Our Best Days are
It was the best of times, this is the worst
of times, it was the age of wisdom, this is the age of foolishness, it
was the epoch of belief, this is the epoch of incredulity, is was the season
of Light, this is the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope,
this is the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we now
have nothing before us …" (apologies to Dickens).
Alas, we are admonished
month after month in magazines by editorials and reader feedback about the lack
of atmosphere in today’s work environment for fostering innovation and inviting
our younger generation into the profession. That, ostensibly, has soured the old
guard to engineering and is scaring off the best and the brightest of potential
prospects. The authors wax nostalgic over the "good old days" when everybody was
given part of the workday to explore new ideas and nurture the inquisitive side
of oneself. From those freedoms and limitless funds for test equipment and prototyping
parts sprang forth a flood of inventions and productivity. Today, we are told, doom
and gloom pervades our tiny cubicles and under-stocked lab benches, all of our jobs
are going overseas, and the U.S. product development realm is teetering on the edge
of the proverbial cliff. Sadly, a recent letter in EE Times even boasted of the
author's effort to dissuade his son from pursuing engineering.
It is time
to move on. The rest of the world appears to be doing just fine while operating
in this new paradigm of global product engineering and manufacturing, and if the
U.S. is to maintain its lead, then we need to stop whining about how things used
to be (very few older engineers I know recall actually having participated in those
good old days) and adopt a fresh, even entrepreneurial attitude. China, for example,
in spite of the iron-fisted, repressive Communist government, is leapfrogging over
most other nations in terms of spooling up the younger generation to play in this
game under the new rules. Large percentages of their kids are conditioned at a very
early age to embrace technology from both an entertainment and an educational perspective.
Rather than coddling and nourishing the "self" instincts of youth and focusing on
how they "feel" about issues, there is an emphasis on nationalism and productivity.
Our problem is not that we are losing the ability to innovate and work hard; it
is that we are losing the will to do so.
We have not forfeited the game yet,
however, so there is still an opportunity to correct our course. Recent reports
by panels of scientists assert that the U.S. still leads the world in inventions
and innovation, but that the advantage is quickly waning. IMHO, what is desperately
needed is a total overhaul of our public school system - that is where the problem
of laziness begins. The trillions poured into the public schools has paid a very
low rate of return. We need to boot out the entrenched bureaucracy whose primary
mission is to instill politically correct values in the kids’ minds and replace
the administrators with people who are dedicated to establishing a curriculum of
science and mathematics that at least carries as much emphasis as the liberal arts
curriculums. Also needed is a wholesale media effort (by force of public outcry
if necessary) to bolster the image of technologists rather than make them look like
misfits, and for national and local leaders to actively promote careers as engineers,
biologists, doctors (not lawyers), astronomers, computer programmers, mathematicians,
chemists, pilots and a host of other highly technical fields.
Let us resolve
to stop telling our kids about how good things used to be, how crappy things are
today, and how hopeless the future is simply because the world has changed. Push
them to the limits of their abilities and do not accept cop-out excuses like "I’m
just no good at math" (that is one of my most detested phrases). Teach them to reject
– even despise – the realm of the lazy people that are content to leech off the
hard work and accomplishments of others.
If you do nothing else, please stop
reminding us all of the utter utopia that was your past.