What's the state of the engineering job market today? Let me put it this way: There isn't a whole lot of good news, as reported in our lead news story in this issue (pg 31). With uncertainty over outsourcing's impact on the design engineering community, the H1-B Visa Program, and the stagnant high-tech job market (i.e., jobless recovery), every engineer who cares about the future of this profession should be concerned about where the presidential candidates stand on technology issues and, in particular, R&D spending. Why? For starters, the federal R&D budget drives our country's ability to innovate and compete in a world economy that is becoming increasingly sophisticated, creates jobs for tech workers, and provides funding for high-tech business startups. Research funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) has led to the development of Doppler weather radar, Internet browser technology, nanoscale materials, and scores of other new and innovative technologies. The NSF also finances K-12 education programs that help children develop the math and science skills they will need to succeed in an engineering degree program, go on to become the innovators of the future, and help to educate the rest of the population about technology issues. Too bad legislation in 2002 to double the NSF's budget to $7.3B by FY 2005 didn't pan out. The proposed NSF budget for FY 2005 calls for $5.7B, a 3 percent increase over 2004. A sizable R&D budget is also critical because, unlike some other countries, we don't have a technology policy. I guess because we think our government can't pick winners, we leave technology policy-making to the markets. And we know from experience how well that works! Just think about how much further along we would be with a technology like alternative fuel vehicles, were we not allowing policy to be dictated by what happens on the show room floor. The good news is that both presidential candidates claim to be strong proponents of technology. They believe it's crucial to our future competitiveness and quality of life. So let's hope they put their money where their mouths are. It's time that we elect a President who is prepared to show some guts when it comes to technology policy, and he can start by reaching—deeply—into his pockets.
The engineers and inventors of the post WWII period turned their attention to advancements in electronics, communication, and entertainment. Breakthrough inventions range from LEGOs and computer gaming to the integrated circuit and Ethernet -- a range of advancements that have little in common except they changed our lives.
Neil Fromer is the executive director of the Resnick Institute, a program for energy and sustainability at the California Institute of Technology, working to develop new ideas and research technologies related to providing a sustainable future. He spoke to us about the severity of the current drought in California and how solar energy can help prevent such situations in the future.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.