What's All This Compensation Stuff, Anyhow? (Part III)

July 10, 2000
I got an e-mail from a reader: "I sat down hoping to read about compensation of op amps and feedback loops. What I got was your 'Compensation Part II'—a bummer." Hey, I'm sorry. I think I will soon be able to write>"Part IV" on the compensation...

I got an e-mail from a reader: "I sat down hoping to read about compensation of op amps and feedback loops. What I got was your 'Compensation Part II'—a bummer." Hey, I'm sorry. I think I will soon be able to write>"Part IV" on the compensation of op amps and feedback loops.

But first, as we were saying, most of us engineers want a fair deal. We like to work hard, and sometimes we don't mind working some long hours, because often our work is FUN! But we do like to get paid for it. And, it's usually better to get paid more, rather than less. Check out "What's All This Compensation Stuff, Anyhow," (electronic design, Feb. 4, 1993, p. 80) and "Part II" (electronic design, May 1, p. 135).

So, last year when I saw that the U.S. Senate approved a bill authorizing 115,000 green-card workers in engineering and high-tech fields, I was a bit suspicious and skeptical. Is it GOOD for the U.S. engineering profession to have a WIDE gate for immigrants to enter and compete with us natives? I mean, I wouldn't want to be unfair to immigrants, but it does seem more fair if they stay and compete from home.

Then this spring, I grew quite grouchy when I saw that the U.S. Senate was asked to increase the number of green cards by an ADDITIONAL 100,000. Do the large U.S. companies really have to just say "please, we really need it," and the Senate will give them anything they ask for? Yeah, probably.

Are there really so few high-tech workers available in the U.S. that we need to allow another 100,000 in? Isn't this just another case of, "We want lots of workers, and we want them cheap, and if we can get them, good?" Yes.

Sure, there are older, under-employed, and unemployed engineers who could (some of them) be trained for new projects, and on new software languages. But nobody wants to give them a break. Employers want young employees who can be hired cheaply.

Are foreign workers, engineers, often BETTER? Well, I hate to see any generalization carried too far. I mean, some are EAGER, and have good INCENTIVES to do a good job. Some may have received good training and educations. But let's not over-simplify things. I have seen that some Czechs like Bob Widlar and Jiri Dostal are very good at analog circuit design. Still, I certainly wouldn't want to argue that there aren't some POOR engineers in any country. We should avoid foolish generalizations.

I have heard that it isn't EASY to find recent U.S. graduates who are smart about engineering linear circuits. But, I don't think it's that easy to find them overseas either. Why should the U.S. be responsible for a world-wide brain-drain of engineers into the country? Just because U.S. companies can afford to pay for it? Yeah. Plus, a lot of people want to come here.

Next case: I read in the San Francisco Chronicle that "German Politics (are) Roiled by Plan to Lure Foreign High-Tech Workers." Some German politicians and organizations observed that it was "ludicrous" to bring in 20,000 software writers from India while a few million Germans are out of work. I haven't yet heard the resolution of this contest, but I can guess.

Then, I saw a little fine print from the Chronicle News Services: "US Exceeded Visa Limit for Skilled Workers." Apparently our Immigration and Naturalization Service inadvertently exceeded the congressionally-mandated limit by about 22,000 engineers (in the range 21,888 to 23,385) for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 1999. That's 22,000 over the initial amount of 115,000 that was supposed to be a temporary ceiling.

Do you really believe the senators will listen to the captains of industry, who want to find a broad supply of engineers at reasonable (cheap) wages? You bet. Will the IEEE be able to argue successfully against opening the floodgates? I don't have a lot of serious hope.

How can we help the IEEE get its point out? Is there anybody else who cares? Do we engineers need to form UNIONS? Maybe we do, if that's the only way to attain a fair deal.

If it's such a good idea to get Indian engineers to write Software, then why can't they write it in India? Why should they come to the U.S. where typically they are treated badly? Even though they earn more money when they come here, they have to spend a lot more on living expenses. Don't misunderstand me. Some of my good friends are Indian. Some work in the U.S., and some work in India. Some are very good at their jobs. I would have to say, though, I am skeptical about some, as from any country, because they don't have much experience. Sometimes you get what you pay for. After all, these Indian software writers all make more errors in their software than I do. I'm one of the very few engineers who doesn't make any mistakes when writing Software. But that's because I never write Software. Heck, I almost never USE software. What I use for writing is PC Write Lite, available for about $50 from Starlight Software; (360) 385-7125. It's very basic and simple. And, I like it.

I looked up the IEEE website: www.ieee.org/web/search/ and searched on "immigrant engineers." The search turned up about 58,582 items. Some were of definite interest. For example, the "IEEE-USA Testimony on High Tech Worker Shortages and Immigration Policy (2/24/98)" by John Reinert, president of the IEEE. You can find it at www.ieeeusa.org/FORUM/POLICY/1998/98feb25.html.He observed that while we don't want the U.S. industry to be stalled by an alleged inability to hire enough engineers, Information Technology (IT) workers, and computer scientists, it also is NOT a good idea to allow so many engineers in that wages become depressed, and the laws of supply and demand get warped.

After all, he observed, if we had a real shortage, then the wages of such engineers and IT workers should be going up rapidly—but they weren't. In 1998, the IEEE president's speech didn't prevent Congress from opening the gates. What will the IEEE say this year to prevent Congress from opening them wider? The present IEEE president, Merrill W. Buckley Jr., made a very good column on this: www.ieeeusa.org/intro/buckley/buckleyapr00.html. But is the Senate likely to be swayed by that?

What can WE ENGINEERS say and do to prevent the laws of Supply And Demand from being used against us? I'm not sure, but we had better pay attention, and think about it, and watch to see what is happening. Or else the "$150,000 engineer" in "Compensation II" will just about disappear, and all our wages will be depressed.

My colleagues who reviewed the early drafts of this have been quite outspoken. Some think I'm not nearly forceful enough, much too Politically Correct. At the same time, others think I'm too unfair, and Politically UN-Correct. And, what is your opinion?

All for now. / Comments invited!
RAP / Robert A. Pease / Engineer
[email protected]–or:

Mail Stop D2597A
National Semiconductor
P.O. Box 58090
Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090

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