January 1963 Electronics World
People old and young
enjoy waxing nostalgic about and learning some of the history of early electronics. Electronics World
was published from May 1959 through December 1971. See all
Electronics World articles.
is this for a prescient prediction from the early 1960s? "As a result of modular and integrated
circuitry techniques, all future circuit design work, regardless of degree, will become the
responsibility of the component manufacturer instead of the equipment producer." Texas Instruments'
(TI) Jack Kilby
is credited with designing the first integrated circuit in 1958. The first commercial IC, Ti's
Type 502 flip-flop, had
just hit the market in early 1960, and already pundits were prognosticating and ruing the
disappearance of circuit designers. Maybe it was concerns over job security that they seem to favor
forever building every circuit from discrete transistors, resistors, capacitors, and inductors.
Rumor has it they also lobbied for the perpetual existence of the buggy whip and horse-drawn farrow
The Vanishing Circuit Designer
By W. A. Stocklin
The Edisons, Flemings, and de Forests, of course, are gone,
but not many realize that the type of radio engineer of the
early 40's is almost as extinct as the dinosaur. Those who are
with us today have become specialists or have taken on new titles,
such as Systems or Project Engineers. Even the IRE with its
29 professional groups, having a total membership of 81,600,
could boast only 6800 members in its professional group on Circuit
Theory in 1961.
During the last war, the military services recognized the
desirability of using a minimum of different circuits and produced
various handbooks of "preferred circuits." When digital computers
came into being, it was apparent that a few basic circuits would
be duplicated many times throughout the equipment and a strong
design effort on those few "standard" circuits was warranted.
The introduction of printed wiring and plug-in boards further
emphasized the need for extremely well-designed standard circuits.
Miniaturization and the use of "potted" circuits hastened the
trend and now that microminiaturization has brought a variety
of circuit packages, the need for standard circuits is even
Experimenting with a breadboard circuit is now considered
wasteful. If a standard circuit does not yet exist for a particular
application, the design of a special circuit or a new standard
involves no experimenting. Precise calculations can be programmed
on a computer and long before the circuit is actually built,
all its characteristics are already known. Construction and
extensive tests then merely verify the predicted data.
Many former radio engineers and circuit designers have gone
into systems engineering, largely because they know what can
be expected from all types of circuits, even though the details
are not familiar to them. In systems engineering they deal with
the proverbial "black box," for which they specify what it must
do. Their work is generally limited to defining such basic system
parameters as frequency, range, power, performance, size, weight,
Another survivor of the old timers' group can be found with
a title of "Project Engineer." His concern with technical details
is limited to the cost and schedule problems posed by the technical
aspects. He is expected to know what the systems engineers have
come up with, and appreciate the problems of the various engineering
specialists. His primary function, however, is to coordinate
all of the various groups. While his technical knowledge is
a prerequisite for the job, his real contribution lies in his
managerial ability and over-all experience.
Fortunately, the basic fundamentals of electronic theory
still remain valid, and it is not too difficult for an engineer
or technician to change from one area of employment to another.
As long as there remains a shortage of qualified personnel,
there is no threat of unemployment.
To the alert individual these changes should be obvious,
but it may come as a surprise that the future holds more drastic
changes than the past. As a result of modular and integrated
circuitry techniques, all future circuit design work, regardless
of degree, will become the responsibility of the component manufacturer
instead of the equipment producer.
This change is inevitable and the semiconductor manufacturers
are in an almost ideal position to take on this extra function.
Unfortunately, neither the present electronic circuit designer
nor any of the specialists in the semiconductor field is qualified
to handle such work. A new breed will eventually evolve-a man
whose knowledge embraces electronic circuit design, semiconductor
technology, plus manufacturing know-how.
At the present time all of these changes are basically involved
in the military and, to some degree, in the industrial areas
of electronics. Rest assured, though, that in the not too distant
future the techniques that are developing in these areas will
influence the design of consumer products. Even now much work
is being done in applying integrated circuit techniques to television
Engineers and technicians who could be affected by such a
change should be alert to the effects this trend may have on
their vocation. Even educators, those men who are involved not
only in training our future engineers and technicians but those
who plan and coordinate their programs, should base their curricula
planning on these inevitable changes.
Posted June 18, 2015