak job market may have something to do with holding on to what you have. But only 6.2% of you are actively looking for something better right now, with 3.0% thinking about starting a search in another six months, and 17.4% considering such a plan in another year or two.

Maybe you're staying in your current job because of the money. Salaries look pretty good across the board (see "What You Earn," this issue, p. 39). A little over half of you, 53.3%, feel that your company adequately compensates you. But is all of this money really worth it, especially considering the problems you face each day (see figure)? On a scale of 1 to 10, the biggest of these problems, you said, was having insufficient people to get the job done. Next, you said it was difficult finding the optimal components for your designs, followed by increased time-to-market pressures.

Daniel Godfrey, an analog staff engineer with Adtran, agrees that the quest for components is a chief challenge. "We're very cost-driven," he explains. "It's a tradeoff between the perfect component and cost. We need to make the project as low-cost as we possibly can without sacrificing any of the performance requirements. We're not going to sacrifice anything there."

In the open-ended portion of the survey, you really sounded off about your struggles. Sorting through your answers was like sitting at the front desk of the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) office. Many of you took the opportunity to vent about your bosses: "clueless non-technical management pretending to be engineers," said one anonymous respondent

Another anonymous reader, a 20-year veteran engineer, is similarly concerned about the apparent gulf between management and the guys in the trenches. Often, he doesn't hear from the "upper tier" of management until something goes wrong and the customer complains. It's as though management "has Alzheimer's disease," he says, as management seems to forget about this engineer's past successes in an instant.

A number of other problems are on your minds, too. We asked if any issues literally kept you up at night (see the table). Staying current with new and emerging technologies, looming project deadlines, and product reliability issues have many of you tossing and turning. Concerns about the general health of the economy, price/performance issues, and job security have lots of you counting sheep as well.

Once again, the open-response section featured many complaints about management and part availability, as well as concerns about government regulations. So, in other words, when you're not worrying about being able to get the job done, you're worrying about whether or not you'll even be able to keep your job. Yet we'd be remiss if we didn't recognize the 37 of you who said that you actually sleep very well at night, thank you.

With all of these sources of stress, why are you still in the game? It's all about the challenge, you said. More than anything else, you derive satisfaction from the challenges that accompany the design of new products (see figure).

Bob Marshall is an applications manager at Philips Semiconductors, where he has worked for 30 years. Yet he's never become bored, thanks to the company's policy of "friendly internal transfers." Employees can bid on whatever job becomes available, so Marshall hasn't worked at the same thing for more than five years. "As an applications engineer, I encountered different problems all the time," he says, appreciating how this has enabled him to grow as an engineer.

Similarly, you enjoy researching potential design solutions as well as the opportunity to design products that can benefit society. In the open-ended portion of the survey, you emphasized these points:

  • "Creating designs that will stand the test of time."
  • "General enjoyment of technological work."
  • "Having fun doing what I love—design/engineering/hardware/software."
  • "Seeing one of my products in my local drug store being used by the public."
  • "Engineers like to kick butt; companies need to let them."

At the end of the day, it's all about the technology. You play with it, conquer it, create new things with it, and see it used. That's where you get your true satisfaction. And even though you're in the world and making a living, you're not stopping there. Your thirst for knowledge hasn't been quenched.

See asociated figure

Again, dozens of you used the open-ended portion to tell us that you derive satisfaction from learning new things. Even after decades in the industry, you cherish the opportunities that engineering gives you to learn, exercise creativity, and branch out into new fields:

  • "Continued education opportunities."
  • "Continually learning new things."
  • "Demands to continually keep ahead of the technology curve, learn new tools."
  • "Learning and mastering technologies that are new to me."
  • "The satisfaction of advancing in my skills and ability."

See asociated figure

Fortunately for the next generation, you're not keeping all of this hard-earned knowledge to yourself. Almost as many of you took the time to describe how you get your satisfaction from teaching the next crop of engineers, whether you're in academia or just showing the new guy in the office around. One of you said that satisfaction comes from the "mentoring, teaching, training of others," while another similarly singled out the "mentoring of younger engineers." A third said he enjoyed the "Opportunity to pass on 35+ years of experience." Looking at this pedagogical attitude, we won't have to worry about the engineers of the future.

Then there's perhaps the most important component of your jobs, the one that keeps you employed: customer satisfaction. Basically, you take pride when the customer is satisfied with your work. This was a common theme in the open responses, too. One engineer said that "customer satisfaction is highest." Another said he felt satisfied by "being able to deliver product/results to both internal and external customers." Other responses that spoke well of a strong sense of ethics and dependability were "quality and customer satisfaction"; "satisfying both the customer and the bottom line"; and "satisfaction of creating a new device to address a customer's problem."

See associated figure

While engineers are caught between balancing responsibilities on the job and external pressures in the world at large, they still enjoy their work. Despite the negativity surrounding the economy and the common "us versus them" mentality between engineers and management, the work—the technology itself—provides the challenge that keeps you going. It's not about the pay, although in most cases that's pretty nice. Rather, it's about learning something new, creating something wonderful, providing that something to your customers, and sharing what you've done with others. And that's a truly noble calling.

See associated figure

EEs at Home
Electronic Design's reader survey shows that collectively, engineering professionals comprise a rather eclectic group—versatile in their skills, well-rounded in their interests, resourceful in their activities, discriminating in their tastes. The figures here (see associated figure 1, 2, 3 and 4) show a snapshot summary of how you spend your time away from the job.

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