Switching gears takes time, and usually this time must be your own self-motivated time, invested speculatively; this is fairly painless, when engineering is a hobby as well as a livelihood.
The payoffs are huge, even when you aren't in the hot-seat: you can communicate meaningfully with the specialist on your team who *is* in the hot-seat, because you "speak the same language", and truly understand the issues at stake.
It also promotes innovation: entrenched long-term specialization often results in conventionality (if not downright complacency), whereas a broad spectrum of multi-disciplinary exposure always produces a fresh perspective, cross-fertilization, and new ways to solve problems.
I worked in hardware for 17 years but after building my own computer in the 70s I decided I liked software. I interviewed at over a dozen companies and they all pushed me to hardware not software. They all cited lack of software experience. At one interview, while waiting to talk to a vice president, I was talking to the department head just taking up time. He mentioned the PDP11 and I told him I knew the octal equivalent for all the opcodes so he got the DEC manual and gave me a test. He told me later that after that he decided I knew enough about software to hire me. Of course he didn't realize that it was debugging hardware through the debug terminal that got me to memorize the codes.
In theory it is possible of course, some would say neceessary, but in reality, the pressure for quick turnarounds means that only few Engineers can make a complete switch to a different area successfully, and it usually happens once at an early stage of one's career.
Employers today seem to want (contract) engineers with 3 to 5 years experience in the latest hot technology. If you don't have experience, you can't get the job. If you can't get the job, you can't get the experience.... Take all of the courses that you want. You still won't have the experience.
Completely agree. An Engineer can shift from Circuit Switched to Embedded Programming all the Engineer needs is trainingt and opportunity in a company or a team. People with multi- talents are an asset to the organisation.
Duane, from personal experience I agree that moving from analog to digital is easier -- because the best digital engineers recognize all the analog ways in which their digital circuits might not have the right voltage at the right time!
To EE's comments, I agree that the baby boomer generation has the advantage of lots of years of experience doing a lot of different things in electronics. But that doesn't necessarily mean that gen Y won't have the same opportunities. Baby boomers will be retiring soon, and at least in the U.S, there are not enough gen Y's to take their places.
I believe that the era of shortsighted management and "all engineers are created equal" is also short-lived. When times were good and profits were easy, perhaps it didn't matter so much whether the ship was headed perfectly in the right direction or not -- or whether a project was staffed with domain expertise or just some warm bodies. A business manager could be wildly successful simply by not doing something incredibly stupid.
But in the lean/mean world of tomorrow, domain expertise will again be a differentiator, and engineers who can make winning products -- as opposed to engineers who simply have a piece of paper from a university and a pulse -- will again be valued for the business contribution they can make to the business manager that is clever enough to hire them! And business managers who have creativity and vision and are clever enough to recognize the importance of employees -- those who have domain expertise rather than just a pulse -- will also be rewarded.
I totally agree what you said. However, in my experience and articles I read. Most managers want almost exactly the skillset in the requirements. I suspect it is because there are a lot of options (H1B) who have those skillset. So they do not reqire to be trained and can produce immediately. The managers also need to take a risk the engineers may leave once they have skillset (higher salary or other reasons). So, they think it may not worth to train them! It is different from old days, many engineers will stay the same company for the whole career.
You are an exceptional manager.
Based on most good engineers that I've known, I'd say that the ability to "switch gears" is pretty much intrinsic in the engineering mindset. The entire discipline is essentially one of problem solving and the learned problem solving techniques generally apply across a lot of fields. Certainly doing IC design is a lot different than designing a bridge, but as long as someone is willing to learn, there is a lot of room for taking a skill set and moving it to a different area.
There are limitations though. I suspect it's easier for an analog engineer to move into digital than is the reverse. Some areas are just more difficult than others. But, what I've seen as the biggest limitation on and engineers flexibility is written into the typical job description.
A company might ask for five years experience in a field that's only been around for four. Management's lack of understanding of exactly what a good engineer is causes that problem. Having hired folks myself, I understand the desire to have someone be designing at full-speed the minute the plop down in front of their new workstation. That's just not realistic no matter how much experiences someone has.