Electronic Design

Creativity Burnout: Are Too Few Trying To Do Too Much?

Fantastic products have resulted from the creative excitement and drive in the electronics industry. This imaginative energy also has brought amazing wealth to many individuals. I applaud the courage and perseverance of readers who have succeeded as well as those of you at startups who hope to be the next successes. But every now and then, I wonder about the costs of success, like the pressure from those all-nighters at the workstation or on the lab bench trying to squeeze out the last nanosecond of performance or the last microampere of current. The time taken away from family and friends only adds to the pressure.

Of course, a lot of that "pressure" is self-imposed because we're excited about what we're doing and because most of us don't really feel the pressure as strongly as those in situations over which they have no control. The companies in Silicon Valley, with their reputations as the pressure cookers of the industry, have found a partial solution in their looser management style, which mixes some relaxation in with the demanding work schedules. Friday afternoon parties, providing open cupboards for snacks, ping-pong tables in the cafeteria, and other activities grant momentary relief from the pressure.

Even when you enjoy what you do, though, the lack of like-minded associates can place still harder demands on already tightly wound individuals. The shortage of designers in specific areas of technical expertise not only adds to the pressure, it also frequently limits a project's progress. What is the root cause for this people shortage? Is there any one factor to blame? What can be done to ease the situation? These are many questions with few short-term answers.

I believe several factors lie at the heart of the problem, but few of them are really very controllable. For starters, we're striving in many spaces that represent emerging technology areas where knowledge is mostly homegrown. Designers are self-educated because the subjects and technologies are so advanced, schools either haven't identified the need or couldn't develop a curriculum. And even if they have, the students probably haven't graduated yet.

The challenge of identifying the educational needs for the next generations of engineers has become a critical concern as the shortage of qualified talent worsens. No longer can companies afford a year or two of training and skill development for a new hire. A new person must be able to jump into the proverbial hotseat.

To make that happen, perhaps more work should be done jointly between the industry and universities, possibly with more co-op work or on-the-job training. Additionally, are we encouraging enough new students to study the sciences and engineering so we will have a pool of new talent to draw upon in the years to come? Or must we do more, even to the point of becoming "evangelists" for the profession?

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