If you have some doubts about the future of engineering in the United States, I have some good news for you. US computer and engineering colleges are still among the best in the world. Despite immigration constraints of the last several years, the institutions remain attractive globally and are pulling in many of the most brilliant minds from around the globe.
In this blog, I am especially giving a shout out to the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech's College of Engineering. For the third year in a row, a group of Virginia Tech doctoral students won a major 3D user interface contest at a global competition in Costa Mesa, Calif., organized by the IEEE. Contestants came from colleges in Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, France Greece, India, and New Zealand. Here's how Virginia Tech described the assignment and the winning entry:
This year's competition required students to build a computer application that allowed two users to navigate through a complicated 3-D environment without any direct verbal communication. The Virginia Tech team, also the recipient of the "People's Choice" award as voted on by conference attendees, devised a virtual search and rescue scenario that required a rescuer to enter a burning building to look for survivors as a commander monitored progress on an interactive map of the structure.
During the scenario, the commander suggests various paths for the rescuer to follow in order to ensure the entire building is searched. At the same time, the rescuer places markers in the burning building to indicate where the survivors, blockages, hazards, and new openings are located.
Interestingly, the submission was named CARNAGE (Collaborative Augmented Rescue Navigation and Guidance Escort), but the application is more supportive than destructive. It "helps pairs of users complete virtual search and rescue tasks with high rates of search coverage and virtual victims found," the school said. In a search-and-rescue operation, which can turn deadly for even the rescuers, the ability to navigate and communicate with partners directly and without confusion can be crucial to everyone's safety.
For police officers and other search-and-rescue providers, CARNAGE can literally be a lifesaver. Communicating in a hazy, smoke-filled environment can be extremely difficult both for those managing the operation remotely and those directly involved in the search. Firefighters have been killed in rescue operations in recent months, and a program like CARNAGE can help reduce such incidents.
CARNAGE signals that help is on the way for emergency service providers, at least in the area of communications under duress. That this application was developed right here in the United States (by an international team) is encouraging. The Virginia Tech team comprises Felipe Bacim (from Brazil), Cheryl Stinson (a Canadian), and two Americans: Eric Ragan and Siroberto Scerbo.
Click the video link below for a demonstration of CARNAGE:
Cryptoman, That's one of the more realistic depiction of the global market as it is today that I have read in any Western media. Most of the time people are busy grumbling about job losses and why the East is stealing Western jobs, etc. Plus, we in the West seem to have this sense of entitlement to global jobs. We want to design, make and sell to anyone, everywhere. The moment others start acting like they want to design and make the products too we develop heartburn.
As you noted, it is or can be an unsettling experience to train in one region and move yourself to another region for work. Many in Europe have been doing it for centuries (that's what gave America its edge) and others in Africa and Asia have been doing the same for decades. Western workers too can take advantage of the great offerings by their local colleges to launch an international career that may require shifting to another continent. These great Va. Tech doctoral students may want to explore job opportunities in regions outside of North America.
United States is one of the undisputed "the place" to study engineering.
Global market is changing and jobs are moving to different countries (mainly towards the East) whether we like it or not. This means that the young engineering graduates will need to be prepared to move where the jobs are. The alternative to moving is choosing another line of work where local jobs are available.
I think having a diploma from a reputable engineering school in the US carries a lot of weight when it comes to working abroad. So studying engineering in the US is far from losing time and money. On the contrary, it is a big international asset.
Many students in the developing countries are prepared to move abroad at a much early stage in their lives to get a good college education. They accept this as part of life and their education and are able to adapt to situations. Most of those people also have to move to another country to get a good job once they graduate. It is a tough feat but rather than compromising what they want to do professionally, they choose to move and live away from home and their families.
In most European countries there is a similar trend. People leave home on Monday morning and commute to another city to spend the 5 working days there and head back to their families on Friday to be able to spend the weekend at home. This lifestyle is pretty common in Europe.
I think the new realities and the new commercial balance shifts in the world is something most people will gradually get used to. This change is inevitable and people will need to adapt sooner or later. Even though everyone would like to study and work locally this is hardly the case anymore. The world has become a much smaller place for all of us.
As someone who has done this successfully for 15 years, I don't see this as the end of the world. As a matter of fact, getting out of one's safety zone and living and working elsewhere in the world can be a very worthwhile experience both professionally and at a personal level.
Rich, I don't disagree with the premise of your position and, in fact, concur with your wife's conclusion that a good degree from a great engineering school may not suffice for the Western worker in today's market. As you rightly noted, the jobs have moved offshore and many of today's graduating engineers may not get the jobs that should be in line with their training.
However, we shouldn't also fail to celebrate their victories too, otherwise we fall all into dark depressions. And, in my view, there's some level of optimism now and for the future. Innovations from American engineering schools and minds gave the world many of today's best products. I suspect they will continue to do so for many more years. The manufacturing and other processes that should derive from these, though, may take place elsewhere because of our businesses' failure to understand the connection between manufacturing, design and consumption. If we fail to energize the consumer by ensuring they have jobs, one day businesses will find they built but nobody is buying, at least in the West.
The other positive side (and it's a long one) is that the pendulum will eventually swing back. It's not the most cheery opinion, I know, and many people will suffer until equilibrium in global hiring is achieved again, but eventually jobs in manufacturing, design and other areas will proliferate in the West again. I hope this is not just a hope but also a realizable dream.
I have to say that I've always found your blogs well thought out and well crafted. When there is something I disagree with in what you say, it is usually because we are emphasizing different aspects of the situation, so that our conclusions are different. That's what happening this time, I think.
You are looking, it seems to me, mostly at the skills level, and how skills affect competition in the global marketplace. You note that the students seem well prepared, so that they should (I presume you are saying) do well. The implication is that, if they don't do well, it is because they are not prepared well enough.
That seems like the argument given over why older engineers and older technical people are so often practically driven out of their fields: they are no longer well enough prepared. This time, however the argument is applied to explain why younger US techies might not succeed: they are not well enough prepared. Or, they just don't have the skills.
I am looking, instead, at other factors in this situation. Skills don't seem to be lacking. As you point out, the students' work shone with brightness. But the other factors of plain, old, local availability of work, and being able to meet salary requirements (not just salary demand, but meeting the minimum survival levels in the US economy for professional people, where they need a car, a computer, and benefits for the family) aren't there. Regardless of the skills of US students, or even older US techies, there is not a good local availability of jobs. Even if you graduate and advertise that you will live with Mom and work for less, a plant in China will not come to Kentucky and give you a job working in Paducah. It's just not available. So, the market only seems global. The job has to be local. Not everyone can move to Hong Kong, and Hong Kong isn't coming to Paducah before graduation. Some of these students will move to bigger cities and well-known industrial research campuses right here in the US, but there aren't enough of those jobs to go around, I'd say.
Then remember that, on top of that sober realization, is the awareness that US students will still likely run into the age wall in just a couple of decades, and work will be even harder to find, at just the time in their career when the children are grown and they need to start putting money away to live on after retirement.
As the student my wife spoke with at Penn State worried, copious work opportunities may just not be out there. Even if you win a competition.
Jenn, The video could certainly use some work. The application may require this also. That's where sales, marketers, communication experts and other support teams come in. Doctoral students, like everyone else, will find out eventually they need more than just great ideas. They also need people to make their ideas slicker than they appear in a You Tube video! Luckily, the US is not short of any of these.
Rich, It's a complex job environment the students will be walking into at the end of their program and they will be similarly competing with others all over the world for jobs that are no longer local but global. How they fare will depend upon their ability to apply classroom activities into real life applications.
Good work on the part of the students, but I wonder what the students themselves think of the future of engineering. There was a student exhibition concerning science and technology at one of the Penn State campuses. My wife attended it and spoke with a student. This student, while keen on technology, seemed worried nevertheless about the economy and the long-term prospects for American engineers, and wanted to prepare for potentially bleak prospects with a more general education. I give the student credit for looking beyond the classroom and campus, to see what might be waiting out there.
By moving to the core of the industry and offerings services that keep the system humming, a group within the electronics market has rendered irrelevant the question of ownership and control of the supply chain.
EBN Dialogue enables and encourages you to participate in live chats with notable leaders and luminaries. Not only editors and journalists, but the entire EBN community is able to comment and ask questions. Listed below are upcoming and archived chats.
Thailand Stages a Comeback Join EBN contributor Jennifer Baljko on Thursday August 23, 2012, at 11:00 a.m. EST for a live chat on how electronic manufacturers in Thailand have shored up their supply chain to reduce the impact of future natural disasters.
Microsoft Surface: Potential Winners & Losers What are the implications for the electronics industry supply chain of Microsoft Corp.'s decision to launch its own tablet PC? Join industry veteran and EE Times' systems and OEM expert Rick Merritt on Tuesday, July 3, at 12:00 pm EDT for a Live Chat on this subject.
Join EBN contributor Jennifer Baljko on Thursday August 23, 2012, at 11:00 a.m. EST for a live chat on how electronic manufacturers in Thailand have shored up their supply chain to reduce the impact of future natural disasters.
Peter Drucker famously said "Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window." Yet in the razor's-edge world of electronics—with a lean supply chain and just-in-time demands—the need to know the future is vital.
While no one really can accurately predict the future, we can take guidance from another Drucker saying which is the best way to predict the future is to create it.
You've heard the saying "the No. 1 supply chain risk is your people." That hasn't always been the case. But today's complex global supply chain requires a new type of multitalented employee. It's one who understands, finance, marketing, economics, is savvy with technology, graceful with relationships and can think analytically.
Where are these people? Are universities properly preparing the next generation supply chain professionals? How do train your existing workforce for these new, demanding positions?
Brian Fuller, editor-in-chief of EBN, will lead a 60-minute Avnet Velocity panel discussion that will ask and answer these and other questions swirling around today's supply-chain talent challenges.