EE Times: What are the next big innovations to watch for in communications?
Estrin: I've haven't been as close to that sector in the last few years. In general the thing to watch for is where's the next bottleneck -- that's where innovation will be. Look for the stresses on systems, the impact of mobility and the cloud, and the need for security and privacy. There are technology, ethics, and policy crossovers there.
The whole field of electronic engineering is no longer about looking at these elements on their own, but with more of a systems view, an interdisciplinary view of how everything interacts and the effect of that interaction on the component you are designing.
It's interesting to see where semiconductors are going and where the next comms breakthrough will be, but what's more interesting are the system-level trends and how they impact the architecture of individual components. These days in engineering so many interesting things are at cross-sections of disciplines, such as engineering and neuroscience or engineering and medicine of any type.
EE Times: How would you characterize the status and outlook for women in engineering today?
Estrin: In life science it is better than in engineering. My sense is we are not making great progress specifically in engineering. I think we are also not making great progress for American men and boys outside computer science, where hacking is cool.
There are a number of things that give me hope that in 10 or 20 years things may be better. There are Maker Faires and Sally Ride science camps targeted at the fifth grade drop-off in STEM interest in girls and boys, because then it's no longer cool to be in science. There are a number of programs, but it takes a long time to get it into the pipeline.
One issue is getting people to understand that engineering makes a difference in the world. Girls see engineering as sitting in front of a computer and think you don't interact with people and make a difference.
I talk about what engineering really is -- studying how to solve problems and build things, and it does change the world. It involves a lot of working with people. The way we teach engineering also has to have more diversity to accommodate the ways people learn.
EE Times: Will the emerging massive open online courses (MOOCs) fix that?
Estrin: MOOCs will solve some problems for some people and muddy the water for others. There are no magic bullets.