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The New Mech-E
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Re: Engineers need a bit of cognitive psychology!
The New Mech-E   3/27/2014 12:23:32 PM
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gearhead63.  I'm responding to your comment because I think it brings to light the simple and defining issue creating the problem Lance Jones is writing about.

I'm a 28 year old Mechanical Engineer in Lafayette, LA.  I work for a 75+ yr.-old oilfield service company with manufacturing capabilities.  Everything I've learned has been from my own vested interest, failing quickly, and failing cheaply.  My diploma is merely a piece of paper that gets me in to interviews.

Statistics are wonderful and insightful, and message boards are lovely venues for ongoing debate, but nothing compares with a Bell Labs type atmosphere where a solid mixture of academic and industrial mind sets converge to make relevant products.  Costs are high, but that atmosphere is a long term investment that gave us the transistor.


I propose an individual-based effort on the part of all engineers and workers, within all industries, to forgo pride and fatigue for the sake of real work.  If manufacturing and product development is going to thrive in America there must be a consensus among executives to foster creative and educational environments, within a reasonable deficit to the company's profit, in order to maintain the engineering knowledge prevalent to their business and maintain a steadily increasing efficiency among their employees that transcends age or skill level.

There has been an obvious decimation of talent due to retirement and the subsequent age gap, but the only relief I've been privy to is watching older engineers bow out of elevated job positions to sign on with smaller companies.  Only this allows for the possibility of passing on valuable industry-related information from the experienced to the nubile.  It is unavoidable; there are no distractions.


I think the solution will be found through individual effort, guided by lenient executive oversight, fostered by patience from investors.  There is no silver bullet.  There must be a shift of focus from what we want now, to the real work at hand.

TonyTib
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CEO
Re: Amazed
TonyTib   3/27/2014 12:40:40 PM
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Duane, your company is a small business, right?  I suspect there is a disconnect between the hiring practices of small (and maybe medium) sized companies and large companies.  (I work for a small company, and we've never worried abou age as far as I know - but we don't have to hire very often).

Jos.
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What are you doing to develop the next generation of engineers
Jos.   4/3/2014 3:38:21 PM
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I have seen numerous discussions similar to the subject of this post and I always end with the question of what are these people and companies doing to develop the next generation of engineers.  Have you considered hiring an engineer directly out of college and making the investment in developing their skills to meet your needs?  Not all new engineers want to write the next great app, many want to use their hardware and software skill to develop real world products.  You complain about wanting that perfect ten year experienced candidate. Guess what, so does everyone else. 

 

Most entry level engineers are fast learners and hard workers, typically with in six month they can learn enough about your product to become productive.  The good news is you now have an engineer who has been trained in your particular niche of a market.  This has worked out particularly well for my company (embedded hardware). We have also noted that these young engineer stay with the company longer and advance faster then many of the "10 year" vets that we higher.

 

The Telephone Museum
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Re: What are you doing to develop the next generation of engineers
The Telephone Museum   4/6/2014 8:35:10 AM
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I'm building a Telephone Museum where we teach kids Ohm's law with old analog phones.

Here is what we are doing>> http://igg.me/p/710371/x/3296475

Please let me know what you think...

 

Andrew.Inness
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Many mid level engineers leave the field
Andrew.Inness   4/22/2014 12:04:46 PM
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I have seen that a lot of the mid level engineers are also leaving the field for the likes of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Once they gain some experience (5-10yrs) then they are jumping to these new trendy jobs and leaving the field altogether. This may not apply to all engineering fields, but it is an example of where the 30 somethings can end up.

nonvolatile
User Rank
CEO
Re: Engineers need a bit of cognitive psychology!
nonvolatile   4/26/2014 9:33:37 AM
I copied these two paragraphs from your reply so that I focus on what I also think about this subject:

Statistics are wonderful and insightful, and message boards are lovely venues for ongoing debate, but nothing compares with a Bell Labs type atmosphere where a solid mixture of academic and industrial mind sets converge to make relevant products.  Costs are high, but that atmosphere is a long term investment that gave us the transistor.


I propose an individual-based effort on the part of all engineers and workers, within all industries, to forgo pride and fatigue for the sake of real work.  If manufacturing and product development is going to thrive in America there must be a consensus among executives to foster creative and educational environments, within a reasonable deficit to the company's profit, in order to maintain the engineering knowledge prevalent to their business and maintain a steadily increasing efficiency among their employees that transcends age or skill level.


You hit upon my key problem with engineering education which is the process of knowledge transfer - whether at the university or at a company. 

I have been teaching Electrical Enginering for 32 years and I also created 3 start-ups. I still own a "knowledge company" now 28 years old. I started it because I was getting tired of many of the things that has been discussed all over the comments to this topic.

this is the center problem for engineering profession in the USA today: "nothing compares with a Bell Labs type atmosphere where a solid mixture of academic and industrial mind sets converge to make relevant products" 


The very success of engineering, whether it is software, middleware, hardware or chips, became the hidden enemy of the engineer. Let me explain: I never met an engineering student that was not passionate about Math and Physics. I also, met many that love to build things. Now, the combination of these two aspects of the young men and women usually crash into two black holes: (1) The university is a real disappointment in making these subjects and others, show some connectivity. That is, 2 semester of calculus and a lousy course in differential equation taught by mathematicians that actually cannot stand to be teaching service courses to engineering departments, and are unable to demonstrate how it all comes together from math to applications is the first down the student gets. If he is a "grade cut throat athelet", he just conquers the course/professor/exam/grade algorithm and moves on. Emplyers look for the so called "smart kids". As professor, I tried to teach focused on the average kids and transform their passion into a little vallued skill which is at the core of any college education: "The skill of lifelong learning". The worse even happens in physics, again taught as a service course (dont't you just love how crazy this is - we talk about STEM and we teach "Service Courses" without any linkage to the engineering mindset). With 2 semester of physics, you practically only learn to just pass the course. By the end of the final semester, just before finals, you learn about a certain wave equation, and that is all of quantum mechanics. To make matter worse, in Electrical Engineering, in the past 20 years or so,the requirement for Thermodynamics has been dropped from the curriculum, So, the young person does not get teh key points on how Science becomes both the tool and the setting for engineering problem solving. (2) Then, the BSEE degree, after a badly taught two first years - service courses in chemistry, writing etc. - hits you with the the 4 core subjects of engineering (electrical in my case) which are 1. Linear Systems (now being "masked" into DSP courses or even feed back control systems; 2. A lousy solid state course a la "Streetman" - basics ,pn junctions, bipolar and MOS; end of the story; 3. An equally lousy Electromagnetic Theory course (in mechanical this is substituted for Fluid mechanics and in Chemical for "Transport theory") in which for perhaps the first time you see partial differential equations - which you never really saw in your "ordinary differential equations" pass through in calculus 3 (with some sprincles of linear algebra) - most people hate these "Hard courses" and run towards the "easy stuff" which is learning these computer languages that land you a job. 4. To make sure that with linear systems and statistics you can do the "communication" course of the elective pool in the senior year - you get a "probability and Statistics" course which can go from BS to some decent stochastic processes. These 4 pillars, again totally disconnected and not well connected to whatever you managed to learn in the first 4 semesters, you are now ready to get the "electives" that are more what we think of engineering- control, communications, VLSI design, Microprocessor-based systems, embedded systems, etc. In fact, the areas divide into 4 major branches: 1. Physical Electronics (Solid State and Electromagnetics); 2. Systems (Control and communications); 3. Circuit Design (VLSI or Hardware design - now a separate branch called "Computer Engineering"): and, 4. "software" of all levels, kinds and shapes. Also, hidden behind all this is the invasion of busy work of the Mathlab kind of problem solving and calculations (nothing against Narhlab or labview or mathematic etc. - but busy work is not a good way to put these tools in). And there you have it: You are an electrical engineer. And then, bang! that first Job is just nothing but "busy work" dead end jobs. Some of us, run to graduate school to get a real education from people who never saw the real world and there you may end up with a PhD and become a professor. If you also never see the real world, and are not reading not only the Technical Journals but also the wall street journal, you are a dinosaur from day one. Technology is part technical, part business, part law, part culture, part .....part of the Vision that a Nation has for itself. No vision, no direction. No vision, no inspiration.

So, in this bleak domain, we manage to still do beautiful things and make human life better and society advance. But, that "Vision Think" is really destroying this profession. The ambiance of the "Bell Labs/ academic and industrial and the mentorship of gray hair genisus (people who really know why Poisson;s equation can combine with Schrodinger's equation and materials science" and make some wonder such as the transistor)" simply died! Yes, its is gone and some miic of it is in Taiwan or India or Mainland China.  Europe, besides Germany, never really got it. We did  - from Tesla, Edison, and the semiconductor pioneers, and glorified in Bell Labs, we got the idea - innovation comes from applied knowledge with deep understanding of the sciences into a great american invention: "THE INDUSTRIAL LABORATORY". No, not desogn labs, not CAD pools, not testing areas - simply The true source of directed, educated and collegial "INDUSTRIAL LAB". This is where ideas were fused into discoveries and true innovative deep end engineering products. Innovation per se is extremely banal - one can innovate a new chocolate chip cookie. A new business model etc. This works to make many rich. Easier yet, is to be at the right time and right place and come up with the idea of a facebook or whatsup. Wall street loves these quick buck schemes. But, as time passes, these things age, and true innovation is still out there waiting for that "Vision Thing" in every level, to attack the real hard problems like energy,water,transportation etc. And, that is not done by web athelets. It is done from hard science and translated into products by ENGINEERS. 

So, the business model of "Supply Chain" economics inplicitey transport the "problem solving" to where things are really made and keep offices of "management and control teams" in the US. I know of a major automotive subsystem suppliers that has less than 100 people here and almost 300,000 in Brazil.

Since, "necessity is the mother of invention", if you are not closer to the problem you are nowhere near the solution. So we now have the "entrepreneur" professor (I should not talk, I am considered one of them by ignorants who do not understand my model(see below)). And, without visionaries, the most important aspect of science and engineering simply evaporate: It is the definition of a good problem and the struggle to solve it that makes good engineers. No vision, no good problems. So, we have parades of solution-engineers, aging and young engineers entering into this vision vaccum without a clue of what and even why was it necessary to get an education. Furthermore, I mean EDUCATION, not TRAINING. Seldom vision comes from somebody "trained" - you can train a dog, a monkey. But, an educated man, has learned to learn, and that is what we need in an engineer, or any profession. It is said to see that the so called University Research and the NSF funding became a "business" and not a support of excellence in a targeted area of National or global interest. How many times you heard "solutions company" or the government lingo of NSF "Transformational and Translational Research" -are these slogan all that we can do?

So, your excellent comments of the individual has to learn a lot by himself is also connected with the question of the overall reason to do so. This reason is lacking at universites and corporations. We are all doing a very bad job in creating a well linked chain from school to career in which continuous learning, mentorship and experience can generate creativity flashes in our ranks. We thus end up with this situation which is killing this country. Worse yet, the "leaders" in industry, government and academia, when they get together, they talk buzz words and generalities, and the whole thing becomes like those motivational self-help seminar type of atmosphere where self-admitted "Know it alls" preach absolutely nothing that is real.

To end, I created a company to have this "Bell's lab" environment. And, I do not mean a "google office" with the human environment which is so fashinable today. I mean an academically driven "Search and Development: company, with only word as a business plan: WIN. And a motto: Knowledge is not just know how, it is know why, and truth wins" - so is this real - not really easy to survive, but yes, it is real and over 200 US patents plus 350 foreign and clients that need a solution or we do what we call "SEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT" - no Re-SEARCH, we integrate needs with an innovative approach to fulfill that need. Focused, targeted, deep-knowledge oriented research is what we need to teach at universites and we need real MEN (or WOMEN) in corporate America to stand up and see a bit beyond the next quater sales results and separate operations for today from the smart teams that can be put together and be the core of the future products generate by the company. And, I do not mean the IBM model, in which prima donnas sit in their office and become effectively college professors, ready to travel to far away conferences. This model entered the semiconductor industry and we see IBM selling their lot in that. No, I mean "Dreamers with a cause".

So there you have it, when Bill Gates is booed giving a pitch to students about software or engineering, you now know why. It isn't that we are not ready, it is that the system is working in a self-destructive manner....and they call it cretive destruction. Ah!

salbayeng
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Re: Engineers need a bit of cognitive psychology!
salbayeng   5/1/2014 11:19:34 PM
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Hi Nonvolatile.

( with background sound of applause )

I saw the length of your post, and took the courtesy to read it thoroughly.

I worked within an industry lab for 28 Years , which was fortunately adjacent to the local university. The lab produced many great achievements, basically because we had academics and hands-on techs and end users working shoulder to shoulder.

But it eventually fell foul of sycophants in mid management and "buzzworditis". My group was first to be offered a cross-continent move to leased premises "to be closer to the customer" , I saw the writing on the wall and took the golden parachute, I was lucky to be one of the first out, as the parachutes got smaller as the lab atrophied. 

My teenage son is in senior school and I help out occassionally there with some STEM training. Some of the kids are struggling even with ohms law, yet they are all brilliant with fancy computer programming. Seems to be a preoccupation with gloss and vaporware. This attitude follows them through their academic  years and on to full time employment. 

 

Duane Benson
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Re: Amazed
Duane Benson   5/7/2014 7:21:30 PM
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TonyTib - I wouldn't call my business small. Maybe medium size, but it's mostly manufacturing. The engineering hires are typically software with the occasional ME and EE type as well.

We're small enough that we do get some flexibility in hiring though. That means, I don't have to filter resumes based on keywords and I don't have to worry about someone in HR disqualifying someone based on some excuse that really means "old."

The primary weakness that I see occurs in young and old candidates equally. That weakness is lack of real care and initiative. I don't care how young or old someone is. If they take the time to understand my business, my market and my customers, they will have a leg up.

Conversely, if a candidate comes in and barely knows what my company does or what world it plays in, they start out with a long way to go. Again, it doesn't matter the age.

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