A friend who works at a startup was recently explaining that the company’s biggest problem at the moment is its inability to find suitable engineering talent.
As a barometer, one of the "questions" it poses to interviewees is this:
You have a 10V ideal voltage source in parallel with a 5Ω resistor. What is the impedance?
So far, no one has answered correctly. (The answer is provided at the end, in case you want to take a shot at it.)
My friend says, “Engineering students today can't answer basic engineering questions. And we aren't talking about tier 2 or 3 universities, either.”
She tells the story better than me, so here are her words:
This is a well-known problem, one which I have discussed/commiserated with friends from two other firms with the same issue. One is in Massachusetts and the other is in Texas, so clearly this isn’t just a regional thing.
When you look at these people's resumes, all is sunshine and rainbows. When you ask them questions about their accomplished projects, it becomes clear that they have no clue what these so-called projects were really about. They can't answer. And not just undergrads; we rarely interview undergrads. We are talking about folks with MSs and PhDs.
Some are specialized to the point of absurdity, which I suppose makes some sense if you are going to be writing a thesis, but because they lack basic understanding of the underlying physics, they really don't know their specialties all that well, either. Plus, many have difficulty communicating in English.
The bottom line is that the schools are to blame. They should not be graduating people who do not understand the material they were taught.
She went on, including what she considered unrealistic salary expectations, but you get the gist of it. Are you seeing a similar situation out there? Tell us about it in the comments section below.
Spoiler alert: The answer to the question is 0. It's a trick question. The amount of the voltage is irrelevant. The key phrase is "ideal voltage source." The real purpose was to see if they knew what an ideal voltage source was.
Maybe he did you a large favor... Imagine you went into that company, to find they aren't going to buy that badly needed $2,700 digital oscilloscope because their purchasing department said they were only authorizing $2,599... and you had to buy them the test leads and probes from your pocket!... and YOU DID!, only to find the model they finally bought is 100MHz short on bandwidth...
Hobbies not only tell the person is capable of learning and pursuing them, but the fact that the candidate HAS some useful hobby, be it Auto mechanics, Model Airplane building, wood working, metal working, etcetera; tells a lot about the personality and reach of the individual.
Take the model airplane hobby for example; there is a lot of difference between a person that likes to buy and then fly them, to a person capable and willing to build them, because it requires dedication, perseverance, and some skills together with some knowledge. People that like to build things become much more capable because they tend to understand material properties and limitations, along with the best way to fabricate. And if the project built in the hobby fails, this gives the huge opportunity of learning why and how the project went wrong, teaching the individual a very valuable experience and the consciousness that he has to be careful and thorough if he wants to succeed. This creates an attitude that is the proper one when creating new devices or products.
[And yes... I also love cars, rebuild and modify them at my home, love airplanes and maintain one of them, love high end Audio, and most of my home equipment is home built; and love, really love tools and machine tools, and... and... and...]
That is not surprising; the Hands-on content of today's engineering courses has reached an historical low. It could be a result of people turning their interest from physical things to computer use (that is, from assembling say a Heathkit to playing with a computer, for example). The overwhelming impact of video games on youth and many adults had a negative consequence in regard to physical skills or abilities toward devices and hardware (non-computer, that is!).
For me, it is quite clear that a good engineer has to have some sense of connection with physical devices, equipment, tools and machinery. Being able to assemble and play with mechanisms, electrical or electronic assemblies gives the future engineer that connection. I used to say that there are two kind of engineers: "desk" ones and REAL engineers... At one time my boss (a Project Manager, more of the "desk" type) asked me to help him, because he had trouble with his car (the battery had died), and he wanted me to help him to jump-start his car with my cables. I said "shure, my pleasure! here are the keys of my car, go ahead, the cables are in the trunk"...
The poor guy hesitated and had to beg me to please go downstairs and do it by myself, as he was terrified with the possibility of getting "electrocuted" himself with the 12 volts. (Of course, I wouldn't had let him try, knowing him!). Amclaussen.
Amclaussen, I noticed that as well with engineering candidates I've interviewed in the past. The best engineers are the ones who like to build and test devices. The engineering students I've taught I'm always explaining the approach to truly understanding how a circuit or system works is by building or testing them. The passion to build an test is powerful force for engineers!
"A passion to build and test devices..." I could not agree more with your comment, mrdon!
One thing is absolutely clear: present day engineering graduates seem to lack a true passion for many things! But you hit the button when saying "a passion to BUILD..." Most recently graduated young engineers that I interview in order to select those who at least promise a minimum actual value as professionals and recommend them to be hired, LACK interest in technical/scientific or engineering subjects and are totally incapable of building anything. On the other side, most colleages from my age (about 57) that have shown to be really good engineers, always have shown a strong interest in technically oriented hobbies, science and specially the capability of building useful devices. They are able to build, fix, repair things, and usually have at least the intention to find what was wrong.
People that throw away appliances at first sign of a problem, and that immediately think about calling a repair shop or technician instead of becoming interested in solving the issue by themselves, usually end up in administrative jobs and never become truly good engineers. Amclaussen.
Charles76, that's how I looked at it at first as well. If this test would have followed the suggestions of some of the other posters regarding figuring out how the candidate thinks rather than yes/no answers, they probably would have had a better passing score. Even asking a simple question such as "what is an ideal source" may have shown that the candidates are not missing as much as they seem to assume.
I figured out the answer, but in an interview I would have asked if it was a theoretical perfect power supply, or a real one. That would probably have told them what they were looking for. I have had a few questions on interviews, and evidently answered them correctly. For one, I gave a short correct answer, then on my way home I realized that was not what he was looking for. So in my "thanks for the interview" email I explained what the full answer that he was looking for was. I did get the job. The worst question was in another interview, they showed me a one transistor amplifier and asked what the gain was. It was my very first engibeering position interview out of school. I said that I required more information to give a correct answer. I got the job anyway. Evidently I missed the trick on that one.
The biggest flaw in the current university system, certainly in UK, is the extensive use of "modular" courses. Students just get the habit of focussing on this semester's modules and when they pass them, they immediately forget the lot. By the end of three or four years they have apparently passed enough modules to graduate but they just don't get the whole picture. Hence the generally poor thinking and problem solving skills. I have rounded off 45 years of electronic engineering by teaching part-time during the last twelve years so I have seen this first-hand. Alas I'm not senior enough to change the system, that's well beyond my pay-grade unfortunately.
There's also too much reliance on computer simulations. A computer can't simulate the burning sensation and smell when you pass that 160A down the 18AWG wire!
I agree, Dave. Most of the people who I know that do hiring prefer to find out about the characteristics of the individual. These days, many companies are looking for people who've shown a willingness to learn and a proponsity to stick around for a while.
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