Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Tech gap

Even Tech Execs Can't Get Kids To Be Engineers (WSJ)  

Vinod Dham is among a growing number of technology executives warning that the U.S. faces an engineer shortage. To stay globally competitive, he says, the nation must do better at steering its youth toward engineering careers. Mr. Dham knows how hard that is: He can't persuade his own kids to go into engineering.

The 54-year-old Mr. Dham would seem to be a prime role model. His engineering degree lifted him from his humble origins in India into a 16-year career at Intel Corp., where he became well-known for helping create the Pentium chip. His older son, 22-year-old Ankush, is studying economics, and that's fine with Mr. Dham, who says he couldn't get him interested enough to develop the rigor required for engineering. But ever since his younger son, 19-year-old Rajeev, was a boy, Mr. Dham has been urging him to pursue engineering -- and he, too, is going into economics. Rajeev "doesn't want to do electrical engineering," the elder Mr. Dham laments. "He tells me the job will be outsourced."

Silicon Valley is doing a lot of hand-wringing these days about a coming engineer shortage. Tech leaders such as Cisco Systems Inc.'s John Chambers and Stanford University President John Hennessey warn that the U.S. will lose its edge without homegrown talent. The U.S. now ranks 17th world-wide in the number of undergraduate engineers and natural scientists it produces, they point out; that's down from 1975, when the U.S. was No. 3 (after Japan and Finland).

But some of the nation's tech elite -- including many immigrants who benefited greatly from engineering careers -- are finding even their own children shun engineering. One oft-cited reason: concern that dad and his contemporaries will ship such jobs overseas.

Venture capitalist Promod Haque, for example, is in an ironic bind when it comes to advising his own kids. Like many other Silicon Valley financiers, Mr. Haque has recently begun funding tech start-ups in India and urging U.S. tech entrepreneurs to outsource from the start by forming companies that split operations between the U.S. and India. Mr. Haque chuckles about a recent dinner conversation with his college-age daughter, who he hoped would go into engineering just as he did. "She said, 'Dad, I'm not going to take any more computer-science classes,' " he recalls. "I asked her why. She looked at me straight and said, 'I don't want to go to India to get a job.' "

Experts cite a variety of other reasons for the U.S.'s engineer shortage, including poor math and science curricula in public schools. And there is also a persistent image problem. A recent study of 2,800 of Silicon Valley's youth by consultants A.T. Kearney found that 73% were familiar with high-tech careers but only 32% wanted to pursue them. In describing tech careers, students in the study used a variety of unflattering terms, including "intimidating" and "uninteresting." Others said they considered engineers to be "socially awkward" or "obsessed with work." Some female respondents linked computer engineering with work that is "tedious" or "antisocial."

That was the case for Susan Mason's two stepdaughters, Alexandra and Joanna. Ms. Mason, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist with a background in computer engineering, says she urged the girls to consider engineering when they were in high school. They ignored her advice: Alexandra became an audiologist and Joanna went into nursing.

"They felt that engineering was too solitary, even if they were working in a team environment," Ms. Mason recalls. "They wanted to have more interactions with people on a 'human' level," she says...


Anonymous said...

Ha! Kids aren't stupid! The US does not face a shortage of engineers, it faces a shortage of engineers willing to work for third world wages!

Crazy Dan said...

Good morning steve, I find it quite refreshing to occasionally find a post such as yours with a different topic completely. It somehow ads to ones little list of lifes experiences.

I seem to have a soft spot for blogs related to
# #LINK## and /or sites that have a central theme around submit articles type items. I guess this comes from being a webmaster as well.

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