To see how engineers can optimize their opportunities in the current job market, I interviewed senior managers at five companies that make analog and power semiconductors to see how they make remote design centers work. Click here for the article.
Whether the use of remote design centers is good for design engineers can evoke strong feelings. Although I’m seeing fairly strong hiring of chip designers and applications engineers inside U.S. companies (at the expense of some of the companies that make the products those chips go into), I also have contract design-engineer friends who are getting hourly rates far lower than they used to charge. Examining statistics for engineering employment are of little help, given the sad state of the overall economy. (Nevertheless, see the results of Electronic Design’s 2011 employment survey.
One point I make in the article concerns the incident that refocused my thinking about offshore designers. A couple of years ago, I was at the AES conference in San Francisco, talking to Kevin Leary of Analog Devices (He’s at a startup these days.), talking about ADI’s acquisition of AnalogASICS, in Denmark, a small company with experience in hearing aids. (A few years later, this morphed into new MEMS microphone technology.) The Danes were to be a satellite design center. I was surprised when Kevin told me the Danes had their own remote design center in Slovakia. Why? Because a certain professor at the university in Bratislava and his graduate students also specialized in the frontiers of tiny audio. The moral of the story is that it’s not just about tax breaks and cheap labor. You go where the talent is. (You also go where the supply lines are short and where the markets are, but I’ll talk about BRIC in another blog.)One surprising thing that came out of the interviews for this article was how many remote design centers there are in the U.S.A. That used to be rare, because it was hard to share information across long distances when all you had was unix mail and ftp. And frankly, there’s still nothing that beats grabbing a seat in the company cafeteria next to one of the old-timers, laying out your problem, and getting a bunch of possible solutions sketched out on a paper napkin before you have to go back to your bench. That kind of interaction is impossible to emulate on the Web – which is why every manager I spoke with for this article included, “getting on an airplane,” as one of the necessary communications modes for effective management..