Electronic Design

Salary Aside, Engineering Remains A Great Profession

There has been a lot of bad economic news for engineers and almost everyone else since the financial meltdown of 2008. Hiring and salary freezes have become the order of the day, and benefits like 401(k) matches have been taken away. Add unprecedented reductions in salaries, whether as a flat percentage pullback or a via a shorter workweek, and employees are really feeling the pinch.

Many of these occurrences are documented in this year’s salary survey, which kicks off on page 22. Not documented as well in our survey are the unconscionable increases in the costs of services such as public transportation.

As an example, the monthly railroad ticket I purchase to get to and from work jumped from $184 to $204 earlier in the year, a whopping 10.9% increase, and New York City saw fit to raise its subway fare from $2.00 to $2.25 per ride, an even higher 12.5% increase, as the powers that be tried to make ends meet on the backs of workers already stressed to the max financially by the recession.

But engineers can take solace in one thing that has always been true about the profession. It’s a great job. I remember back in high school reading a pamphlet called “What is an Engineer?” It was one of many pamphlets on careers that were available in the guidance office of my school.

The advice in the pamphlet went something like this: If you want to make a lot of money, engineering is probably not the profession for you. But if you really like problem solving and the idea of developing new kinds of products, then you should seriously consider this profession.

Obviously, this is a simplification, since most engineers make a very good living and some are wealthy probably beyond their wildest dreams. But beyond money, job satisfaction is at the core of the engineering profession. Our survey corroborates this. Most respondents (52%) said they were either extremely satisfied or very satisfied with their current jobs.

This was very much in evidence earlier this month when I attended the IMEC Technology Forum in Leuven, Belgium. IMEC is, of course, a world-class research center. While there, I had the opportunity to speak with several of the researchers, and I was impressed by their overall enthusiasm and visible enjoyment of the work they were doing.

The only lament I heard was from a female researcher who thought that not enough young women were choosing engineering as a career. I thought this remark was a solid confirmation of job satisfaction and is one that resonates in our survey: 84% of engineering professionals say they would recommend engineering as a career path to a young person looking to choose a profession.

After the IMEC visit, which I’ll be writing more about in the future, we headed off to the Netherlands to visit with ASML, a semiconductor equipment manufacturer. During presentations there, the company detailed its financial slide in the first three quarters of 2009, but was optimistic regarding 2010 and beyond.

As part of their presentation, company representatives talked about the four engines of growth for memory products that they foresee in the coming years, and thus for their semiconductor equipment to produce that memory.

The first engine is the expansion of DRAM in consumer electronics. ASML expects it to add about $1.8 billion in litho revenue over the next six years. This is no surprise, as consumer products such as MP3 players routinely add at least 100% more memory in every succeeding generation.

More of a surprise was the fact that ASML expects middle class consumers in the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India, and China—to more than double their expenditures on electronics from around $23 to $46 per year. ASML expects this phenomenon to add $9.6 billion in litho revenue over the next six years.

The next engine is something ASML calls storage class memory, an emerging category that is expected to make computer servers perform 25% better and lead to 30% penetration by 2015. The company expects this memory type to add $2.7 billion in litho revenue from 2012 to 2015.

The final engine is disk drives—solid state, that is. ASML expects NAND/ReRAM penetration to rise to 10% of hard-disk-drive storage capacity, adding $10.2 billion in litho revenue over the next six years.

Since ASML’s business depends on developing semiconductor equipment that will produce finer and finer geometries, the company explained its progress in developing extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, which should enable it to drive down geometries into the 11-nm range by 2015.

One of the great problems over the past 45 years or so has been keeping up with Moore’s Law, a problem the engineers at ASML are helping to solve with EUV lithography, and they’re most likely having fun doing it.

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