Engineering Employment

A few interesting factoids have come across my desk recently:

September 2005 issue of Today’s Engineer: “Between 2003 and the first quarter of this year, unemployment [for electrical engineers] fell along with total employment, which declined from 363,000 in 2003 to 335,000 in March of 2005, almost 8 percent. The only way the number of unemployed engineers and the number of employed engineers can both fall at the same time is if a large number of engineers are simply leaving the profession.”

October 24, 2005 Computer World: A Senate panel votes to boost H-1B visa limit by 30,000, to 95,000. The same article also claims there are now 19% fewer computer hardware engineering jobs than a year ago, though a growth in jobs for computer scientists and systems analysts offsets those losses.

November issue of the Communications of the ACM : incoming freshmen in computer science fell by 60% between 2000 and 2004. Making it worse is that 35% to 50% of CS students eventually switch majors to a non-technical field.

November 9, 2005: The California Employment Department estimates that between now and 2012 the need for software engineers will rise by 43%. State universities are meeting to find a way to fulfill this need. DM Review predicts that by 2009 30-40% of all US software development will be offshored.

Red Herring, November 14 : Citigroup exec David Heenan worries that too many smart foreigners leave the US to return to their home countries, bringing their skills and US education home with them. Currently 40% of MIT grad students are from overseas.

Wall Street Journal, November 21 : Since 9-11 the US has restricted immigration so much that there aren’t enough smart foreigners coming to this country. Ironically, illegal immigration continues unchecked so the bulk of the workforce coming to the country will work only in menial jobs. Meanwhile, China and India continue to focus on building world-class universities to train the legions of people in those countries anxious for a cut of the offshored middle-class pie.

It appears that hardware design jobs are slowly evaporating as software content of products continues to explode, creating an ever-expanding need for software engineers.

But they’re not going to be found here, or so these articles suggest.

What do you think? Are these trends troubling or good news?

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at . His website is .


I think we are exacerbating the problem. Offshoring, in addition to being a cheaper alternative, mainly gained popularity because America did not have enough engineers to fulfill demand. Now, we will produce even less engineers as this has become a less attractive profession, such that offshoring will soon become the only alternative. That said, I think that those who stay in engineering will be rewarded, as less and less engineers remain in America and the fact is you can't outsource everything.

What about you Jack – what do you think?

– Seb

Jack Replies Seb, I think you've hit the nail on the head. There will always be some awesomeengineering jobs in the USA and other “first world” countries. But these jobs will change. Job security in the future will mean engineers know the technology, but can write and make presentations tocustomers, CEOs, and the inexpensive overseas developers. Engineers here will be businessexperts, who can talk profit and loss as well as ones and zeroes.

Traditional engineering will still exist here as well – but fewer people will be working in those jobs.

– Jack


I heard UL has even gutted their labs here to beef up the testing facilites overseas.

– Steve Sarakas


It all depends on what industry you are employed. If you are an engineer in the “commercial sector” like, Microchip, Intel, Motorola, IBM, HP, etc, etc, then your job can be moved offshore.

On the otherhand, if thoust is working in aerospace and defense — (GD, Boeing, LM, etc, etc) — and thoust has a security clearance… thoust job will remain in the the USA. Something to think about!

– Steve King


Whether it is good news or bad news also depends on the situation that you are in. Allowing engineers from third world to bring the engineering know-how from a first world country back home allows them a chance to live a better life at home. From this perspective, this is certainly good news.

– Tehn Yit Chin


I think Steve King touched on a very valid point. Just as professions by there very nature are protected, if not resistent, to off-shoring (ex: marketing, nursing, etc) there will be engineering jobs, subdisciplines and sectors that have equal protection. Defense and aerospace is suffering a slight downturn with the changes to the budget approved last Feb., but there is still gold in them there hills for those with an existing security clearance. Management-level operations, architect positions, and acquisitions jobs within engineering will also continue to resist off-shoring.

At the end of the day, I think is even better for all of us that can whether the current storm if it means less competition for jobs from both seniors as well as young upstarts willing and able to work for less.

– Shawn Price


MNCs in third world countries offer a decent salary these days for those smart engineers, educated by the best of the universities in the US. Most human beings want to live nearby their relatives, hence when they find there is nothing much to gain staying in the US when their homeland is offering the same kind of salary they move out of the US. Obviously taking with them the technology they have learnt. It seems like a turn of event these days, previously the engineers from the best of the universities will leave their country for a lucrative career in the US. Its interesting to see that now it is the other way around just reminding all of us that “Every one have their own day”

– Britto


Geez, never thought off-shoring was going to be taken so literally.

I understand (sort of) economics and the need for companies to save (some) money (although why not start with the hefty salaries of the higher-ups, but that’s for another response). But, my big problem is: Where do I go from here?

I’m stunned, especially considering the comments from some of the higher-ups at the leading technology companies. I recently read Bill Gates’ comments about off-shoring and eliminating the H1-B limit altogether. The reason behind this, don’t let “too many smart people” come into the country. Well -that’s just plain B.S. I don’t think these rules were put in place to prevent intelligence from entering the country. We’re trying to prevent the “unreasonably inexpensive” engineers from overtaking our jobs. Sorry, I just can’t live on $5000 a year. Maybe Congress can lower the price for a gallon of gas to $0.15, or set a law where the cost of milk is $0.05 a gallon – until that is done, I can’t afford to make $5000 per year.

I was able to witness outsourcing as close as it gets – the mortar hit right next to my (and my coworkers) foxhole. Embedded developers from India were brought in while I was working as a contractor right in front of full-time workers and us contractors. Slowly but surely the local contractors were not renewed and new, less expensive (as was pointed out to me by the hiring manager) Indian contractors were brought in. Full-timers, seeing the writing on the wall, quickly made their escape as well. Tasks were quickly shuffled around to make sure the Indian contractors had their queues filled with work – important work, intellectual property work, things you wouldn’t want competitors to find out about. Now one or two of these guys were decent engineers – but they weren’t “smarter” than other engineers I have worked with – sorry Mr. Gates.

So, I can understand that I need to stay ahead of the curve by being a better software engineer, expanding my skills, broadening my technical background, etc. But, then shouldn’t that command a higher rate/wage? That’s not true in this outsourcing market. The cheaper labor is the ideal candidate for the position.

Does that mean I just wasted my time learning these new skills, enhancing my technical background (and studying for years to earn my BSEE)?

What field do I go into as an embedded software engineer? I thought the skills I had obtained over the decade of work experience were highly technical and very specialized making them somewhat protected from becoming obsolete and outsourced. Not so, I guess. What should I go back to school to retrain and learn? Does this mean I should go back to school to study fast food creation since they can’t move the Burger King down the block out of the country?

It seems all, or at least a lot, of the white-collar jobs (lawyers – well, who cares what happens to them – Just kidding, nurses, doctors- what’s next) are in jeopardy of being outsourced from some of the articles I have read. It seems I have to go back to the bottom of the working scale and un-train myself from what I have learned.

– Concerned Embedded Engineer

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