Engineering Jobs: Implosion or Same Old, Same Old? - Embedded.com

Engineering Jobs: Implosion or Same Old, Same Old?

I have never seen my accountant look so terrified.

As I write this on the next-to-last day of September Congress hasreached general agreement on a bail-out designed, they say, to staveoff a financial crisis whose impact might result in a spike inunemployment.

I remain baffled and can't discern where the $700B number came from(why not $200B? Or $900B?). And I am always skeptical of economists.The Dismal Science's predictive powers have long been notoriously bad.But they certainly understand all of these odd financial instrumentsfar better than I do.

If the economy is on the brink of collapse, what does that mean forengineering jobs? A September5 AP story suggests that tech is the place to be. One quote: “Payrolls of computer and electronicsmanufacturers grew 5.1 percent from July to August, according to theLabor Department's data .” That's a stunning increase for asingle month, especially in the traditionally-slow summer season.Motorola is suffering and letting people go, but their long-seatedproblems don't necessarily reflect the overall state of the economy. (According to aCNET story, they are hiring somedevelopers though. ).

Microsoft added numerous employees in their latest fiscal year. HP,with an amazing 176,000 workers worldwide, continues to hire.

So we techies should be in pretty good shape.

Unless you read the reportfrom PC Authority. Unemployment in Silicon valley hit 6.6%, afour-year high, for August. That's higher than the country's 6.1%overall unemployment rate.

The previously-cited AP article said that Applied Materials will let1000 people go, though it's not clear if these jobs were in the Valleyor not.

Silicon Valley is likely prone to unusual pressures due to thefantastic cost of property and higher wages than in many other areas ofthe country (to pay for that $800k starter house). But that area isstill a hotbed of innovation and the seat of many of the companies thatdrive the electronics markets. Applied Material's struggles usuallyreflect softness in the demand for new semiconductor manufacturingequipment, which might ” who knows? ” mean slowing chip demand in thefuture.

A search in the careers section of their web site turned up a needfor six experienced software engineers, five of which are needed in theValley. With 14k employees, six open billets for software people ispretty small. But hiring while doing layoffs is always a dicey thing,even when it might make business sense.

Since we recovered from the dot-com implosion forecasts forengineering jobs have been extremely rosy. But this latest financialmeltdown seems to have arisen over the course of weeks. Though Senatorsclaim to have anticipated it years ” years! ” ago, most economicprojections I've seen were pretty hopeful until the end of August, whensuddenly a cliff appeared in the golden road. So forecasts for thefuture of engineering employment are probably just as unreliable.

But what do you think? Are you feeling secure in your current job,and what do you think the prospects for engineers will be over the nextyear or two?

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

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