We probably didn't need to do a survey here at Design News to figure out how insanely busy design engineers are today. You know it better than I do, and I hear about it all the time from readers and engineer-friends.
So it's no surprise that this was one of the key findings of a major study we just completed. Called “The 21st Century Engineer,” we set out to examine the increasingly complex job of the design engineer, from the growing number of job functions you are juggling, to the variety of different technologies that you research and specify, to the amount of time that you are now forced to spend multi-tasking.
To wit, I was recently at an HP press conference where a manager of display technology described to me how many engineers have two or even three monitors on their desks now. That way, they can keep open a huge number of software applications at the same time.
Some of the key findings from our study that reflect the degree to which the workload is amping up precipitously for design engineers:
70 percent of you say that you have more job responsibilities compared to two years ago (Your pay probably doesn't reflect it, though!)
53 percent of you say that you are involved in more engineering disciplines than compared to two years ago
52 percent of you say that you will be involved in even more engineering disciplines in the next two years versus today
70 percent of you also report that you are involved with more tasks today than you were two years ago
It's a wonder design engineers are able to retain anything more than the attention span of a 5-year-old these days.
Engineers are not unique, of course, in the challenges that you face. In the never-ending quest for lower costs, many companies have shrunk the size of their staffs, putting more on the backs of the remaining employees. And the expanding scope of the design engineer's job is in many ways simply a natural response to the increased technological complexity of end products. One would be hard pressed today to find a product with no electronic content. The No. 2 pencil may be one of the few hold-outs.
I remember (and many of you probably do, too) a time when life at work was much simpler for design engineers. Twenty years ago, I worked as a mechanical design engineer for Texas Instruments. In my work group, a number of the engineers had very specific job functions. For example, we had a guy whose sole purpose in life was to live, eat and breathe solder paste. The really great thing? He was a total expert on the topic and a fantastic resource for every other engineer.
I wonder if that job still exists today.
I think it's a good thing for engineers to have a broad range of experience and knowledge and to know something about a lot of different things. That's certainly critical in systems design. But I worry a little bit that things are becoming a little too fragmented. I think we still need people with deep knowledge and expertise in certain areas, like solder-paste guy. He bailed out more than a few MEs and EEs in his time.
What do you think? How has the changing role of the design engineer impacted you? Is the job too fragmented now with too many things to keep up with? Drop me a line and I'll share your input in an upcoming column.