I believe that people who are driven to a profession because they feel drawn to the excitement of it are, for the most part, the ones who are most successful in that profession. I became an electronics engineer and have absolutely no regrets. I love the work, even though my efforts and achievements have so very often gone unnoticed and under appreciated or completely unappreciated. Yes, I would like the recognition that I never received, but the most important thing to me is the constant learning and the coming up with new, unique solutions to problems. For me, nothing can beat this!
I have a great sense of satisfaction when I do something that others find difficult to impossible, teach a young engineer something he or she might otherwise take a long time to learn or convey new ideas to mature engineers. What fun I am having! I am past retirement age, but I am just having too darned much fun to retire!
It is true that engineers are not paid very well for what we do. We work much more than 40 hours a week because we are driven to do this from within. For many engineers our work is our hobby and we have our own engineering laboratory that may take up half of our garage or what should be a bedroom and many of our weekends are spent there having so much fun it is unimaginable! How many people are so lucky to have a profession that is a hobby and so enjoyable?
To our young people I say, find out what really turns you on and go for it! If you really enjoy it, the learning is so much easier and you will be better at your work than most people are at their work. NEVER choose a profession for the pay. If you enjoy your work, you will be good. If you are really good, your pay for that field will most likely follow and you will be paid well for that profession, even if not completely compensated for your work contribution.
At my work, I train Indians everyday to do software engineering. The thing to realize is that they are pretty much the same as us, nor better nor worse. They are only cheaper. Someday in the next few years they will be taking my job, but hopefully not before I retire. But does that mean I would not recommend engineering to our youth. No. Sooner or later, the US will become a legacy paper tiger. When the US realizes that the gave away their competitive edge, the engineers will be back in demand. That should be about the time todays's 5 year old graduates from college.
I agree with this statement by Dr Internet: "We, as a society, have to learn to value engineering as much as law and medicine.". The fact is engineers, notwithstanding the praise and admiration they get from society (and non-geeks), still do not get the respect they deserve nor do they get the status they should be accorded. I worked as a consultant in Italy and was pleasantly surprised at the deference accorded engineers. In the social rung, they got more status than judges (at least in my days). This is the first problem our kids sense. The second one is they see us work non-stop and they say, I want to have a life. I can see their point. As someone pointed above, I advised my kids to pursue their passion, knowing they will achieve if they do this.
As to promising engineering disciplines, I would say systems, enterprise software, anything with green energy and ambient sensing, bio, space and robotics.
Now let us start improving the image and mystique of the engineer, shall we?
We can not go back to the glorious past, we will look into the future. Yes, there is a shipping of jobs over-seas, and decline of engineering salaries in US soil. Government wont help the engineers, and the big corporates wont either. We EEs have to help ourselves and find solution to the career crisis (or so it seems) by adopting.
May be we have a problem with price/skills ratio of our profession? May be there is something we can improve in ourselves as engineers? May be our skill-sets are not well adopted to the present environment. May be we can modify our attitudes? May be our focus on a secure living and not the love for meddling with things led us to the profession? May be we fold our sleeves up and get down to finding ways to generate economic value the off-shore people cant. If there is value to be created, then the demand and hence the salaries will be there. It is about adopting and creating superior value.
Isnít engineering about problem-solving after all?
Engineering is in decline in North America, that is for sure. Jobs are scarce and do not not pay well if one is lucky to get one. Design freedom and quality of work is sacrificed for the sake of lowest man-hrs often pushed by non-technical management and higher ups, without realizing that the long-term cost when bugs will be reported back and some one has to put time to fix them anyway. Engineering jobs are getting scarce also because employers are demanding experience which is very hard to come by. The on-the-job experience has become a bad word here. How many students or other unemployed engineers can get an internship to get that experience and what about who could not get that internships? Tools (other than some software) are expensive and an individual can not afford them in North American. On the other hand the people who don't want to give engineers a chance to learn on the job here, are spending millions to teach, train, provide tools and on-the-job training in India and China because that is where the products are made. Engineers in North America just can not duplicate the resources here to learn and support them and their families. It is sad state of affairs.
Bob - you hit the nail on the head. I have been doing this for well over 40 years. It all started when at 7-8 years old I started taking tube type table radios apart to figure out how they worked. Over the years this has led to several sayings: Engineers are born, not made. Engineering is not just a job, it is a way of thinking about everything, it is a way of life. Many engineers spouses have been driven to distraction by the detailed focus, and long hours their engineer spouses put in. Many with an engineering degree who went into management or sales are not the ones born to it. But good for those who can do it all.
There are lots of interesting things for the engineers. I have satisfactions with my engineering career and is preparing to retire in a year. I did my Ph.D. work in solar cell but I never had the opportunity to work in that area again. But solar energy has been the dream for many engineers and scientists. What can be more rewarding for the semiconductor industry if solar cell techology can become commercially successful. Although I am biased towards solar cell, any sustainable energy technology will bring a lot of good to all of the world. Nuclear, wind, hydro, bio - - -, wish our future engineers and scientiest good luck and good working!!!
Oh dear, oh dear.....I am hoping that as a non-US citizen, my comments won't be dismissed out of hand. As an Aussie, I hope that I can shed some light on the bigger picture. Criticise me if you will, however I have taken the attitude that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. That's why I am now (and have been for about the past 6 years) working in Asia. I have been an educator in Australia (Computer Engineering) and an educator in Japan (Electronics Engineering). I have been a scientist (Medical Physics) in Australia and an Engineer (Director of Engineering) in a Chinese owned company in Hong Kong. (I say Engineer, because there was a lot of hands-on engineering work involved in the role). I have been able to go where there has been a demand for my skills, (and, alas to the detriment of my family life) however I consider that what I have achieved (and am still achieving) will benefit people all over the world of all walks of life. Selflessness is what we should be encouraging in our children, whatever their calling. Unfortunately there is far too much selfishness in today's society.
However, back to the point of the article. Apollo has been hailed for decades now as the forefather of technical and engineering advancement. I believe that unless and until there is another challenge to motivate a nation (no, I don't mean a war), then we will not see such advances again in the near future. As far as the areas of Electronics Engineering which will blossom in the near future...the best advancements were all made by accident...let's just pray for another accident! Seriously though, Engineering as a methodology is slow and thorough by it's very nature...whatever happened to brainstorming? Yes, I do realise that I haven't nominated the areas of EE where students / young engineers should focus, but that's because nobody can predict when or where the next "accident" will happen.
@DF, I agree, I too hear a lot of the "grass is always greener" talk. People should follow their passions and puruse a career that gives them satisfaction. Whatever field you choose to study, you should do so because it's something that fulfills you, not because of salary comparisons with other fields.
There will always be people who love their jobs and people who hate their jobs. The people who love their jobs sometimes say "I can't believe I get paid to do this!" and the people who hate their jobs are the ones who, when you ask why they chose thier particular career path, will say "I'm doing this for the money."