It's hard to read news of the electronics industry these days and not want to develop a drinking problem. I looked at the eetimes.com home page last week and the top stories were:
"Former fed official: One of four U.S. jobs headed overseas"
"Plunging prices squeeze hard-drive industry"
"SIA cuts chip forecast for 2007"
Well, I'm in the news business, and I'm here to tell you it's never as bad as it reads. Is it tough? You bet.
In the case of jobs, clearly positions that can exploit lower wages and less intellectual experience will move to locations offshore. You can't really prevent that without invoking some protectionist legislation that invariably turns around to bite you in the fanny. I still believe the leading edge of any design wave will happen for the foreseeable future in North America and Europe. It's where the spirit of innovation lives. Asia, at least for the time being, is where the spirit of cost-design lives. It started in Japan, moved to Taiwan and now is emerging in China.
The other issue is plunging average selling prices. That puts pressure on margins, which puts pressure on salaries and other aspects of the budget. But aren't plunging ASPs the way it should be? This is the triumph of Moore's Law. What was unimaginable 10 to 20 years ago sits in your pocket now. Can you imagine what we'll have in another 10 to 20 years? No you can't, but you know it will blow your mind in retrospect.
But it doesn't all go to zero. There are a couple of companies at the vanguard of a movement that is trying to put design in the hands of nonengineers. National Instruments, with things like its Lego Mindstorms partnership, wants to enable professionals like geophysicists and astronomers to design their own systems for their own specialized needs. Cypress Semiconductor is trying to put design in the hands of lighting designers with a new LED controller, eval board and graphical-based software tool. It's way early, but it's the right track.
Of course, this trend doesn't bode well for systems designers. If you put the capability of system design in the hands of Joe Sixpack, you take someone's job away.
But do you really think Joe Engineer's job description will remain static forever? It won't. New multi- disciplinary technical fields are emerging in the universities right now. And the kids today? They're a boatload smarter than you and I were back then.
So what about you, the employed 40-something EE? You'll adapt quickly to the new paradigm, whatever it is. That's because you're an engineer and you were born to solve problems. I'll definitely drink to that.