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).
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
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.