November 23, 2015 at 4:22 pm #1344
How can one even think about keeping up in such a rapidly burgeoning field as electronics, let alone operating effectively?
Are the only up-to-date designers green kids straight out of University with the very latest technology rammed into their still-malleable brains?
Back in the late 1930’s the “half-life” of an engineer’s knowledge – the time it takes for half of what you knew at graduation to become obsolete – was about 35 years. This was sufficient to get one through to retirement. Thirty years later, for a degree obtained in 1960, this half-life had dropped to ten years. By 1991 the half-life of engineering skills was estimated to be less than 5 years, and for a software engineer, it was less than three. A few years later in 1996, Craig Barrett, president and co-founder of Intel, lent credence to that belief when he stated, “The half-life of an engineer, software or hardware, is only a few years.” In 2002, William Wulf, the president of the US National Academy of Engineering, was quoted as saying that, “The half-life of engineering knowledge… is from seven to 2½ years.” More recent estimates emphasize the low end of the range, especially for those working in IT.
At these decay rates, an engineer or IT professional today would have to spend roughly 10 hours a week studying new knowledge to stay current, perhaps pushing his currency out to ten years.
This is an industry in which your experience may not always be valued; kid engineers are cheaper, are (perceived to be) prepared to move about, work long hours (no family responsibilities) and cost less. It’s no wonder that the median age of many US high-tech IT companies is between 28 and 35 years. Fewer employers are investing in in-house training of their engineers for fear that their investment will be poached by competitors.
In short, if you are an electronics or IT engineer, the danger of becoming technologically obsolete is an ever-growing risk. What you learn as a young buck won’t see you even a quarter of the way through to retirement.
If you want to stay technical (as opposed to jumping ship to a management role), life-long-learning is the only answer to this ever-present threat.
If that’s true, who do you learn from?
Here are ten tips that have helped me survive as a working electronics engineer for forty years.
1. Take further degrees: I earned Masters and PhD degrees while working full-time
2. Build a home workshop: this leverages design time that is fragmented or unobtainable at work
3. Fix old test equipment from the 1960’s – the fundamentals haven’t changed much and you get to study the work of a previous generation of successful engineers. Check out the BAMA manual archives for old circuits.
4. Read application and design notes by the masters such as Jim Williams (Linear Technology) and Bob Pease (National Semiconductor)
5. Take single TAFE courses: I studied C-programming that way
6. Invest in your technical library: “The Art of Electronics” (Horowitz and Hill) covers most of the ground and has just been released in a magnificent 3rd edition after a 25 year wait. Read new stuff daily. ‘Data sheets’ are a food group eaten with breakfast and lunch.
7. Study during holidays, weekends, evenings. Skip the TV, make electronics your hobby, stay married to your first wife.
8. Take every possibility to attend trade shows, workshops, webinars and seminars. YouTube and industrial videos by major manufacturers are good.
9. Start your own company so that no useless accountant can sack you. Specialize in some area – you need great depth to create new products. Surround yourself with young engineers and interns. Learn from them, teach them
10. Create an impossible project for yourself and work at it secretly over decades. This forces you to continually re-learn your craft as the design, your skills and technology itself evolve together.
- This topic was modified 2 years, 8 months ago by Andrew Skinner.
July 14, 2016 at 3:46 pm #1562
As a woman in the IT/engineering world, I realise the above advice is posted with good intentions. However, the advice above is outdated.
Firstly, not all women in Engineering are lesbians, some even have male partners or even husbands! (This is in reference to staying married to the first wife)
Secondly, all individuals, regardless of gender identity, have a responsibility to the people they live with and the abode they inhabit, to keep that abode both clean and tidy. This takes time. This comes after your work obligations but before hobbies. There are no excuses.
Thirdly, if you have children, then you must dedicate time to them, again regardless of your gender identity. This is not babysitting, this is parenting.
IF you have time left after all this, THEN you have time for hobbies and extra degrees. BUT NOT BEFORE.
I very much look forwards to a more modern idea on how to make it work for all engineers, regardless of gender identity, with modern understanding of shared responsibilities included. Perhaps engineers could be considering an arrangement with their work to work part time and study part time?
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