Here is an excerpt from my email to Lauren Muskett on 9/28:
"The "40 Under 40 Nominations" sponsored by Mouser and Design News is highly offensive. Nowhere else in society is it acceptable to discriminate based on age or otherwise yet Mouser and Design News finds it acceptable to do such a thing. Why isn't there just a plain top 40 without regard to age? This is much like awards for black engineers, women engineers, Hispanic engineers... It is the usual double standard. Caucasian middle-aged men must compete with everyone while other "groups" get preferential treatment, awards, hiring, and so on. Society, of which you are a part, claims to want equality while they really want to segregate and discriminate."
Lauren's response was "We are sorry that you FEEL (my emphasis) that way. Our mindset behind this contest was not to discriminate, rather we want to honor the younger generation for their achievements, and let them know that their hard work has not gone unnoticed. If you've followed the trends in the engineering industry over the last decade or so, you've seen that fewer engineers are graduating from US universities and the number outside the US is growing at a higher rate. That's one of the reasons that various groups have popped up to try and get our younger generaton interested and excited about engineering."
So, as usual, discrimination for a particular group is considered acceptable. Odd (sarcastically) yet not an unexpected response given that Lauren is, from her photograph, apparently not a middle-aged caucasian male. It is not that "(I) feel that way." It is fact that THIS CONTEST CLEARLY DISCRIMINATES BASED ON AGE. No one would ever get away with having nominations for caucasian middle-aged males. Because everyone else would "feel" that is discriminatory! The country needs renewed interest in the engineering industry and education - not by a particular group of people but by all people.
I am sure the contest is well intended. I would suggest, however, doing away with the limitation by age (under 40). I do not understand the purpose of that. For example, you would not run a contest to select the "top 40 male engineers" or the "top 40 caucasian engineers".
@kenish: There is no shortage of male engineers, or of opportunities for recognition of male engineers, so "Top 40 Male Engineers" would not be a very good contest.
Given the fact that most engineers are male, a list of the top 40 male engineers would not look very different from a list of the top 40 engineers overall. Assuming that talent is equally distributed among women and men, and that 80% of engineers are male, the lists of top 40 overall engineers and top 40 male engineers would only differ by 8 names out of 40. This would not make for very interesting reading.
On the other hand, "Top 40 Female Engineers" would be an interesting list, since it would provide recognition to a significant number of people whose accomplishments might not otherwise be recognized. Furthermore, it might help encourage more young women to consider engineering as a career.
Right now, engineers over 40 outnumber engineers under 40 by a significant margin. There is a need to encourage more young people to consider engineering careers. This is why a "Top 40 Under 40" contest could be valuable.
That being said, the contributions of older engineers are often overlooked, so a "Top 50 Over 50" (or "Top 55 Over 55") might also be valuable.
@Jennifer- We all have built-in biases, preconceived notions, prejudices, etc. I'm no different (and I hate PC talk). But I was surprised that your biases came through (especially as a female engineer), and very disappointed by the disingenous back-pedaling when you were called on it by several people.
That said, I agree it's great to focus on accomplishments of Engineers early in their career... most are under 40, but not all.
The litmus test- is the headline of your blog acceptable for a recruitment ad? Does "We want the Top 40 Male engineers" work for the next contest?
I have to say that I'm a little surprised at the comments I'm seeing here. People of various demographics get honored all the time.
But there is a method to our madness. If you've followed the trends in the engineering industry over the last decade or so, you've seen that fewer engineers are graduating from US universities and the number outside the US is growing at a higher rate. That's one of the reasons that various groups have popped up to try and get our younger generaton interested and excited about engineering.
One of the things we often hear is that there's no glamour in engineering. So, we want to honor the younger generation for their achievements, and let them know that their hard work has not gone unnoticed.
if you're a regular reader of Design News, you're very aware that we honor eningeering feats all the time. However, most of those feats come form the more experienced (over 40) engineers.
When Andrew Wiles, with the assistance at the end of Richard Taylor, finally proved Fermat's Last Theorem, he was just over 40 and therefore not eligible for the most prestigious award in mathematics. That subject is another one prone to age bias, it having been conjectured that maths is a young person's business and if you haven't achieved something spectacular before forty you may as well forget it.
This belief is still prevalent desite the abundance of evidence to the contrary, and it's amusing, if sad and frustrating, to see it slip into engineering.
Scott Wurcer, a superb integrated circuit designer at Analog Devices, an ADI Fellow, remarked recently that some old-timers were returning to ADI and were as sharp as ever. ADI created a career path as an alternative to being pushed into management, and it has worked for them exceedingly well.
One of the delusions is that an older engineer will somehow rely on her/his formal education and fail to stay on top of the field. Although readers here will probably know of such, it's the exception to the rule.
Then there is the raw brainpower and mental agility thought to append to youth or at least to no more than middle age. Neither is that the case, but in addition the far more powerful process at work is the continuous improvement in the conceptual apparatus, whether supplemented by continuing education courses or not. Thoughtfulness begets insight.
Well said Dave and Lauren. Most often in Design News we are hearing from the more experienced engineers who are experts in their field. With this contest, we are trying to expand our community and get more people involved in the conversation.
Readers, we mean no disrepect -- I am saddened that you feel this was our intention.
Great thoughts @Dave Palmer. This contest is to recognize the young engineers performing in the industry. We never once said that only people under the age of 40 are making big moves, rather we are trying to showcase up and coming talent.
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