Engineering Shortage - Embedded.com

Engineering Shortage

A recent very short but astonishing article on Embedded.com (Embeddedsoftware execs say outsourcing is the answer)  is just packedwith spicy news derived from a poll of embedded big-wigs. I don't evenknow where to begin. Only 19% claim to do a good job of elicitingcustomer requirements. 88% don't do a good job of testing softwarebefore its release.

Wow.

Then there's the stunning statement that half of these firms plan tooutsource some or most of their firmware work, due to a lack ofin-house software expertise.

Again, wow.

Just a few years ago hoards of unemployed engineers were begging forany sort of job. But recently there's been more rumbling aboutincreasing H1-B visas due to this supposed shortage; today about 6% ofengineers in the USA are non-citizens working under this sort of visa.

Another factoid in the article says execs despair abouttime-to-market issues. 46% claim this is their top management issue. Iwonder how that dovetails with this new demand for engineers. Late?Toss more bodies at the problem. Of course, long ago Fred Brooks showedthat adding people to a late project makes it later.

The law of supply and demand says any resource scarcity, be it oil,PS3s, or jobs leads to an increase in prices. Yet Robert HalfTechnology claims that IT wages will climb a mere 2.8% in 2007, lessthan the rate of inflation over the last year. Engineering salaries arecontinuing to go down in real terms, which hardly squares with a talentshortage.

My anecdotal evidence seems to reveal that most of us have prettydecent jobs now. We've recovered from the dot-com crash. The explosionof offshoring suggests that worldwide engineering employment is goingup, which in itself makes sense given the increasing complexity ofproducts. So maybe the demand does exceed the supply. But why haven'tsalaries followed suit?

Are CEOs plugging a shortage as a masquerade for getting lower-costworkers? The average engineer makes about $100k in the USA, which is alot of money; the cost to the company is probably close to$200k/engineer/year. This is indeed a pretty decent wage compared tomost occupations. How much of the world would be thrilled to make atenth of that?

What do you think? Is there really an engineering shortage, or isthis a ploy to drive down costs?

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 .


This sounds very similar to the previous cries of shortages that led to the many of us working at Wal*Mart in the first place. Whether it is actually true or not this time is irrelevant. We need to highlight the indicators, as you did in this article, that contradict what the CEOs are claiming.

– Mark Holdgrafer


Gone are those days, when we find some nice technical insights into embedded system programming. Now Jack is … more philosophical, talking about politics, driving, H1B, … Can we get back our focus on embedded system programming. Please!

When we open up our market to countries in the 3rd world, we need to understand, that farmers in those countries do not cultivate their land anymore, This because our wheat is 1/10 of their price. I guess farmers don't have a forum like this to crib, or it is not reflected in any New analysis and report. Worst, In India farmers commit suicides, cos they don't have a Walmart to work. And still, those governments keep telling the farmers to be competitive enough.

The same applies to engineers in developed countries. As mentioned in the article, if it costs 0.2Million USD for an engineer in US, the ROI for the product developed by 5 such engineers should be more 1.5M USD, which is not the case for many small embedded projects that get out-sourced. High volume products are least likely to be out-sourced.

A lesson from the governments of the third world “our engineers need to be competitive enough, in renumerations too”.

Note: When ever I reply with a neutral view, somehow Jack misses the post 🙂

– Britto Edward Victor


Is there an engineering shortage?

It depends.

One of my clients, (a typical Silicon Velley startup), has a demographic breakdown for the embedded R&D group as follows:

4 India

3 Russia

2 USA

1 Poland

1 China

1 Hong Kong

…. and this does not include the 1/2 dozen or so that are currently working on projects way over in India! My recollections of graduate school at UC Berkeley were pretty much a similar demographic… but with more of a tilt towards China instead of India.

There are a few things here that concern me, and wages does not even make the list.

1. More, and more, we are fostering a culture that talks 'long' on technology, but views those working in R&D as geek-minded propeller heads. In other words, the 'real' money is in marketing and sales … or anything close to the money!

2. We are grooming fewer qualified managers that think up of the kind of products that people really need, and will make a difference in peoples lives.

3. In general, an R&D mid to upper level manager needs a minimum of 4 months, to an astonishing 18 months to find a suitable job!

4. Very few, if any managers, or directors are able to make a 'clean' break into the purely technical world of consulting. In general, there are more successes with management consulting transitioning to permanent for these folks.

so…

It is really no wonder that we have the current situation that we are in!

– Ken Wada


Well, here's one hiring manager who's having a tough time finding good embedded engineers. Plenty of folks fresh out of grad school, but no luck finding experienced well-rounded people. See http://www.ARMAnet.com/

– Keith Wheeler


Shortage? I don't think so. Maybe employers are getting a little more stressed out about hiring engineers. The lack of salary increase is one indication that maybe there isn't really a shortage. Another is the lackluster efforts at recruiting. I looked at the web site for ARMA Design mentionied above. Just a list of the types of jobs available; no attempt to describe why a reasonably talented engineer would want to move to Little Rock to join the company. Three years ago that would have been enough; they would have been inundated with resumes. Now they need to try a little harder. That is typical of ads I see.

– Gary Chatters


There's no shortage of talent. There is a shortage of management scruples, though.

The company I work for continuously advertises for phantom positions in order to make it look like we need more folks. Meanwhile, we lay off people with the credentials to fill those jobs, then replace them with imports.

It's downright immoral.

– Andy Kunz


A few thoughts:

1) The concept is simple. Businesses always look for the lowest cost workers (or supplies, services, or anything else). Of course this has to be balanced against perceived quality or qualifications. This simply puts dollars in the pockets of the owners (or CEOs and shareholders). Furthermore, big corporations have to COMPETE so that CEOs can continue belonging to posh clubs, sailing their yachts, flying their planes, drinking their martinis, and in general feeling good about themselves.

2) If the supply of qualified engineers increases relative to demand, their price goes down. Thus, companies have a vested interest in seeing a flooded market with high quality engineering talent. This explains CEOs, the government, and others jumping on the bandwagon of creating a fictitious crisis of the shortage of qualified engineers and pushing programs to entice young people to study engineering in college. Of course, engineering departments in universities also have a vested interest in having a plentiful supply of students, not to mention they need to keep big business happy in order to ensure continued funding (or future potential funding) for research and other programs.

3) Engineers tend to want to think of themselves as professionals, when in fact they are not viewed that way by management who essentially views them as glorified blue collar workers. They are really just another “statistic” on a pay scale that needs to be cost managed. In large corporations, elaborate HR departments staffed by uncreative types are tasked with the modern art of psychological manipulation and propaganda in order to keep workers relative happy so they will be more productive at the least possible cost. (A secondary reason for this necessary drain on resources is to keep the company out of legal trouble.) The only reason salaries have traditionally been higher for engineers and some other technical types is due to the supply/demand equation.

4) If lower cost qualified workers can be obtained in other countries, then there is absolutely nothing that anyone is going to be able to do about it, other than to sit around and bitch about the situation. If someone thinks they have the answer to this dilemma, let me know. Companies have to compete on a global scale. If they just willy nilly hire US workers at high wages, and are trying to compete with businesses in other countries where that is not the case, then they will just simply go out of business, and the workers will no longer have even a low paying job.

5) The dilemma created by the Iron Triangle ” Big Business, Big Government, and Big Labor ” and the dehumanizing concept of the death of entrepreneurialism and the rise of the “Organization Man”, which was put forth by Nobel grade economists 20 or 30 years ago is hopefully coming to an end (thanks in part to technology and the internet).

.

6) If engineers want to survive and live life to the fullest, rather than dying a slow death in a Dilbert cubicle, then they will need to do the following: 1) wake up and realize they have been sold a bill of goods, 2) quit bitching and take control of their own life, and 3) start thinking entrepreneurially!

– Dan Robinson


It may very well be that the engineering employment picture nationwide has improved since the dark days of the ca. 2000 tech implosion. But here in my town engineering jobs are still hard to come by. Although currently employed, the Defense project on which I'm working is threatened and I may soon find myself – once again – pounding the pavement with no good prospects, unless I'm willing to uproot my family and move to some other part of the country to work at yet another job that will likely last only a few years until *that* project comes under some kind of stress and, once again, the engineers must go.

So I suppose that if one is willing to be an economic migrant there are opportunities in the engineering profession. But at what cost to our families and ourselves do we pursue these opportunities? By constantly moving around the country in search of work, we don't get the chance to form the network of associates, friends and family that are so vital to the health and well-being of our families and ourselves. The fruits our cultures lack of community and social continuity are the well-documented epidemic of addiction, broken families and broken lives. Indeed many of us choose ” and wisely, in my opinion ” to take jobs that are far below our capabilities rather than uproot our lives in a quest for the almighty dollar.

I would like to propose a solution to my personal dilemma ” and perhaps outline a model that would work well for our profession as a whole – by making employers an offer: Instead of outsourcing your work to another country where you have to deal with differences in language, culture and time, outsource it to my group here in Colorado Springs. We may not be as cheap as the labor in Bangalore but were a whole lot less expensive then workers in San Jose or Cambridge. We all have at least 15 years of experience, speak and write excellent English, many of us have graduate degrees, and we are eager to work on your problem. We are within a couple of hours of your time zone and some of us are avid NASCAR fans!

– Hugh Shane


After working fifteen years as a full time employee in two small companies, I became a consultant six years ago picking up different types of projects with different size companies. Being exposed to more companies and their work culture then I ever wished for, I made few observations which are quite universal:

1. Good project management is a rarity

2. Software process is non existent, or never followed

3. There are only very few good Software Project Managers

4. The best performing engineers don?t necessarily make good managers

5. Too many engineers do too little work

6. Few engineers do bulk of the work (I?d say 10% of the team does 90% of the job)

7. Number of engineers working on a project does not reflect complexity of the project

8. Very often technology chosen for a project loosely correlates with requirements

9. Too many meetings without clear agenda and purpose. Status daily or even weekly meetings are unnecessary most of the time

10. Sitting environment in the company reflects quality of engineering talent : companies which have offices have better engineers then cubic centric enterprises

11. The better coffee company provides for staff the better staff there is (in general coffee quality is the reflection of how the company is treating its employees: next time if you have multiple offers choose a company with a better coffee machine).

There is no shortage of talent, if there is any shortage it would be in competent project management. In many cases outsourcing is continuous indication of inability to manage the project efficiently, with chimerical hope that bunch of lower paid work force will bring cost down and schedule on time. We need to produce more good low and middle managers, people capable of understanding intricacies of technical challenges along with abilities to manage engineering process, and engineers themselves. That way we will always have an edge over overseas competition even if their wages are just fraction of ours.

– Al Ray


Perhaps there is no shortage of engineers, but I would say that there is a shortage of talent. As Al Ray pointed out, most of the work is done by the very few. There are too many uninspired “engineers” who expect high wages, benefits and security as if it were a god given right. Poor management is surely at least partly to blame and outsourcing is an “easy” fix.

– Sebastian Barnowski


RE: If engineers want to survive and live life to the fullest, rather than dying a slow death in a Dilbert cubicle, then they will need to do the following: 1) wake up and realize they have been sold a bill of goods, 2) quit bitching and take control of their own life, and 3) start thinking entrepreneurially!

– Dan Robinson

Correct… but here is my take on Item #6. Big business is so powerful that when the little guy makes a hit in the market place with a new widget, they jump in and do one of the following to defeat the little guy.

1. Buy him out.

2. Design their own widget better, cheaper, faster, and sell more though their massive networking, thus putting the little guy out of business.

3. Impose an injuction on him to stop the production of his widget.

– Steve King

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