Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt - Embedded.com

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt

How fast things change.

Only a year ago the government predicted a massive shortage of computer people over the next decade. The implication was that we techies were in fat city and could expect big raises as demand exceeded supply. With happy smiles we could bask in our unprecedented job security.

Now an EE Times (August 6, 2001) headline reads “Bell tolls for the EE in latest round of tech layoffs.” The August 13 issue claims 26,000 computer industry people were axed in July alone – admittedly, most non-engineers. The telecomm segment alone has cut over 175,000 jobs this year, the “computer” arena (whatever that means) another 101,000. Airlines are dumping people like mad in the wake of the September 11 disasters. Boeing announced 30,000 job cuts this week, but Boeing sheds people with great regularity.

For the last several years my e-mail inbox has been flooded with desperate engineering managers' requests for embedded people. That has stopped. Completely. Now the engineers correspond, wondering where the jobs are. Asking for resume advice. Panicked about making the mortgage payment. Some even thinking about career changes.

A friend in the financial services industry tells me his company now promotes selling short as an investment strategy – making money as the market slides down, rather than on a big score as in the 90s.

What does it all mean?

After 30 years in electronics this is the fourth downturn I've witnessed. So far, for engineers at least, this one is mild. I remember great floods of Apollo designers quite literally pumping gas in 1970. Many never made it back into engineering. The early '80s saw a slump that was somewhat kinder to us, but that created massive disruption as companies dumped workers and middle managers en masse. By 1990 or so another recession changed the language. Companies no longer laid people off; they simply “rightsized” themselves.

This slowdown feels a bit different, though. The awful tragedies recently inflicted on America have driven many of us to despair. Optimism has disappeared, the markets have crashed, and we're left wondering how deeply our economy has been wounded.

I think the boom '90s changed people's expectations. Pundits predicted that the new economy was intrinsically recession-proof, a statement that struck me as foolish at the time. Younger workers, who hadn't been through a recession, never felt more invincible and were financially unprepared for hard times. When the pink slip arrived, their BMWs and heavily leveraged houses didn't look like such wise investments anymore.

Economies always move in fits and starts, expanding and contracting in an almost organic way. “Job security” is thus an oxymoron. Life is complex and tenuous. Things change, markets collapse, global transitions become personal all too quickly. Staying put at one company for decades in hopes of a comfortable retirement is often a fool's dream, as is the manic '90s salary-inflating job-hopping.

Even our retirements are in jeopardy as never before. The real-estate inflation that gave so many of our parents' unexpected wealth is gone, over, kaput. Social security is ever more elusive as Congress considers increasing the retirement age and monkeying with benefits.

All of this suggests there's but one option we have. Save. Invest. In good times be wary. Bad times will inevitably come. Severance packages are down, government help nearly non-existent. Create and grow a nest egg, even when rampant consumerism beckons.

For even on the calmest days there are storm clouds on the horizon.

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. He founded two companies specializing in embedded systems. Contact him at . His website is .

Reader Feedback

U made me think. God knows there r few enough articles written these days that can make one stop, think and say, by jove, this makes sense. I'm very new to everything, and as yet untouched by the dark clouds (may they never cloud my sunshine), but even i cant fail to be impressed by the pessimism in the article, and much as i hate to admit it, a lot of truth. Guess I'll have to postpone buying the Ferrari to until I'm 80.

Amit Bansal
VLSI Design Eng
WIPRO Technologies

The article really covered the facts of life. But the question that comes to my mind is that why did the Pundits predict that the new economy was intrinsically recession-proof. Where did their estimates go wrong? History tells us that the “Unsinkable” TITANIC sank on her maiden voyage. With all the experience gained from the past and present it is absolutely necessary that change is a fact of life, whether change occurs positively or negatively.

Not all are adoptable to change. Humans resist changes suddenly. But seeing the current situation everyone should be prepared for that sudden change.

I think the best way for any person to get into any profession especially the software profession is not “Hope for the best”, but it should be “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best” and of course “Do your best”.

Suram Chandra Sekhar
Software Engineer
Intoto Software India Pvt Ltd

I do agree, rather a bit strongly.

It's not only IT, but all sections. Especially, being a citizen of third world, daily we are facing threat of increasing prices, unemployment and job-cuts. Big MNC's are taking over the economies and crushing them to gain fastest and highest profits possible! They are producing coke,pepsi,cars and all fancy useless products (to majority of people) They start/take over factories and do lay-off in the name of stagnation! How the system will get out of stagnation ,if the production system is throwing people out and obviously taking out their purchase power? They proclaim globalistion as the total solution to the world problems! A big HA Ha! It is the only monopoly of developed countries, in turn, monopoly of the only richest industry/persons in their respective country.

Rather, now the crisis of existing capitalist economic system is seen clearly.Since, , unfortunately, all over the world progressive developemnt/people movement for the benfit of all, is too weak, people are surrendering themselves to terrorism and fundamentalist forces. That is really alarming!

But, every crisis leads to new solutions and always forward on the development path of total society.

None of us can find solutions to our personal economic crisis single-handedly. It is a systemic problem and need to be faught with together.

Sharmila Inamdar

I agree with “almost” everything you say.In general, folks (not just engineers) tend to spendmore than they have. Why is this? If Joe makes $N peryear, why does he have to spend $N++ ???It gets even worse when folks are fooled by a temporaryfeeling of security (as you say).

What really stinks, though is that even the “save” and”build a nest egg” philosophy can burn us; especially ifwe have kids coming up on college. In so many situationsit seems like those of us that diligently save the oldfashioned way (by just not buying every ridiculous thingwe want!), still get burned because we are financiallysecure enough to NOT qualify for any outside help forcollege, and that, as we all know is not a trivial bill topay!

Ed Sutter

I think, the above article has quite apropriately described the currentdesparate scenario of lay-offs in the Information Technology (IT) sector.Few years back, most of the engineering graduates in India used to dreamof a software job in a multi-national company and there dreams were almostfulfilled, as many software organizations used to visit the collegecampuses to acquire the best talents avaialable. But, now, the freshgraduates are just waiting for some company to visit the campus and selectthem! The issue which is hunting most for the software experts is jobsecurity. In my opinion, this must be addressed with utmost sincerity andcare by the individuals, by the government and by the Non-GovernmentalOrganizations(NGOs); Otherwise, it will not be too far for our society tohave quite a good number of people that suffer from psychic disorders andother mental abnormalities…

Panchanan Pradhan
Project Leader
Huawei Technologies

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