I’m told there was a time when engineers could work for one company, in one industry, on one product, for a lifetime. If those Halcyon days ever really existed, they now belong to the forgotten past.
Today’s engineers must take their cues from the business world of Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A). Engineers can get a good read on what job skills are critical by looking at the types of acquisitions that are taking place. For example, in the hardware world, companies are buying software companies – Intel’s recent acquisition of WindRiver. Hardware companies are buying service companies, like HP’s acquisition of EDS (Has that turned a profit yet?) and Dell purchase of Perot Systems. Of course, hardware companies continue to buy hardware companies.
In the broader market, software companies are buying hardware companies – like Oracle’s acquisition of Sun. Or Mentor Graphic’s purchase of Embedded Alley Solutions. Operating system companies are interested in application companies – consider Microsoft’s rumored interest in gaming leader Electronic Arts. OS software companies are also interested in the equivalent of “service” companies in the software world – Microsoft’s attempted acquisition of Yahoo. And software companies continue to buy software companies.
The lesson is clear. Engineers need a balanced foundation in both hardware and software. To put it more succinctly, hardware engineers must understand how software engineers think and design products – and vice versa. Unfortunately, there are very few courses in today’s universities that offer such hardware-software system-aware (process and product) courses.
A balanced background in HW and SW engineering does not negate the need for engineers with deep knowledge in niche areas. Companies continue to need experts in analog-RF design, deep sub-micro chip design and multicore software design. But from an engineering career perspective, it is a mistake to believe that a specialty education — no matter how up-to-date — will see you through a lifetime of engineering employment.