May 18, 1964 Electronics
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Electronics,
published 1930 - 1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
According to Electronics
magazine editor Lewis Young in mid-1964, the industry was entering into a slump
in business opportunities. The boom times provided during the war years of WWII
and Korea had resulted in, according to Mr. Young, a lax attitude toward operational
strategy that led to wasteful spending and poor accountability for project results.
It wasn't just the defense contractors' fault because government bureaucrats - from
relatively low ranking military personnel to elected lawmakers - had (have) a habit
of making sudden changes to contract requirements. Maintaining the resources needed
to keep up with ever-evolving demands necessitated a lot of the excess. Fortunately,
the military-industrial complex, as President Dwight D.Eisenhower dubbed it, was on the verge of being thrown another huge monetary
bone - the Vietnam War. President Kennedy was already pumping lots of
equipment and manpower into it, and
LBJ would follow suit with vigor. The money
pipeline was filling up quickly; the electronics industry was to be saved once
Editorial - High Life: The Bill Comes Due
Suddenly the electronics boom has ended for a lot of people. Companies are finding
their sales and profits shrinking. And many engineers are finding themselves unemployed
with only a two-week warning.
Some people are saying the electronics industry is sick. If it is truly sick,
it can't complain that it caught a virus from somebody else. Electronics companies
have lived high, wide and handsome during the past ten years and, like an undisciplined
playboy, they have grown flabby and susceptible to infection. You can sum it up
simply: Too much military activity has led to inefficient operation, complex and
expensive engineering and stultified marketing.
The sharpest symptom of the illness is the worsening employment situation (p.
105). The market for electronics engineers has deteriorated sharply since the IEEE
show in March, and those who have strayed from broad engineering into narrowly specialized
fields or into contract administration find the going hardest.
You have to sympathize with the engineer who wants to work but can't find a job
worthy of his education. But for 10 years electronics engineers, like many of their
employers, have enjoyed a seller's market. Some jumped from job to job, reaching
for higher salaries without any concern for building a future with a company or
for acquiring well-rounded technical competence and experience. Many fooled themselves
into believing they were executives because they shuffled reams of military-required
red tape. Others contented themselves with very specialized technical work, pacified
by the size of the paycheck. Now they are paying the piper.
You can build a convincing case for blaming military contractors for this professional
idiocy. They nurtured the boom, wining and dining potential employees. Some companies
set up what can only be described as production-line engineering departments, in
which every engineer was slotted into a pigeonhole to do one specific task - such
as acceleration testing of one kind of component. When the big project was phased
out, the specialized engineers went out with it.
For many years there was always another project. Now there isn't, and the squeeze
Still, every man charts his own destiny. What's happening today ought to be noted
carefully by every engineer. It proves that sometimes the best-looking job is not
always the best one in the long run.
For many engineers, the fatal mistake has already been made.
Our survey on (p. 105) shows it is particularly difficult for an engineer with
10 years' experience, accustomed to earning $12,000 to $15,000 a year, to relocate.
For him the only answer is to beat the bushes and hope.
In the next issue we'll examine some steps we think the managements of electronics
companies should take to improve the health of their companies and the opportunities
of their employees.
Posted June 21, 2019