Jack Ganssle's opinion piece (see "The Wal-Mart economy," Oct. 31, page 4) was very interesting. The engineer whose e-mail you published certainly feels a lot of angst, and I feel for him, but I can't say I entirely agree. Instead of "terrible," I would describe the job market as "different." Here in Austin it isn't booming, but it isn't bad-unless one compares it with the bubble years, when the boom was pulling people from other sectors into engineering and IT just to fill the needs. Now that the bubble has popped, things are a lot more competitive.
Does the government need to protect our jobs? Absolutely not. Trying to fight market forces with restrictions only makes the problem worse (witness Germany's labor woes). Restricting American companies from using foreign development just makes American companies uncompetitive and hands the advantage to foreign companies. (Honda and Toyota continue to increase factory employment in the United States, while Ford and GM are hamstrung by UAW restrictions and continue to cut jobs.)
We need to put our effort in two places: continuing to improve our productivity to stay ahead, and increasing the number of American kids who go into engineering. About 50 percent of engineers with PhDs working in the United States are foreign-born (www7.nationalacademies.org/ ocga/testimony/ Importance_of _Foreign_Scientists _and_Engineers_ to_US.asp); the percentages for lower educational levels are similar.
That we attract so many foreign students is a huge advantage, but if we don't continue to develop our own talent, it will only increase the drive to look overseas for the best and the brightest.
Software Engineer, Austin, Texas
In a tough business climate, flexibility is everything
Frustration may lead, as Jack Ganssle observed, to the risk of exaggeration, but that does not diminish the underlying truth. Perhaps part of the problem is that qualified people have lost their flexibility and refuse any offer that is not as secure, conventional and safe-no matter how delusional the appearance of safety-as their old jobs. It's a new world, and people with skills are still entitled to decent employment. But they are not entitled to insulation from change. No one else is.
Fisher Aircraft Corp.
Thank you for "The Wal-Mart economy," by Jack Ganssle. My late father was an electrical engineer. His company-founded in the late 1940s, purchased by him in the middle 1960s and now operated by his children-struggles to exist today. We used to always have about 100 people. Today we have less than 12.
Our reality today is a customer that wants information about how to do something. They don't want to pay us for the information. They want a detailed, line-by-line quote. Once they have that, they get on the Internet and begin their own search. They aren't so interested in quality. They are keenly interested in how cheaply they can get it done.
Many manufacturers whose products we represent will cut their own deals with our customers, if they find out who our customer is. We don't get a commission, or a thank you.
Today, when I contact technical support somewhere in the USA, I am not surprised to learn that technical support is a help desk staffed with people who aren't necessarily that technical. When pressed with questions, it is not uncommon to be told that the folks in (pick a Pac Rim nation) haven't shared that information with them.
Educationally, our state board of education talks about its successes in math and science. Where do these successes go? I have a few friends in companies seeking technical support. I hear lots of comments about not finding people with math or science skills.
I am seriously looking at a local technical college's courses in IT. I might go back to school and get some certifications. Perhaps I can do something in a cubicle somewhere, rather than wearing the blue [Wal-Mart] vest.
Name withheld by request
Oklahoma City, Okla.