In an Oct. 24 Crosstalk letter ("Engineering: It's Still a Man's World," page 32), I read again about the small portion of engineering personnel who are female. "The gender gap will only shrink when active mentoring programs reach down into the middle schools, changing the perception of engineering in general and specifically encouraging girls to think of becoming engineers," the letter states.
I have listened to this same position for nearly all the 30 years of my career. I guess the affirmative-action programs that allowed me to receive that high-paying, $14,000-a-year job with my advanced degree, while female engineers with lesser degrees were hired for thousands more a year, have failed. So now we talk about the engineering gender gap as just a matter of training and desire.
There was a time when I wanted to play the drums. Nearly seven years of training, and I never could play a song that contained anything faster that a quarter-note. Seems I was not coordinated enough.
My daughter graduated at the top of her high school class. She went into chemical engineering in college but changed her major to accounting after struggling with low grades. She probably just did not understand the math well enough. So tell me why she was at the top of her graduating accounting class, sought after by professors and businesses alike for her skills.
The other day I overheard a conversation between a small girl, probably no older than five, and her father. They were watching water go down a drain, and she asked, "Where does the water go?" Now that girl, I believe, is a girl who could become an engineer. But even at that age, there are many more boys than girls asking such questions.
The music world is dominated by people who as children amazed others with their abilities. The sports world is dominated by tall people who can run fast or jump high. Why, then, do we not pass laws, form support groups or mandate parity for those who can't sing, play an instrument, run fast or jump high-or, better yet, who are short and fat like me? I think I can hear the reader laughing at me for that stupid idea. Yet we seem to ignore the inherent ability for extremely logical reasoning that engineering requires and continue to say that the skill can be acquired through early mentoring. [We might as well encourage] young people to grow to 7 feet tall and 250 pounds by telling them every day that they should consider a pro basketball career.
Certainly, we should encourage all young people to work hard to acquire the knowledge and develop the thought processes that are required in the scientific world. But if they decide that painting is their real future, then let them do it and be proud of those who do become come engineers.
Amos Young, Engineer
AMI Semiconductor Inc.
Program helps small businesses help themselves
I agree with George Leopold's views in "Innovation, not handouts" (Sept. 19, page 4). Alternative System Concepts Inc. is a small EDA business I built on Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program Phase I and Phase II grants and contracts. Some of the technology was successfully commercialized and sold directly or through distributors and OEMs. Enacted by Congress in 1980, SBIR lets small businesses retain ownership of intellectual-property data rights.
The government has realized that many SBIR innovations need funding beyond Phase II before the technology is mature enough to be transitioned into major programs. It calls this gap funding Phase III and encourages prime contractors to work with small businesses to find applications for SBIR technologies. Prime contractors have been invited to regional and national conferences that explain the Phase III concept. Phase III contracts can be sole-source, since Phase I involved open procurement.
There are vastly more small businesses than large primes. This creates a many-to-few matching problem-or, from the other perspective, a needle-in-the-haystack search challenge. Taking SBIR into account creates a different scenario. Google, anyone?
Alternative System Concepts Inc.