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The “engineering shortage”, the Embedded Systems Conference, and why kids shun engineering

Everyone has an opinion of the alleged engineering shortage, and why American students are apparently shunning the study of math, science, and engineering-related fundamentals. I might as well chime in, too.

First: is there a shortage? Answer: I don’t know–and neither does anyone else, I don't care who they are or what there credentials say! No one knows how many engineers are truly needed, what actually constitutes a shortage, and how many people are doing what we would call “engineering.” So let's move on, OK?

I do have pretty firm views on why students are shunning the engineering discipline–and I have seen multiple examples of supporting evidence recently. At the Embedded Systems Conference this week in San Jose, thousands of hardware, software, and systems engineers, the folks who directly and indirectly create all the products that consumers swoon over, and feel they must have, attended technical sessions, keynote addresses, and vendor booths.

Did this event get any attention in the mass media? You know the answer. Even the keynote by Dean Kamen, a genuine inventor, mentor, and extraordinarily creative person, was barely noted in the mass media. I guess he's no Paris Hilton, someone of no discernable talent or skill, and who is apparently famous for being famous.

The CMP/EE Times ACE Awards dinner at ESC cited both products and individuals who have made a difference. Any attention by the mass media as Wilf Corrigan gave a brief but insightful, experience-laced speech on the semiconductor industry? Again, you know the answer. And again, he's no Paris Hilton.

At the ISSCC annual event in February, where 3500 IC designers from around the world gathered to teach, learn, impress, and be impressed, did anyone outside our industry take note? Nope.

So what are kids to think, when Hollywood stars get all that attention for the gowns they wear (and please remind me, what is the relevance of those outfits to their actual products, the movies?); when the comings and goings and doings of these stars is hot news, yet the engineers who labor diligently to produce incredible sophisticated products that are not too different from magic are ignored? When “stars” and wannabees, who to a large extent are interchangeable or could disappear tomorrow with no real impact on our lives, are featured and fawned over, but genuine creativity is ignored?

So, why are students shunning engineering? To me, it's simple: the students have seen what's in front of them, and have figured out who our society thinks is important and worthy. It doesn't take a PhD or years of academic research to figure this out!

Bill Schweber , Site Editor, Planet Analog

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