Electronic Design

Homegrown Expertise

A friend of mine had a recent run-in with Intuit's Quicken tech support. The harrowing details can be found in any forum post or discussion about tech support outsourcing. It starts with a problem like "The program fails after I do a backup" and continues with some guy who's assumed the name Adam. No solution is forthcoming, and elevation to a manager seems to be a foreign concept. Of course, a refund in X rupees... uh, I mean Y dollars... is an alternative, but it's not a good option for someone with a year's worth of checks and invoices sitting in a database.

I've also been reading about the frightening trend of outsourcing more technical jobs such as design and programming. This hits especially close to home, since I have three kids working toward engineering degrees. In many cases, outsourcing is a valid approach. But these kinds of decisions are often made without considering the impact on employees, the pool of available hires, and even the long-term health of the company. Remember, if you outsource the design and development of your product, you gain nothing but the short-term sales income. The firm receiving the outsourcing gains the expertise, and that talent will be sold to the highest bidder.

It's interesting to see how this discussion is pushed into different areas. For example, just about every country in the industry has a collection of very talented designers and engineers. Likewise, there's a global economy and everyone wants to sell as much product as possible, potentially to the worldwide market. However, keep in mind what the end result should be. It's not providing cheap products, but rather to raise the standard of living for everyone. Definitely, this isn't an easy task.

Making a developer more productive is key to making homegrown talent more valuable. A product like CoDeveloper Tool Suite from Impulse Accelerated Technologies is one of many that enable engineers to address a wider range of problems or handle more of a larger problem. This package uses standard C to define hardware that gets implemented in an FPGA. It's not a totally novel concept, yet it's gaining more momentum as design tools get easier to use. In fact, the tool is designed for software engineers, and it works with soft processor cores like Altera's NIOS and Xilinx's MicroBlaze. Of course, these tools may eliminate the need for a hardware designer in some circles and simultaneously add greater value to the software designer's expertise.

By the way, the backup problem still isn't solved, and my friend is keeping his fingers crossed that the system doesn't crash before he finishes with his taxes. Hopefully you won't run into a similar problem. I sincerely doubt that you will.

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