I know many parents that don't let their kids play video games, especially PC video games, until they are very old, 8-10 yo.
While I played PC games when I was 4 yo. My father even made a simple space invader style shooter game for me.
Most kids and teens I know have zero clue about computers, electronics, etc, past taking to the repair shop.
I worked with circuits and built computers from a very early age.
In other words, I am an engineer, while these kids I know are looking to get into the art fields. They may make it big, but there is a high chance they will not. I think exposing children to something more complex than passive LEGOs is a great idea. Circuit kits, LEGO Mindstorm robotics sets, and computer programming is essential. Whether they become engineers or the next pop-star, the exposure will expand their minds.
Good article and I agree that it is very important to introduce hungry young technical minds to engineering at an early age. Many of us can trace our decision to pursue engineering back to early exposure to technology at a young age.
With that said, not everyone will choose technology as a career. Some choose to focus on people skills, business skills, etc. instead of an engineering path (which is good because today's multi-faceted society needs all kinds of expertise in order to run smoothly).
Excellent article. With the current focus on STEM education, there is going to be an public debate on how to improve our educational system in these areas. Will be interesting to see what kind of ideas get funding, and what grass root initiatives may emerge as important. Thanks.
Having spent 20 years in engineering education and 20 years in industry as a design/project engineer, I still find myself drawing on 'hands-on' experiences with machinery and ag-systems from being involved with the family farm operation during my youth. While building with Lego's is good, it doesn't compare to repairing a truck/tractor/harvestor on which the family depends for its living in the middle of seeding/harvest with the weather bearing down (within ages 10-17). Likewise, many 'budding engineers' worked as a pre-teen and teenager in their family-owned service station, repair garage, or small manufacturing operations. Such were the background experiences of many who entered engineering in the past. Unfortunately, most young people today don't have the opportunity for those experiences.
One thing we have lost that we need to regain is the excitement you mentioned that was generated by the space race. For our son's 13th birthday we traveled to the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis in order for our family to participate in the viewing on the Harlan J. Smith 107-inch Telescope that is held 10-12 times a year and must be reserved well in advance. We were very blessed to have the director of McDonald Observatory, Dr. Lambert, as the guide for our evening. He knew the value of generating excitement in young people for the stars. Our son was the only "young person" in attendance that night and Dr. Lambert allowed him to enter data into the computer and push the button that controlled the telescope. He also invited him to help track a star after the formal presentation was done - and our son got to sign the logbook as the observer for that star for that night. Our son walked away from that experience excited about the possibilities that science offers well beyond what he had experienced in school. Somehow we need to find ways to generate that same excitement in this generation. We were watching an old godzilla movie on television the other day and our son was amazed, but not as we were when we watched the original so many years ago - he was amazed at the low level of special effects. With the advent of computer graphics that can create ultra-realistic effects, our kids have lost the ability to be awestruck with wonder at creation and to thirst for the possibilities that exist...we need to get that back...
If you want your children to be able to make a living in their chosen field then you definitely DON'T want them going into engineering, ESPECIALLY anything dealing with computers and software! The large corporations have successfully outsourced as many jobs as they possibly could in this field to countries where engineers make VERY low wages, and the ONLY reasons you see this big "push" for STEM are a) the teachers' unions lobby to get large infusions of extra cash for teaching this material, b) the parents of current engineers definitely are not recommending that their sons or daughters get into this field so these companies need to find new "suckers", and c) these industries COUNT ON there being a continuous "surplus" of skilled engineering labor so they can keep wages and working conditions as poor as possible. You ought to trust me on this, I USED to consider myself a "proud working EE" who made some major contributions to the state of the art, but I haven't found employment in my chosen field in YEARS and have given up trying out of frustration. Is that a future you want for your children? OF COURSE some kids will "have an aptitude for" science and math, and to participate in designing video games or playing with robots is a big draw for a high svhool kid, but soomer or later you have to PUT FOOD ON THE TABLE. Tell them to go into medicine or law or even teaching, ANYTHING but putting more engineers onto the welfare rolls!!
Your post just makes me sad. Your tone, if i'm readin it right, also makes me think that one of the reasons you have not been able to find work as an EE is you. I'm a mechanical engineer with over 25 years and ongoing employment and I truly enjoy most of what I do. I have been told I was selected for a job in part because of my enthusiam, positive attitude, and continuing curiosity and desire to grow in my field. I am surrounded by engineers that think the same way.
WE in the US need to realize that to compete in today's globalized market we have to be better than an alternative, lower wage engineer in India or China or wherever. You should read Thomas Freidman's books like "That Used to be US" to understand the challenges of a global economy.
a) I don't know where you get you information from, but there is no large infusion of cash into education these days from any public source for any purpose that is making a difference in teacher pay and benefits. Anyone who knows a teacher, union or otherwise, also knows they are under paid for the level of responsibility and amount of work they are asked to deal with. What STEM does is provide direction, maybe resources.
b) this is just bad attitude. If my children had been interested, i would have encouraged them into engineering. I do encourage those I know that are interested. I tell them I love what I do and have always been able to care for my family, BUT it is hard work.
c) There is not a surplus of engineers, although there are probably HR executives that would like us to think so to justify low offering salaries. There may be a surplus of engineers who have not kept up their skills and so are not as marketable as they would like. I field calls several times a month, even more recently, from recruiters looking for engineering talent in my field of custom machinery and factory automation.
There is a surplus of lawyers, at least where I live, and the medical field is not the gauranteed personal wealth generator it once was. Plus, good Doctors work even harder than good engineers.
If we could find a way as a society to get more young people interested in an engineering education, and willing to work, maybe we would eventually have more engineers in decision making mangement positions rather than MBAs who can not concieve of anything more than their decisions' affect on next quarter's numbers.
JimRW, as the saying goes, "you're entitled to your own opinion, you're NOT entitled to your own facts". I've seen contract rates in my field cut to BELOW THE COST it takes to go to and remain at the client site, if that's NOT a response to a surplus of engineers it sure isn't a response to a shortage! Besides READ THE POST, I'm addressing my comments particularly to the EE/CS folks. You say yourself that you're in the field of "custom machinery" (which is sort of a "boutique industry" anyway, the skills of whose players are nowhere near as "commoditized" as say aerospace) and you're an ME, and since you're having a hard time finding people I'm betting you're also in a part of the country that many folks wouldn't be particularly eager to relocate to (not intended as a slight by the way). Hear me out, all I'm really saying here is that getting a background in STEM is no guarantee that your skills will be in demand (that goes many times over for EE/CS), and unless you're content to limit to other areas and are willing to "specialize" in developing certain skills that may only be relevant to a particular industry and/or part of the country (which in itself tends to limit both your salary potential and marketability), you may find it hard to avoid long periods of layoffs, and even if you DO it's still hardly a guarantee that your company won't be purchased by some ruthless multinational behemoth who'll offshore your skills in a New York minute. That's just reality, wake up and smell the coffee!
I'm lucky, I live in the Carolinas. Come to the Southeast, try get a job in aerospace or automation. We have both. Energy is big as well, and our manufacturing sector is also showing some signs of hiring growth. Even some banks have shown interest in graduating Engineers because ofthe problem solving skills taught.
Lots of the calls I get are to ask if I know any EE's and/or programmers. Project managers, too. Of course, EEs in my business do seem to work more than the rest of us, but maybe it's because they start after the mechanical engineering work is mostly complete and get called for service more often.
To be successful today you have to change to adapt to the changes in the market as individuals, it's not just something companies need to do. The surplus (and price crash) you're experiencing may be specific to the market you're trying to work in. I've seen friends (programmers) have similar problems and they've shifted their skills to other areas. Or sold their talents as worth the higher pay compared to the cheaper alternatives.
I still think you are wrong to denigrate the entire STEM field because of your bad experience, which is by its nature very personal and specific.
In looking at available jobs in the VA area, software and electrical engineering show the most hits. I would reccomend engineering to any kid that asked me for career advice. If you are good and willing to go to the job, there are jobs available.
Are you serious? Try actually reading the job req! They'll ask for five years of experience with a computer language that's only been around for three. They don't "discriminate based on age" but if you submit a resume and (even though the resume doesn't disclose it) you're over the age of 50 (or in some cases 40) they consult an 'alternative' database so they know your age ANYWAY and your resume will never even get read! The reqs for software engineers will even mandate issues such as "familiar with XYZ Software ADA Compiler Version 3.58.1067c" which is so darned SPECIFIC that practically the only person qualified is the same guy who quit last week because he couldn't take the schedule pressure. I even knew a young engineer who took a job in network software before he even had his BSEE, and the same employer fired him a few years later telling him (at the ripe old age of 26) he was "over the hill". Or sometimes they just post a position so the company can "claim" they couldn't find a competent applicant so the government will issue them an H1B visa so they can bring over an immigrant (frequently at a VERY low salary) to fill the position. The conclusion you should get here is that the number of reqs a company posts may bear absolutely NO relation to the number of people they intend to actually hire, or would expect to find, and the process is so difficult and unfair that most of it ought to be outlawed and start over with a clean sheet and mandate massive changes to the process to give the applicant some chance of knowing where he/she actually stands with regard to a posted opening.
The unemployment rate among electrical engineers in 2011 was 3.4%, lower than the average among all engineering disciplines of 5.1%, and far below the general population. The median salary among electrical engineers is $89,000, again above the average among all engineers and way above the general population. So on the whole, EE's have it pretty good.
I've heard stories of people having a hard time getting jobs, but everybody is having a hard time in this economy, and most people have it a lot worse. Where I live, unemployment is well over 10%, and those who do work often make minimum wage or less. I absolutely encourage young people in my community to pursue engineering as a career. Is it a guarantee of unrelenting success? Of course not; nothing is.
But it beats cleaning toilets, and most importantly, it's a lot of fun.
The specifics of jobs available, of how engineers are treated, etc... is NOT relevant to the subject .
Everyone needs an education in science and it's applications - regardless of their career choice.
These subjects are as important as any other studies (language, math, etc..). If you don't have it you will be at a disadvantage in life (in general) and job choices / advancement... It doesn't matter if you are a engineer , lawyer or 1st grade teacher.
Are you DELIBERATELY misreading the terms here?? THe acronym "STEM" has only been introduced in the past few years to refer to an informal initiative to get high school kids interested in getting an education that would lead to an engineering career, and the promotion of those objectives by holding robotic competitions, science fairs and other activities. I am also a trained engineer so OBVIOUSLY I'm not opposed to the education itself. Now when I went to school the engineering administration refused to allow anyone to graduate from that school and call hmself "an XXX engineering graduate" until he had taken and successfully passed three consecutively more difficult semesters of quantum mechanics which I of course did. Now sometimes I'll hear the argument "do we REALLY need to teach algebra in high school?" when I was already all the way through integral calculus by that point in my own education, so yes once in awhile I'll find myself in some disagreement with modern curriculum decisions, but I DO think I've earned the right to take umbrage if I hapen to be accused by blogger pinheads of not being fully supportive of the premise of education in higher math for prospective engineers, thank you very much!!!!!
It's interesting that you mentioned Lego Mindstorms, Dave. Mindstorms is unique in that it's simple enough fo high schoolers and complex enough for introductory classes at MIT. In a perfect educational world, all high school students would be exposed to Mindstorms or products like it.
I agree Charles. I think this is where parental and community involvement in schools are so important. From my experience with my kids, schools are willing to step up and support thses types of programs if they receive support from within the community. I taught a robotics club at my son's middle school during the school day once a week a couple of years ago and the school was happy to facilitate a time for it. I have also seen schools in our area with an electronics/robotics program which were not previously available. It is amazing what can be accomplished when folks in the community step forward and offer support and encouragement. It would also be very cool for corporate support to occur - like an "adopt a school" program where engineers mentor the students on a regular basis.
Hi Charles, I agree. The LEGO Mindstorms kit provides the right engineering educational challenge for kids in middle school through high school. I've used these kits in outreach programs while working at Chrylser and wrote two books as well. Now, the Arduino is being used to train the next gen of engineers with its ease in software programming and electronics interfacing capabilities. I've written a book on the Arduino and currently I'm writing two new books on the product with projects for Apress and Make (Spin out of O'Reilly Media) publishers. The intent of my books is to engage kids and adults with engineering concepts while building cool electronic gadgets.
Kudos, Mrdon. Your post demonstrates a simple point: There's a wealth of information and learning opportunity out there for those who care. Let's hope we can get students in American schools to care about these subjects.
Thanks Charles, With the educational kits mentioned, it seems like a no brainer but the school structure is quite rigid with the standardized curricula teachers must adhere to. That's the reason for outreach programs and makerspaces to complement the established educational infrastructure.
Thanks to everyone for sharing all of your comments. I have enjoyed reading the discussion. I am encouraged to see others as impassioned as I am about educating the next generation of engineers. Providing the tools, coupled with shifting curriculum and an elevation of awareness to this discussion is what will ensure our progress. In full disclosure, what many don't realize is that the engine behind the LEGO MINDSTORMS platform is based on NI's LabVIEW graphical programming software. The same software used to design some of today's most complex technology products. In fact, many of our employees at NI mentor school robotics clubs to support these learning initiatives, not because it is required, but because they realize its importance. Seeing kids as young as 6 years old grasp basic system design concepts and get excited about innovating and discovering at an early age is personally fulfilling to these individuals, as well as makes a vital contribution to a better future for all of us. While programming languages may evolve over time and continuing education will be an unavoidable truth, the two things that are a common thread to all of this are the math and the understanding of how to build systems. Finding ways to keep student mind's engaged in mastering these core concepts is the ultimate goal as we move into a time when these skills will be more valuable than ever before.
Hi Dave, Your article is timely because of the complex problems that challenge our society and the increasing demand to solve them with a highly skilled and creative workforce. I see today's computer scientists and engineers playing a significant role in motivating today's youth by being mentors working within Makerspaces, robotics clubs, and technology based competition environments (FIRST). The major contribution NI has made is with the core LabView engine that powers the LEGO Mindstorms NXT brick and the impact with kids pursuing STEM based careers. As mentioned, I've written two LEGO Mindstorms books and have used them in Chrylser Pre-Engineering Outreach programs with overwhelming success. It's tools like LabView, Arduino, and LEGO Mindstorms that will continue to motivate and establish creativity and problem solving skills for the next generation of computer scientists and engineers. Great article Dave!
Its always good to start it at its early stages. Even anything is best at its younger days. When it gets old you can control things which you might have done in the younger stages which you feel is wrong or should have worked well if its beein controlled somewhat. This is the way to go. Start from the beginning and then you can expect wonders in the future since they have an idea about what their future lyes
Getting involved in local schools is one of the best things engineers can do. A lot of companies want to do something good for their communities - why not utilize the unique talents of your employees? Anybody can hold a canned food drive - and there's nothing wrong with that - but TI's involvement in the community reflects who TI is as a company. Other comapnies should follow their example.
Many of today's problems begin in the classroom. The current "education system" [up to grade 12] has regressed over the last 100 years. The 'wizards of curriculum design' focus on standardization and sameness in an effort to establish 'one size fits all education'. The result is similar to companies that establish a single set of rigid quality rules for a number of diverse products - the 'system' becomes more important than the final product. The incentive is for QA folks [or teachers] to blindly follow a set of rules. When a system like this is used for an extended period of time, it tends to cause creative and talented QA folks [and teachers] to flee and 'drones' to be attracted. A proper QA system [and educational system] is aware that the output is a diverse set of products and different processes must be used. This analogy is not perfect but it does point out a major flaw in the current education system - a monolythic curriculum [yes, there are slight variations] focused on a single standardized test.
As long as teachers are coerced into using a curriculum focused on standardized tests we will have less learning and interest in the classroom - and less chance to stimulate interests and prepare SOME students in science and technology. Public education needs to be focused on creating multiple learning tracks and educating students as opposed to having 'classroom supervisors' regurgitate a standard set of material.
Dave, I'm a little surprised that you, given your position within NI education, seem to have forgotten NI's First Robotics participation,for which you provide the C-RIO FPGA and Labview IDE. I happen to be a mentor, and we mercilessly seek publicity in advertising how much fun can be had in the pursuit of engineering to the young'uns. And part of this is letting the old folks know about the effort and how to get involved...
Excellent article that ties the solving of society's evolving challenges to the need to engage students of all ages via improved curricula, tools and general exposure to how technology can be fun. As a FIRST robotics mentor, I see many kids who otherwise would have no connection to this fascinating world. After some reflection on this aspect of what FIRST is about, I have concluded that there an additional benefit to both the students and the mentors: such programs deliver environments that are as real-world as it gets in many ways. Specifically, I have drawn four specific "takeaways".....
1. Such programs effectively serve as an Highly Accelerated Life Test ("HALT") training program for managing people of any age,
2. Both students and professionals can benefit from being pressed outside of their comfort zones,
3. Education/training that is timely, appropriate and continuous is the key to personal growth and stability,
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