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JeffL_2
User Rank
CEO
The "inevitable" race to the bottom
JeffL_2   3/20/2014 12:04:17 PM
It seems that every large company that's even remotely connected to the tech industry has been behaving as if all of Asia (and their notoriously inexpensive wage base) just moved in next door and is threatening to "blow them out" with cheaper labor costs including tech wages. If they really believe that then the next "straw man" is that "training is futile" because surely my hypercompetition would just let go whoever doesn't have "working experience" (you know, claimed to have worked five years in a field that's only existed for six months) in the very "latest technologies" (which are often trivially diffreent than something that already existed in another field, but it's significant because we're only concerned here about the level of corporate paranoia) and just hire those who do, so I have to follow suit. To this we add "spreadsheet mangement" in which we calculate the cost of everything but appreciate the value of nothing (ie my net "value" to my employer solely exists in the contents of a spreadsheet cell that knows nothing about which technologies I'm trained in, other than what I'm currently working on) and you're pretty close to what we're seeing right now. You're also seeing quite a willingness of overseas workers to accept "substandard" (heck, even minimum!) wage rates just to be allowed to work here, they can barely afford to SURVIVE much less take "continuing education courses" which of course calls into question the speculation over a possible "STEM boom" for the educationists (I don't say "teachers" because my personal experience just doesn't bear out the literal definition). Not only doesn't this augur well for a robust tech future, it really makes me wonder if we could replicate today our race to the moon, and if we get into any kind of conflict with a tech-savvy opponent where we need entirely new kinds of weapons developed ...well the future dosn't look too bright, to put it mildly!

CMathas
User Rank
Blogger
Re: The "inevitable" race to the bottom
CMathas   3/20/2014 12:20:42 PM
NO RATINGS
I can hear the passion and frustration behind your response. Thank you so much for pouring out your thoughts. When I first read the "training is futile" I wondered if it was a rationalization, yet another reason for hiring from abroad. Yet, has the U.S. worker been so beaten down that they aren't innovating or being entrepreneurs at any reasonable rate? Is the economic climate so bad that it invokes fear?

I have to believe there is so much more to this than bottom line rules. That it's a combo of complacency, fear, resignation, and industry grown up to which is added cheap labor and maybe schools that still teach abroad.

Again, I have no answers, just more questions.

Hope more people weigh in. I think this discussion is really important.

 

omerg0
User Rank
Freelancer
My experinece in the US as an immigrant
omerg0   3/20/2014 3:17:14 PM
I am an immigrant electronics engineer from Istanbul/Turkey. I came to the US in 1994 on an H-1B visa. I started working for a machine builder company in Southern California and designed and programmed the control systems for their machines. It was a small company and I was the only controls engineer. Later I got a job offer from a large company with 3500 employees all around the world. This is where my experience relates to this article "You'd Rather Import Than Retrain"  The company was located in Chicago and I worked in their LA office. There were 6 software engineers in the department I started working for. All American born guys. All of them were really smart sharp guys. The team designed and wrote special firmware for the company's flag ship product. All 6 of them together produced 4 firmware in 2 years. On the other hand I managed to produce equally functional 11 firmware on my own in 1 year. I'm not exaggerating nor claiming that I'm a super-genius engineer. I'm probably an above average engineer but that's about it. The reason why I could produce so much was that I really worked harder with long hours on my own will that is without my boss pressuring me. Also I had a multi-disciplinary knowledge that we call today "Mechatronics" which enabled me to understand the product in more detail and design solutions for the product more quickly. The other guys only knew 1-2 or disciplines related to the job. I read 3-4 magazines related to my work they read none; some of them didn't even know that these magazines existed!! I also had the drive that all immigrants have which is to prove myself and be integrated into the community so that I can be accepted and regarded as an American. This drive pushed me to excel in any work I did and do the utmost best I can. This probably answers the question for "What happened to the innovative and energetic American engineers of the 80's". American engineers, I must add not all of them of course but a large number of them, have been grown up with the sense of entitlement so they expect to have a high paying desk job within a comfortable environment and definitely do not want to get their hands dirty on the job. They believe it's the technician's job to deal with the nitty gritty stuff. Whereas immigrants like me will just grab the screwdriver and dive into the control panel or machine junction box and fix the problem without waiting for the technicians to arrive. So given all these facts if you put yourself in the company's HR managers shoes would you hire me or the other guys? So more questions huhJ    

How to remedy this problem and bring back the innovative and productive environment that America used to be and what actually drives immigrants like me to come to the US are I guess the million dollar questions. Culture change comes to my mind first and foremost. Technical education in the US is excellent, resources for technical knowledge is incredibly abundant. Job opportunities in the US is huge but for high level skills. Plus this is the land of true opportunities. I'm now an owner of a small engineering company that works in the field of Industrial Automation. I've been in business since 11 years and I believe the sky and yourself is the limit in this country. If you try and work hard on it you will get a big chance to succeed. This is what America is all about or was about!!!

JeffL_2
User Rank
CEO
Re: My experinece in the US as an immigrant
JeffL_2   3/20/2014 3:52:22 PM
OK, let me contribute another data point. A few years ago I was working in the systems integration group of a division of a Fortune 500 company for a very adept young manager. The company had a very liberal education policy as far as paying for earned credits, so my manager availed himself of the opportunity and got not just one but TWO master's degrees (one was an MBA). When the phase of the project we were on together was over, he found he had dug himself a VERY deep hole and had to struggle very hard to get them to find him a new assignment. Why was that? Well the HR folks told him they'd have a hard time finding an opening inside the company that would justify paying him the kind of salary a fellow with two master's degrees was capable of pulling down, whether or not HE was worth the money!! I tend to think that tends to at least point towards poor corporate "policy issues" if not overall flawed management practices, I mean in my experience it's hard enough to find companies willing to pay enough for education to make pursuit of advanced degrees worthwhile, but then to find one and have their management just about turn their back on him ...it borders on insanity in my book. Yes there ARE situations where you'll find instances of a "lack of personal motivation" but I think I'd look a lilttle higher up the chain of command for most of the trouble. After all omerg0 even you're going to the trouble of running your own company, it clearly doesn't suggest it was easy even for you to find a company that would apply an appropriate value to your talents!

CMathas
User Rank
Blogger
Re: My experinece in the US as an immigrant
CMathas   3/20/2014 4:02:00 PM
NO RATINGS
First of all, congratulations on your career. Yes, it's amazing how "lucky" one can get when you work all hours to become so lucky! My concern is tthat a cultural change has taken place. That would be nothing short of tragic.

Please, folks, continue to chime in with what you think.

CMathas
User Rank
Blogger
Re: My experinece in the US as an immigrant
CMathas   3/20/2014 4:08:19 PM
NO RATINGS
That's an amazing example. Maybe that's one element of this question. The buzz, energy and entrepreneurial spirit was created and maintained for a good long time by the very technical entrepreneurs that created the companies. When they handed the keys over to otheres and moved into the CTO role--could the company ever be the same?

 

lmcdonald950
User Rank
Rookie
It was expected
lmcdonald950   3/20/2014 4:26:28 PM
Stop and think about it... yes, for a company to retrain experienced Americans is expensive and time consuming, whereas the H1B comes with the basic knowledgebase and is quicker to train, and of course is cheaper. This wouldn't be a problem if the experienced American worker wasn't so lazy. If they watched the technology advancements and took the time to retrain themselves, they wouldn't be out of a job. I always got the training myself. The company doesn't owe you; you owe the company since they gave you the privilege to work for them. (No, I'm not a manager.)

But we have another major factor that has been overlooked. We've had H1B people entering the work force for many years, who now have their Green Card or are US citizens, and a lot of them have moved up to middle and senior management. And yes, they speak English, but typically converse in their native language. I see it in the diverse company I work at and the mixed marriage I've been in for thirty years.

 If you take two people with different native languages, you always run into some misunderstandings. Translation from language to language is not always clear. So why not hire H1B workers that speak your native language, understand your customs, have the knowledge, and are cheap? To me this is a no brainer.

omerg0
User Rank
Freelancer
Re: My experinece in the US as an immigrant
omerg0   3/20/2014 4:30:16 PM
JeffL_2, you are absolutely right it was certainly not easy for me to get where I am today. In fact the experience I had to come to this point had very painful moments and would probably be discouraging for most people. I would like to give examples on that but I don't want to digress. Unfortunately in today's extremely competitive world there is no easy way or straight path to be even barely successful if you are not willing to put up with the mud and grit that life throws at you. I do agree with corporate chaos and incompetence of managers. That does have a lot to do of why America is not as competitive and innovative as it should be today. Managers and especially bean counters stifle innovation by dramatically cutting down on R&D. American companies were the world's largest spenders on R&D and thus the greatest innovators. Somewhere along the line this quarters profits became more important than innovation, product quality and customer satisfaction. Employees became as you mentioned just a spreadsheet number and were dispensable. This killed all the drive and enthusiasm that any employee had. There is no doubt about this fact. However it still is a personal responsibility issue. Yes the corporate and your manager may have treated you unfairly but it is still up to you to stand up and dust yourself and move on to another path. If your job is causing you extreme stress and stifling your future you should be willing to flip burgers for a while until you find a better way. I worked on fixing electrical systems on machines and sometimes repairing home appliances between jobs just to pay my bills.      

JeffL_2
User Rank
CEO
Re: My experinece in the US as an immigrant
JeffL_2   3/20/2014 5:03:25 PM
NO RATINGS
There is one thing omerg0, there used to be a "premise" (I'm wondering to what extent it still applies) that in order to avoid rendering yourself "unemployable" your resume (CV) needs to reflect that you've been constantly seeking positions of equal or (preferably) ever-higher knowledge and responsibility. Even in today's job climate the HR folks are clearly broadcasting the message that as little as 3 months of either joblessness or activity outside your primary career field is sufficient to render you "unemployable" as far as the job market is concerned, which certainly rules out "burger-flipping" if you want to get the maximum leverage out of your primary expertise and education. Now I certainly view a lot of this as corporate-level "excuses" either not to hire or simply for HR to get involved in a decision and "throw their weight around". Where you have to be careful is not to "condemn" any particular individual for believing this "rule" is still in effect and that he would not be a responsible member of his community if he did not follow it. But I WOULD tend to agree that not "keeping up with technology advances in one's chosen industry" would certainly be a possible indicator of a lack of enthusiasm and ambition.

omerg0
User Rank
Freelancer
Re: My experinece in the US as an immigrant
omerg0   3/20/2014 5:37:05 PM
I'm not sure if the HR department's decision about 3 months of jobless period applies in all cases. I can give you an example. The girlfriend of a friend of mine is also a Turkish immigrant and she came to the US on an F1 student visa.  She graduated from UCLA as an industrial engineer. She had 1.5 years to stay in the US to seek internship.  So she searched for companies who would be willing to sponsor her for H1-B visa. It took her almost a year to find one. In between she worked on a portable shop stand in a mall selling beads and bracelets etc. standing up for hours.  The company that agreed to hire her is an aerospace company. They were particularly interested in her verbal skills and the way she presented herself in the interviews. Here I must point out that she was very keen on "keeping up with technology advances in one's chosen industry". She out performed every other candidate in that area.  She took Six Sigma classes in between her education. She was well versed on ISO9001 quality control principles.  So HR didn't even pay attention to her jobless period and most important they didn't even consider the fact that this was going to be her first job in the US!! Now this was some years ago but I believe it still applies today. So what I'm trying to say is if you advance yourself to the top level you can achieve and hone your skills both verbally and knowledge wise I'm pretty sure there will be many opportunities for work. Yes there are some HR departments that run your CV on a computer and look just for keywords or the issues you mentioned but do you really want to work for a company like that?

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