I constantly hear analog-industry leaders talk about the lack of young people pursuing careers in analog design. In the United States and Europe there is a huge push for relaxation of immigration requirements for technical professionals to address the claimed shortage. If there is a shortage, I think the problem is not the lack of youthful interest, but rather the fact that the educational systems chase potentially great analog engineers away. Let me share a personal experience that is still relevant today.
I arrived at the University of Florida's College of Engineering after having spent nearly four years traipsing around what was then West Germany wearing US Army greens. Sometimes we had to go stare down the East German border guards for a few days for who-knows-what reason. On weekends we were careful to not be in the wrong place, in case one of the Baader-Meinhof terrorists wanted to make another political statement by killing innocent people. So when I approached my education, it was from a different perspective from most of the other students. I didn't have time for games or partying. I just wanted to get through the program and start my career.
Unfortunately, the university wanted to play games. As it turned out, and is still the case today, the first few semesters require engineering students to take a few “weed-out” classes under the guise of rounding out one's education. One of those classes was statics, taught by an elderly professor in the mechanical engineering school.
To graduate from the electrical engineering (EE) school one needed a passing grade in the statics class. On the first day of class the professor explained that grading was simple: three tests, three questions on each test. Each question was worth 33 percent. So if you missed one question you would receive 67 percent. Wonderful . Passing was 60 percent.
On my first test I scored 100 percent. But on the second I missed two questions. Ouch! 33 percent. It was at this point that I learned the standard operating procedure. Most EE students simply dropped the class before it was too late and retook it the next semester. Two or three times was enough to get at least a B and not bring down one's grade point average too much. But I was not into playing games.
Luckily on the last test I missed just one and ended up with a 67 percent for my final grade. I passed. As it later turned out, this brought down my grade point average just below what was necessary to graduate with honors. Maybe I should have dropped the class, but others I knew would go through the weed-out classes, fail one, and then just drop out and go on to some other field of study. Maybe they would even drop out of school, period.
This weeding out process is ridiculous. Consider that the primary- and secondary-school systems in the US regularly have science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs to expose children to the fun of engineering. We trick them into giving STEM a chance. And then when they show up, we try to chase them away. Does this make any sense?
If there is a shortage of analog engineers, then why don't we welcome all who want to try analog with open arms. Give them the space and time to decide themselves if engineering is in their future. Treat them the same way they were first treated during those primary- and secondary-school STEM field trips and guest programs.
Hasn't the engineering world learned by now that technical success in one's career does not require graduation from an esteemed engineering program or scoring high on the weed-out tests? Even Google has come on board with this understanding.
In a recent hiring study of technical staff, Google concluded that one's grade point average and test scores were worthless predictors of success. Google's technical hiring process has evolved to the point where now as much as 14 percent of a team never even attended a university.
Laszlo Bock of Google, commenting on its hiring study, concluded that trick questions thrown out during a hiring interview serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart. I've experienced this first-hand as well. Usually these trick questions are thrown out by the less senior talent of a company when interviewing someone more senior.
There are enough people in the world interested in STEM to keep a steady flow of great analog engineers coming into the system. We just have to stop those who participate in building useless career hurdles that serve no purpose other than to make the hurdle-builders feel powerful and important.
What was your experience in primary school with STEM education? And in college? What sort of interview questions were you subjected to?