This is an industry of change. If you can change with it then you're OK. If you can't then you're road kill.
Wisdom has a shelf life too and it is important for older engineers to be realistic about which of their skills and knowledge are still useful and relevant.
I know and work with some highly competent aging engineers (some much older than me and I'm 50). They keep current, They experiment with robotics, they design FPGA boards for fun. While they can still use cvs, they'll prefer to use more modern source control tools.
I have also worked with the opposite extreme too. The curmudgeonly old salt who still designs with through hole transistors from his private stash that he saved from the dumpster 10 years ago. The guy who refuses to use FETs. The guy who designs a new board using a 8051 because he still has the DOS-based development tools and wanted the challenge of running it up under DOSBOX.
Some of the older engineers I've met have actually progressed into a career as a fly fishing or hunting "pro" at this nations largest outdoor retailer. Now if they could only afford to buy what they themselves are selling, then it would be a just end to a long and remarkable career.
Another myth I was told when I entered engineering in the late 60's was that the half-life of an EE was 5 years. If that were true, I would never get past three questions playing "Are you smarter than a 5th-grader?" today.
Continued: It comes down to numbers and supply/demand. Why keep, as some managers think, an old person who has one year’s experience 20 times over (actually said by a young management trainee to an experienced engineer) when there are hoards of fresh new engineers lined up outside the door eager to grab the oars and row ramming speed as the norm only to be tossed overboard even before meals are served? Why train engineers when you have a zero training mentality (like a fast food place that will not be named) that believes any job but management are “plug and play” then whine when it’s really “plug and pray”? Engineers are now being seen as little plastic gears that are disposable and need replaced periodically as a rule. In the past these little gears may had been made to last since the “machine” would grind to a halt till a replacement was found if it broke, but today it is a throw away workplace. Gee, I wonder why engineering is not the hot career as in the past for new college students? Now if you are the few mutant uber engineers (9 and 10 level) in college that create the inventions that will make the others billions and getting just a paycheck, you will obviously be in great demand (if you have not already started your own company). If you are instead an average US engineer (5-7) coming out of college then why hire you when there are 19 new level 4-8 engineers in the world lined up at the door? Young people smart enough to be engineers are smart enough to see that after 4+ years of school and possibly 5-10 years of actual work, you are now considered old and need scraped (like an athlete), why would you then want to avoid that career? With people living longer (80+) this attitude that you are toast by your 30’s (Logan’s Run) will not bode well for those who want to have a career (or family). Yep, myopic man-agers to save on shoes blow off one foot and thus are reduced to hopping, only then realizing a person needs two feet to run.
Again employers are shooting themselves in both feet using a shotgun and then ask why they cannot run a marathon. One foot is older engineers (i.e. experienced engineers who evolved with the technology) who know how things really function despite what non-engineers say and can produce results that others really need but do not want to feel grateful (i.e. compensation) to the engineers for saving them. On the other foot are the new inexperienced engineers who are eager to please (i.e. have large student loans), subservient, and produce results that are possibly usable with the “newest techniques”, but know their proper place on the food chain no matter how many times they save the day.
The intent of this article (to me) appears to be a humourous and sarcastic observation of what is unfortunately too true for many older engineers who have had the bad luck to be laid off. The young HR people are not familiar with real technology and look only at the age of prospective employees when making the hiring decision. They do not realize that the fundamental laws of nature and physics have not changed in the last 200 years.
I am one of those older engineers and the big difference is that not only can I design the instrumentation package for an industrial machine, but I can also design the controls, and then write the PLC control program, and correctly size the motor overload protection. Not just one of those who is an expert on one particular model of microcontroller. Or only able to design a digital ASIC, but unable to design the circuits that link it to reality.
A Book For All Reasons Bernard Cole1 Comment Robert Oshana's recent book "Software Engineering for Embedded Systems (Newnes/Elsevier)," written and edited with Mark Kraeling, is a 'book for all reasons.' At almost 1,200 pages, it ...