Before I began editing Printed Circuit Design, "everything I knew about printed circuit boards and engineering, I learned from 'Star Trek.'" Seriously. (I'm not even sure that I'd met an electrical engineer before attending my first PCB Design Conference.)
"Star Trek" got it right-even way back in the late 1960s when the original series first aired. Think about it. First from Scotty and then from O'Brien, we learned that engineers are creative and ingenious people who can design or fix anything-even when time is running out and lives depend on it-which makes them a valuable asset to the team.
We learned that the computers of the future would have voice recognition and be able to respond verbally. We learned that touch screens would make data entry fast and easy. We learned that small wireless handheld devices would give us newfound freedom. We learned that the circuit boards of the future would be small and look a lot like a chunk of colored Lucite. (Can anyone say "optoelectronics"?) Of course, we also learned that engineers fall for scantily-clad green-skinned female aliens, but we'll ignore that part.
There is at least one more important engineering lesson to be gained from "Star Trek." (I'm thinking about the movies now.) While there will always be young, hotshot engineers with more brains than experience, there's always a place for crusty old engineers who have seen and solved it all. When Associate Editor Andy Shaughnessy and I saw Scotty (James Doohan) in the Delta Crown Room on our way home from DAC 2001, we didn't bother him with autograph requests or gushing compliments. Yet as we looked over at him, we had no trouble imagining him dressed in a Star Fleet uniform. We could almost hear him explaining to the captain in a passable Scots burr: "I canna push her any more, Captain; she's givin' us all she's got!" And then, he'd somehow coax just a little more of the Enterprise and save the day.
Today's electrical engineers and designers push the technology envelope all the time. Maybe we sometimes take that for granted. Maybe we also take it for granted that when the time comes for you to retire, someone younger will be there to take over and fill your shoes. I see young engineers at shows like DAC and the PCB Design Conferences, but I don't see all that many young PCB designers. Look around at your peers as you attend classes and stroll through the exhibits at PCB Design Conference East later this month (Sept. 10-14 in Worcester, MA).
And when the results of the 2001 Salary Survey are published in the November 2001 issue, pay close attention to the median age statistics by job function. Survey stats from the last four years all point toward a "graying" of the PCB layout/design profession. What does this mean? How do new designers enter the profession? Where do they receive training? Does this concern you and your company? We'd like to hear from you on these issues. Send your letters and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.