Outrageous! Experience is no qualification to teach EEs.

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I usually come away with some interesting news but the whole thing sometimes just makes me mad. The academics really live in a world of their own.

This week (June 15-18) is the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) annual conference.  Each year college educators get together and pontificate about their latest courses, curricula, labs and methods.  It is essentially an exercise of preaching to the choir and patting themselves on the back.  It is not unlike many other conferences with parochial memberships.  Nevertheless, it is a good indicator of what is going on in engineering education.  I usually go to this event, but not this year.  I usually come away with some interesting news but the whole thing sometimes just makes me mad.  The academics really live in a world of their own.  So let me begin my annual rant.

First, let me say that from what I have observed over the years is that academic community generally ignores the companies that provide jobs for their graduates.  It appears that most universities pay little attention to what industry what really wants and needs.  Then again industry does little to provide input to the colleges about what they want.  While the academics will probably listen, they will then go on and do what they want to do which essentially is the same thing they have been doing for decades.  The result is that little change occurs from year to year.  The EE curriculum today is essentially the same as it was a decade or so ago with minor adjustments.  Yet the industry and electronics technology have moved on.

Anyway, while a few changes do take place over time, there always seems to be a lag between what is taught and the current practice and technology used in industry.  Yes, the colleges still do a good job of teaching the fundamentals but seem to be a generation behind in application.  Furthermore, I truly wonder if some of the fundamentals really still need to be taught.  I asked a group of engineers a while back if they really used calculus in their jobs.  About 90% said they never used it.  As I suspected.  I know you can’t not teach calculus but are there other topics in the curriculum that are like that?  Taught but never used.  How about phasing out some old traditional theoretical stuff in favor of something more practical?  Academics will scream bloody murder about changing anything.  The fundamentals are important of course.  But wouldn’t it be great if they could be taught with applications in mind. 

Second, it is obvious that the colleges do not value industry experience when it comes to hiring professors.  The main teaching requirement is to hold a PhD.  Real industrial experience is rarely required.  Some positions may require professional engineering (PE) registration and that tends to mean the PE license holder has had a few years of experience.

It seems to me that professors with real world experience could teach the fundamentals in context and to explain what is really important and what is simply nice to know.  Experienced teachers would be able to teach students things they ordinarily do not teach in school.  They could tell their design war stories and explain that troubleshooting is just as important to know as design.  I think that an MSEE with ten good years of experience is more qualified to teach than a no-experience PhD. 

Instead, the academics rely solely on degrees and pass off the experience as just inadequate.  They perpetuate their world this way and I have to wonder if the students suffer because of it.  Students get more theory and little or no practice.  I have often had the feeling that a PhD professor just did not think like a working engineer.  The research orientation of a doctorate program just does not seem to fit the real world.  I hope I am wrong about this.  And don’t get me started on the lab education or the lack thereof.

I know some schools do a better job than others in recognizing experience and keeping the curriculum in tune with the real world.  I just wish more did.  I doubt that will happen as the ivory tower is, after all, still the ivory tower.

Discuss this Blog Entry 31

on Jun 18, 2014

In my opinion, the problem lays in a different area: I was teaching Electronics at a college for a while as a part-time. When I was admitted to this position I was told that all students would know Calculus II as minimum. At the second lesson I found out that they (almost all of them) could not multiply regular fractions. Beside that I introduced short queezes at each lesson, which did not imply multiple-choice answers. That blew away 80% of the students. Eventually, I was told that the college did not need my abilities any more because they needed money more than electronics professionals.

on Jun 18, 2014

AMEN. I would have loved to teach engineering, and the limited teaching I have done has been well received, but I lack the expected academic requirements (actually I'm CS not even EE, although I probably would have taught software). I've mentored and guided several young EEs so there's no question about what my experience has provided, yet that path is not open to me. No sour grapes, just saying that academia is excluding some people that would be valuable to them if they weren't so narrow minded and out of touch. Re: Calculus--I've used it maybe half a dozen times in 40 years. It isn't one of the things I would eliminate, but it still is a good example of where the emphasis should NOT be.

Three areas that are often overlooked but hugely important are corporate dynamics (and interpersonal skills), real world circuits with real component tolerances (sensitivity) and design for manufacturing (making it cost effective, not just theoretically ideal). Those are all areas that the current system's players have no basis for even an opinion, let alone an authoritative voice, and it shows.

on Jun 18, 2014

This is a sad repeating story in more in one place and country ... This specially gets worse in the embedded software .. virtually nobody teaches it properly: it may be an add-on to EE course or a belated foray to App development from CS course. Most of the best embedded engineers are self-taught in due course of their careers ... the level of questions posted by the new arrivals on the forums like LinkedIn is frightening: there will be even more and more of embedded software written by these guys and some of that will be mission-critical ... BTW: This is one of the main reasons I am opposed to self-driving cars!

on Jun 19, 2014

Ha ha, LinkedIn. Liked the post about having a cracked LCD screen and the answer was uninstall Windows and install Linux. Or if you want to design for embedded, make sure your development board has an HDMI output.

on Jun 18, 2014

I received my education in the California State University system. All of my professors were ex-industry except one. I felt the one non-industry professor was the least experienced, but she still had some great experience working at a research university where she designed and built robotics. I would say all engineers must investigate the engineering department before paying for an education.

on Jun 18, 2014

Here is my rant...
You state that 90% of engineers (actually, 90% of the engineers you asked) said they did not use calculus. Then you go on and say "I know you can't not teach calculus..." Then what is the point of your statement? You seem to imply that engineers not using calculus implies that "some" fundamentals do not need to be taught? You never state which ones. Can you share with us which fundamentals you propose to eliminate?
My opinion is slightly different. I actually believe that most of the 90% of engineers who claim not to use calculus actually do use it; they just do not realize it. They do not scribble out solutions to differential equations on paper, nor do they evaluate integrals. However, they use the concepts they learned during calculus every day. Do they use SPICE? Then they are solving differntial equations. Do they use electromagnetic field solvers? Then they are using calculus. And they had better know about boundary conditions, and other concepts from calculus, to get trustworthy results.
If they design filters, PLL's, control loops, and almost anything else beyond stringing together logic gates, they are using calculus.
The reason for teaching fundamentals is that fundamentals never go out of style. You can teach students to use the latest design tools and methods, but these will be soon obsolete. Teach a student fundamentals, and they can continue to learn and understand new developments.
Remember that the purpose of universties is not to provide your company with "cannon fodder", trained to be able to develop your latest product, and then be laid off, but to prepare students for a career where they are prepared to learn more, and build upon the fundamentals they have learned.
Of course some real world experience is important. But if you talk to some actual professors, you will find many of them do have "real world" experience. Do you think they can perform cutting edge research into, for example, advanced GaN devices, with no hands-on experience?
I think you are more on target with a rant on lab education. However, I feel this has less to do with the educators, than on the administrators. Hiring a professor is relatively cheap. Outfitting and maintaining a lab is expensive. It is much cheaper to simulate than to actually build and diagnose a circuit. I've seen so many EE's who have no clue how to use an oscilloscope, and barely know how to use a meter. I would consider measurement techniques and a lab that covers them to be one of the truly fundamentals.
Basically, I think you have a valid reason for a rant, but be careful and don't throw the baby out with the bath water.
Regards,
J.F.

on Jun 21, 2014

That is a very impressive insight. I agree that topics such as Calculus shouldn't be disregarded. Your comment has given me a new chain of thought. Thank you. The issue isn't really "College shouldn't teach this" , but a "College should ALSO teach this" kind of thing. Personally, I believe the students must learn the concepts and skills required in the industry themselves. I think my university has provided me with a very good education (TIMS trainer and antenna-setup-trainer(forgot the name) for practical communications like DSP applications, practical networking with CISCO, etc.) but I should not stop there if I want to be a good engineer. Perhaps this is the reason why studying engineering must come from the heart.

on Jun 18, 2014

Well, it has been said that those that can't do, teach. If you are willing to earn half the salary you can teach rather than work for industry. It is a long road to qualify and then earn tenure, is some areas, particularly sciences there are hundreds of candidates for each position. Many engineers don't see the value of a PhD over a MS, the cost of getting there and after that more hoops to jump thru such as postdoc positions for experience and then competing against many other candidates, then doing all that is necessary to earn tenure. It can be a good 15 sometimes 20 year road to tenure. Some universities have high tenure rejection rates as well.
That said, college gives the student the tools to learn. Math is a very important part. Not for actual number crunching, but to understand engineering problems and models. Math is used to convey ideas and not just to crunch numbers.

on Jun 18, 2014

I have mixed opinions about the need for the basics taught in Engineering.

I know that industry would really like to have engineering graduates walk out of school and into their offices with the ability to do "real" engineering from the first day. From a long term career perspective, especially if the engineer desires to stay in areas like product development, those initial skills will only be valid for a few years at best.

I find that younger engineering grads don't have the broad spectrum of understanding to be able to take on problems that may require more than one discipline. In many cases they don't seem to have the interest in learning new areas.

Over the years I have at one time or another used just about all the concepts taught in the basic engineering curriculum, be they mathematics, physics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, as well as the occasional need to at least understand the concepts of civil and industrial engineering.

I don't think that I have solved a calculus or differential equation in the traditional sense my entire professional career. What I have needed to understand are the concepts and the laws of physics that they describe.

The fundamentals need to be there so that an engineer can cope with the changing technology over his or her career. An understanding of the fundamentals is just as important, if not more so, than being able to solve some story problem on a test.

My junior year, the EE department decided to offer a course on microprocessors (this was in 1977). It took about 2 quarters to work out the syllabus. The course was already out of date by the time it was possible to register for it and the professor was struggling to stay current (he was a good professor too). I don't think that problem has changed in the last 35 years.

In my opinion, focusing on the engineering fundamentals and then throwing in some good labs to get the students familiar with current technology is the best approach. The labs are where industry experience will really pay off for an instructor or professor.

on Jun 18, 2014

The worst of this article is a title that has little kinship with the substance; it's pretty nearly diametrically opposed. As a person who deals with wreckage, I find the training of those exposed to the public to be interesting, and I don't just mean the word-for-word translations from Chinese. Calculus? How about written communication; the title of this piece being an example of possibly standing on the shore of the right ocean but having completely missed the boat? Part of my undergraduate degree was at the hands of academics and part of it at a sadly short-lived institution called Midwest College of Engineering, where the instructors were persons of experience. Couple of the most obvious examples; I was taught organic chemistry by the retired research director at Sherwin Williams and kinematics by a retired applications engineer from Fairbanks Morse. No points for guessing which bunch made for more lively and applicable materials. Having said that, I second the motion made by a few other commenters: You need both. Applications types know very well what they know; they don't know the universe. Stainless steel is great stuff, right? Give it a whiff of chloride and it cracks. High enough temperature and it isn't even stainless. Trivial example but the point is that there are first principles that don't occur in anyone's day-to-day activities. J.F defended calculus on the basis of indirect application; who doesn't, consciously or un, use the concept of limits? Or of knowing whether a steep rise is asymptotic or is increasing unbound in both dimensions? Or whether periodicity is constant or accelerating? I suggest that one keep the practical guys out of the first two years and boot the academics out of the last two years; there'll be enough bleed-through to hit a compromise. Or maybe a mandatory internship? Now that would inoculate against blue-sky stuff... Most everyone's biggest problem is not knowing what one does not know, and having insufficient humility to inquire deeply about the important points -- which requires knowing what those are.

on Jun 21, 2014

Mind you, organic chemistry was removed from my university's curriculum (in BS Electronics Engineering). Though I welcome any piece of knowledge that comes my way, I'm not sorry I didn't have to take that course (well, except maybe if I had research plans in nanoelectronics/ nanotech which I believe requires background in microbiology? - but I'm not sure that will be my forte).

on Jun 18, 2014

Calculus - I use it a bit though mostly via Mathematica. HOWEVER, the underlying principles of differential and integral calculus are invaluable. They form the way many problems are viewed.
I believe that there can be no more valuable education for an engineer who wants to do design (rather than research) is one which involves a co-op program with industry. The newly graduated engineer might nearly come out hitting the ground running.

on Jun 18, 2014

I agree that knowing the principles of calculus is invaluable, but I've only used it ONCE professionally outside of a math package/tool, and that was just to see that I could still do it. There are much easier ways than they were teaching us in the engineering classes in school. As for teaching calculus, I was part of an experimental program way-back-when that had calculus and physics as co-requisite classes. This made a huge amount of sense as you directly applied what you learned in the separate math class to the physics problems and lab work.

As for the actual EE classes, I learned very little in them as I was already ahead of the professors from my hobbies and professional work. They really should have been paying me to be in many of the classes as I ended up doing a better job helping out my classmates in the labs than either the professors or TAs. Sometimes you just have to play the game to get the piece of paper.

Co-op programs can be great if the student is exposed to useful experiences, but they should not be limited to the students. Where you would get an even greater benefit is when the PROFESSORS take a co-op job in industry to gain some of those real-would experiences and skills. And if the teacher has some more advanced knowledge that the company can gain from them, everyone wins. In some schools it's "publish or perish.", but in engineering it should be more along the lines of "Use it, or don't teach it."

Theory is just the place to start, and only gets you so far. You have to be able to apply it in the real world, and it's those real world "gotchas" that seldom get taught unless the teacher has actually run into them.

on Jun 18, 2014

I usually love reading these types of articles when they are balanced and point out what needs to be done to get the best education for our students. This one is admittedly a bit too far to the rant-side, but still, it fosters debate - which is always good, and of course the actual goal. So thanks for the article ! Here's my 2 cents for what its worth...

I've been in both worlds. Worked in industry for two years after my BSEE and then got an MSEE and worked for 10 years. Then went back for the PhD so I could teach, and have enjoyed it for the last 18 years. I must say that the PhD really did change me. Having to take the "qualifying exam" was a frightening, yet invaluable experience. It forces one to re-learn all the basics that we sorta already know, but have not integrated well enough. And taking another 30+ hours of courses didn't hurt either. So that's my main defense of the "need" for a PhD. (It did irk me
that when I went up for promotion to "full professor", my 12 years of experience didn't count much because it was "before my PhD" - so yes - the ivory tower does still exist.)

I agree that experience is needed as well. It helps guide teaching to give the students the practical side they need, in addition to the fundamentals such as calculus (which is implicitly required to make sense of what we use in practice). I agree entirely with Lou that students really appreciate connecting theory and practice, and that real-world engineering experience is invaluable for that.

But... it is also true that many (most) professors have research projects and many of those involve real-world
hardware/software/systems. So even those who didn't go the industry route first have experience. Research is what keeps them "in-touch". It also helps to keep tuition from going through the roof more than it has already. State tax revenues provide a small percentage of operating costs these days - so research is critical as we move forward for many reasons. While much research funding still comes from federal sources, companies increasingly realize the need to "connect" the two worlds of academia and practice. Let's hope these partnerships continue to grow.

As a parting comment, to add some technical meat to the discussion, I would like to say that textbooks are part of the problem too. As an example, I use one of the most popular textbooks in our Electronics II course. In 1300 pages, it never talks about or shows a bypass cap on a power supply connection of an IC or subcircuit. Yet folks with experience know the folly of not providing local bypass at most every IC. (There are many views about why they're needed and how many need to be "paralleled", but at least the requirement is recognized). So, I make sure I
add bypass caps and the interconnect inductance issue to the traditional material. Similarly, the book does not cover switching supplies or the strong integration of analog and digital, so that is added in the lectures as well. I think most faculty who are not too distracted by having to bring in and manage research projects to survive would agree that we try to do this as much as we can.

We definitely need to keep this conversation going !

on Jun 18, 2014

As an engineer who seems to have graduated with the same class as tom bray, I firmly believe that a grasp of the theory, equations, and concepts of electronics are absolutely necessary prerequisites for long-term success in an Electronics career. Without these foundations, plus innate curiosity and an ability to learn, engineers quickly become personnel managers, business managers, salesmen, or unemployed.
I have often heard the rantings of people who would have engineers graduate with a training ready for "real world work". Too many of these people either have an ax to grind or are trying to make an excuse to import inexpensive skilled labor. Often these same people whine about how the best and brightest have abandoned engineering. Carefully look at the pay in inflation adjusted dollars for engineers since the 1970's and it has significantly decreased. The relative pay of significantly less skilled professions has lost a lot less. In the same time, the productivity expectations have more than quadrupled for a practicing electrical engineer in terms of number of man months to complete projects. This gets even worse if you look at project complexity. Why would the best and brightest drift away from a career having pay on a downward slide relative to "easier" and less costly majors, and in an environment where high pressure projects are the norm? Why would they not be gleeful to apply for jobs in a market where one can easily read the engineering job postings in the local paper that were placed with highly specific requirements in order to prevent H-1 workers from being displaced?
I totally agree that lab and actual circuit troubleshooting experience is critical to completing an engineer's education. Perhaps two of the courses that should be added to curricula are:
EE333 Lab: troubleshooting of real circuitry
EE444 Seminar: capabilities and limitations of simulations
(as practicing engineers all know, the quality of a simulation is only as good as the quality of the model, and this includes not just devices but circuit parasitics and modeling environment assumptions)
Sorry for being so wordy, I will get off my soap box for now.

on Jun 21, 2014

Yes, you have fellows who indeed share the same point of view. This affair isn't a "College shouldn't teach this" but a "College should ALSO teach this" kind of thing.

I don't think you have to apologize for being wordy if what you have said is really meaningful (which was for me).

on Jun 18, 2014

Like some of the other responders, I have some years of "real world" experience and am now working part-time as a college EE Lab instructor. Praise be that not all college EE departments have dropped hands-on type labs - mine has not and we do expose the students to real-world circumstances.

Something that I have not seen mentioned is the effect of ABET accreditation on the value of experience, vs degree level, in qualifying college level instructors. I think it might be a significant factor. More industry involvement in the process might make a difference.

on Jun 18, 2014

Educational Institutions sell education. When the students (customers) demand more they institutions will have to provide more or go out of business. Each student should recognize education is only one tool necessary to obtain a good job.
We need to get the word out to students that they need mentors to be successful. A student that has a mentor that is in a position to do the work, and a mentor that is in a position to hire them to do the work is much better off getting the guidance they need to be prepared to get a job. Having 2 such mentors in at least 3 company's where the mentors guide them through their educational selections and summer employment should produce graduates with the correct sets of credentials and experience to land the jobs that they set forth to obtain.
An educational institution that does not have partnerships with employers is little more that a tool store.
Just my opinion.

on Jun 19, 2014

For what it's worth of my opinion as a EE student at a vocational college planning to go eventually for a engineering/science double at university, I would rather have as much of the fundamentals as possible, than all the 'shiny bits' of current simulators and technology. The fundamentals will very rarely change, while of design and simulator applications, there is a never-ending torrent. I realise that what I'm taught in almost all my circuitry courses is of the ideal circuit under quite constrained conditions, but from my internship, where I designed and built a high power DCDC boost converter, and learnt a lot about actual component and analogue circuit behaviour and feedback compensation networks - something not covered in my course, that in order for a student to 'industry-ready', you would need to extend the course by some large fraction, e.g. 50 to 70%. Do you want 6-7 year engineering undergraduate degrees? Who's going to pay for it? When it came to using some of the design packages, it was good that I knew at least what some of the esoteric parameters were referring to, or at least where to look up their definition and background theory.
One thing no-one has mentioned is the introduction of 'professional year/s' into the engineering profession, as they have in the accounting, financial, legal and medical professions. Don't see too many hard-strapped practitioners in those sectors. I challenge my fellow Engineers Australia, IEEE and SPIE members to bring up and argue this idea at an appropriate forum, if you want to be seen as a profession, and not a commodity.
Universities were never meant be vocational training institutions in the first place. If industry wants engineering graduates to hit the ground running, they better be prepared to stump up the money, or form their own tertiary institution, as a consortium perhaps, where they can mould engineering graduates according to their own vision. Wonder what they would look like? Especially 10 or 15 years, say, down the track.

on Jun 20, 2014

I had applied for a workshop-tech position at the Imperial College in London and the questionaire started with:
who do I know at the institution and what is his/her internal ID? Despite I had all the necessary experiences and more but no avail. It was the second time I applied.

on Jun 22, 2014

The idea that an EE never uses calculus is heresy. So mush of what we do in EE exploits '2nd order efforts' that one could say that everything is dependent on calculus. Let's look at a few areas. Inductance; or the voltage developed across an inductor is the rate of change of current, and the value of the inductance is the ratio of that voltage to the rate of change of current. Capacitance; the voltage across it is proportional to the integral of the current. Look at it like a mechanic, rather than a mathematician, - the voltage results from accumulating current. Don't tell the mechanic that accumulating is a less scary word than integrating, but that's what your doing. Talk about computing ground noise coupled between two pieces of etch very close together. You could not look at that problem without calculus. BTW that problem - crosstalk - gets very frightening when you're designing ICs and working with conductors a few nanometers apart. These are a few of the '2nd order effects' that a well educated EE should be able to address.

In my own case, my degrees are in physics and math, although I've been 'doing' electronics since WW2. The beauty of the physics is that I learned a little about examining heat, - yes, God forbid, I learned a little Thermodynamics. Today it's tough to find an EE who can even spell it. Those who can, are able to neatly handle the power dissipated in both active and passive elements and thus control the dissipation they are producing in their circuits. I learned a little about 'stress and strain.' It served me well when I had to address the physical loading of a thing with heavy iron and copper boxes, i.e. transformers.

Did you know that every oscillatory system can be modeled with three elements, R, L and C. The oscillation is described by a 2nd order diff. equation (there's that '2nd order' again). The popular solution to this diff. equation is a harmonic function tempered by an exponential. The harmonic function represent the frequency and amplitude at t=0 and the exponential is the damping factor that defines behavior for the rest of the time.. A little sophomore calculus makes that picture very clear and something the EE carries with him or her all their life.
So the real question is would you really have a truly competent engineer is you skipped the calculus? BTW - I learned that in a physics course called "Vibrations and Sound."

Want to design a motor? Learn a little Tensor Calculus. It will let you rotate your system coordinates, like an armature does.

So much for calculus. Teach it, but put it to work in the EE courses. Then the student will have mastery over the world of '2nd order effects' and be that much better EE for it.

on Jun 23, 2014

With 70 or so patents under my belt, I figured that I would be qualified to teach electronic design and innovation at Stanford, my local university... Nope, not without a PHD. Instead, I teach for Besser. Online courses can be very effective. I try to mix theory with intuition, emphasizing understanding, rather than specific problem solving. Complex math can be used to root out difficult solutions, but I often see papers where the obvious practical results were obscured by the complicated mathematical modelling.

on Jun 23, 2014

The integral stands by itself to clarify the process used in Computational electromagnetic modeling codes like Moment Method, Physical Optics or Geometric Optics . You do not solve the integral. If you want to be a low observable stealth engineer you have to understand ODEs Boundary conditions and the first and second order Hankel and Bessel Functions that model wave propagation. The engineer needs to learn Fourier transforms in order to apply FFTs to real world solutions i.e heart pace monitoring of beats in real time and frequency responses. the normal heart beat is a smeared spectrum. Fibrillation is a fundamental and harmonics. The Heart monitor triggers signals to restore the smeared spectrum.

on Jun 23, 2014

Employers once hired newly graduated engineers and assigned them to work under the guidance of an experienced engineer and mentor who taught them the ropes about life in the real world. Now it is expected that unpaid internships will fulfill that role. Employers no longer want to spend anything on in-house training, they expect universities to provide the specialized job-specific training that previous generations of engineers received on the job. They want to hire the latest crop of graduates who are trained on the latest design software that is in vogue this year, who are ready to "hit the ground running", with the expectation to get a few years of work out of them and then either lay them off or promote them into management, to be replaced with the new crop of fresh graduates trained on next year's design software.

Universities should stick to teaching the fundamentals - Fourier and Laplace transforms, Maxwell's equations, Shannon's Theorem, the laws of thermodynamics. Fundamentals never become obsolete. If we allow universities to turn into vocational training schools, students will graduate with specific training on whatever software packages are hot this year, but such training rapidly becomes obsolete. Is it any wonder that today's kids don't see engineering as an attractive career? Nobody tells a doctor or an MBA that his knowledge is obsolete a few years after graduation.

The "nobody uses calculus at their job" discussion reminds me of the debate in primary school of why we should teach kids to add and subtract when they all have access to electronic calculators. I still amaze store cashiers when I add up the bill in my head faster than they can punch the keys on their machine. Students who are cheated out of their education on the fundamental principles in favor of job-specific training will be at a permanent disadvantage in their career, even if they end up in management. Every couple of years someone starts marketing some radical new modulation scheme that violates Shannon's Theorem, and nobody calls them out on that because so many industry people have never heard of Shannon's Theorem. And why do engineers need to know how to use an oscilloscope, don't we have technicians for that?

It is true that a university education does not teach a young student how to play the corporate games, and that socializing with the boss is more important for job advancement than technical knowledge. Who you know is still more important than what you can do, isn't that what "LinkedIn" is all about?

I recall two kinds of students in my engineering classes in the 1970's. One group had been taking things apart since they were little kids, most had amateur radio licenses and knew their way around the inside of a radio, and many were excited about building one of the first generation home computers that were just starting to appear in the middle of that decade. The second group were steered into engineering by parents or guidance counselors who thought that it was a good path to an upper middle class income. They had no love of the subject but saw engineering as a possible pathway to promotion into a management job at the earliest opportunity. You could tell the two groups apart because the first group could read the color bands on a resistor without looking at a chart.

The practical experience of the first group was once highly prized by employers. Having a ham radio license would sometimes get you a job offer on the spot. Now employers have delegated hiring to Human Resources departments that have no understanding of what engineers do and can only match keywords on a resume to keywords in a job description. No HR person ever looked at a resume and said "this person is a radio ham, we could really use his practical knowledge". If your company can't find the engineers that you claim you need, you might want to overhaul your hiring process and let engineers do the initial candidate screening to find the people that your HR department is currently rejecting.

The best definition of what an engineering career is all about came from Neil Armstrong: "I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer -- born under the second law of thermodynamics, steeped in the steam tables, in love with free-body diagrams, transformed by Laplace, and propelled by compressible flow. As an engineer, I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession."

on Jun 23, 2014

you wrote:

are you serious???!!! technicians might not need to know calculus, but engineers sure need to know how to use a scope! it's a shame you included that remark because a lot of what you write I agree with.

on Jun 24, 2014

I was trying to be sarcastic. Of course engineers need to know how to use a scope. And it would be nice if the managers that we work for also knew how to use a scope.

An NTSB report was released today concerning last year's crash of Asiana Airlines flight 214 in San Francisco. It concluded that the plane hit the sea wall at the end of the runway because "the flight crew over-relied on automated systems that they did not fully understand. The combination of reliance on these complex systems and a lack of understanding were key factors in the crash", the report said. It goes on to say that “Automation has unquestionably made aviation safer and more efficient, but the more complex automation becomes, the more challenging it is to ensure that the pilots adequately understand it.”

I could say the same about Engineering. Today's new engineering software packages are wonderful tools, but they are no substitute for understanding the fundamentals. Is engineering a profession like medicine or law, or is it a skilled vocation like plumbers, electricians or auto repair? Are we professionals who take responsibility for our work, or are we button pushers who follow the pre-programmed menus?

If we don't need to teach calculus to engineering students, maybe they don't even need to attend college at all. A few years in a trade school can teach them the software skills they will need to "hit the ground running" as most employers demand from new hires today. Why take all those useless college humanities courses that you will never use in your job? (that was more sarcasm...)

on Jun 29, 2014

This reminds me of the old saying:

"Those that can - DO, those that can't - TEACH"

I found this through most of my technical training. Very few of the instructors could actually answer any of my questions about what it was they were teaching. Often their response would be "That's the way it is". They were often wrong.

The best education I have ever received has come from magazine such as Electronic Design, EDN, Popular Electronics, Electronics World, Elector, QST, QEX, Circuit Cellar, etc. Not only do these magazines inform, but they also excite the imagination.

I have worked constantly in the electronics industry in Canada for over 40 years. Most of this has been in the design and installation of electronics systems. I have attended numerous training sessions, but the ones that have always stood out are the ones with Hands On sessions, and experienced instructors.

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Blogs on topics such as wired and wireless networking.

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Lou Frenzel

Lou Frenzel is the Communications Technology Editor for Electronic Design Magazine where he writes articles, columns, blogs, technology reports, and online material on the wireless, communications...
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Guest Blogs
Nov 11, 2014
blog

How to Outsource Your Project to Failure 4

This article will address failure to carefully vet a potential manufacturing or “turnkey” partner and/or failure to transfer sufficient information and requirements to such a partner, a very common problem I have seen again and again with my clients over the years, and have been the shoulder cried upon by several relatives and clients in the past....More
Nov 11, 2014
blog

Transition from the Academe to the Industry Unraveled 1

There have been many arguments here and there about how short-comings of universities and colleges yield engineers with skill sets that do not cater to the demands of the industry. There have been many arguments here and there about an imminent shortage of engineers lacking knowledge in the sciences. There have been many arguments here and there about how the experience and know-how of engineers in the industry may vanish due to the fact that they can’t be passed on because the academic curriculum deviates from it....More
Nov 11, 2014
blog

Small Beginnings 5

About 10 years ago I received a phone call from an acquaintance. He had found a new opportunity selling some sort of investments and he wanted to share it with me in case I was interested. Ken had done fairly well for many years as a contract software developer primarily in the financial services sector. His specialty was writing RPG code. (RPG is often referred to as a write only language.) But he was seeing the handwriting on the wall as the industry moved on to other methods, and saw himself becoming a fossil....More

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