Electronic Design

The Mythic Quest For A Creative Engineering Job Might End In Outsourcing

In an era of faster time-to-market and the tighter, shrinking profit margins created by intense international competition, outsourcing has presented engineers with an unprecedented opportunity to strike out on their own. Companies no longer have the luxury of wasting valuable design time reinventing the wheel. Particularly in embedded systems, outsourcing designs can make more sense. That means creative and entrepreneurial engineers can cash in by selling their design services.

I know this firsthand. I easily figured out how to become creatively stagnant, politically encumbered, and financially fixed. All one has to do is stay in a comfortable yet dissatisfying corporate job.

As an engineer working in the corporate world, I wanted more than a decent paycheck, two-color business cards, and a Dilbert-ized experience. I wanted to be creative, appreciated, motivated, and nicely compensated. I began my quest for more, and that's when I discovered the needs of the embedded-design market. I also found the entrepreneur within me and a wide world of opportunity.

Jumping The Ladder
To cash in on this "golden" opportunity, you must be ready to leave the corporate world. That's how it began with me. I searched for a company that could profitably harness the collective brainpower and creative energy of a bunch of technical experts to create board-level embedded systems. It was then that I founded Paragon Innovations.

I then faced the challenges of providing such services on an outsourced basis, ensuring quality processes from specifications to shipping, and keeping employees challenged and focused. Eight years later, the company has consistently doubled its revenues while retaining its employees and customers.

Today, whether starting your own company or joining the team of an outsourced provider, the engineering bounty for jobs is good. The shortage of quality personnel, a strong economy, and increased demand for overnight product development bodes well for engineers.

Best of all, the world of out-sourcing—a $100 billion industry—continues its popularity, according to the Outsourcing Institute. It reports that outsourcing by U.S. companies is growing at a rate of 35% per year. It will be a $319 billion industry by next year. Outsourcing is used by more than 51% of all U.S. organizations. For engineers, it's the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Now is the time to jump on this career ladder.

What To Expect
Engineers looking to make a change can expect to work for a smaller company. For example, Paragon Innovations has only 10 employees. But it's one of the nation's largest providers of outsourced embedded-systems design.

Who's suited for such a work environment? The electronic engineers must be entrepreneurs with low-voltage egos. They should be team players who don't mind sharing the idea and the glory.

They also must expect the best from themselves and their counterparts, and feel comfortable with tasks ranging from managing the intricate details of board design to leading social interaction and business meetings with customers. They must like project diversity, as well as comfortable—and often unconventional—compensation.

They're also required to know the most important "CAD tool" known to man: Microsoft Word. At our company, the commitment to project specifications and documentation prior to development is paramount. We even send our engineers to a comprehensive writing school.

On the downside, our engineers may—in a crunch—do some overtime. (Yes, clients may expect an "emergency rush" on a project and require some long hours.) Despite that, however, outsourcing is still a smart career move for engineers because it offers a complete package of tangibles and intangibles.

Let's start with the tangibles. Employees receive salaries, full benefits, and often year-end bonuses and unexpected perks. When the crunches do come, the employee may get free neck massages. His or her spouse often receives free movie tickets or flowers. In one case, a team of employees was sent to the West Coast for a tour of the wine country.

Then there are the intangibles. Most people don't leave jobs just for money. They leave because of the intangibles, like quality of work life. A positive environment, fun and laughter, creativity, and project diversity are critical for engineers who may face a career of endless "sit quietly at your desk" product-maintenance projects or upgrades.

Working as an outsourcing designer provides a cradle-to-grave approach that maximizes engineering talent while broadening interpersonal skills. For example, every one of our engineers gets "face time" with customers by working a project from purchasing, design, and documentation to developing, testing, and shipping. The result is an individual who works hard, loves his or her job, and feels trusted, appreciated, motivated, and justly compensated.

Just A Fancy Contractor?
Unlike companies that contract their talent and set up shop at customer sites, we hire full-time engineering experts who collectively design and develop solutions at a facility in one location. This ensures the top-tier design of embedded systems. It also leverages collective brainpower—and years of engineering experience and experiments—to the customer's advantage.

At the same time, the employees are protected from customer-specific hazards, such as inter-company squabbles. So start your journey and see what's at the end of your rainbow. But keep one thing in mind: Outsourcing can be the answer for everyone involved.

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