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Engineers Should Pay Attention to M&As

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.

3 Responses to “Engineers Should Pay Attention to M&As”

  1. partha Says:

    John,

    Great article. One caveat is that if engrs straddle between hw and sw usually they do not go up in career as they suffer the bat syndrome in classification. Hence they may suffer both in salary and power over a period time – while they might have a constant employment due to their varied skill sets. Its better to concentrate on one and choose to grow in that while having a good idea of the other.

    r’s
    Partha

  2. John Blyler Says:

    You make a valid point. “Bat syndrone” – HR folks are not known for their expertise in appreciating the value of multi-skilled applicants. In my experience, folks with both HW and SW often fit under the System Engineer or System Integrate catagory – which can be a fairly nubulous title.

    And – more often then not – if you’re techically knowledgable in both hw and sw, you’re also more easily sucked-up in to the role of project/program management. Not necessarily a bad role, but can cause one’s technical skills to diminish.

    Your suggestion is a good one, namely, concentrate in one area while maintaining expertize in the other. Still, as I point out in my original post, that can be risky. No path is completely safe. Perhaps the real lesson is to be as aware as possible about the entire system in which your technical expertise fits.

  3. James Colgana Says:

    Hello John,
    Quite the conundrum. I was about to raise my hand in objection when you pointed out university courses, but on doing some research I quickly “put it down”. 20 years ago I was lucky enough to get onto a course at what is now called De Montfort University in England. This course had the breadth and depth you describe, but looking at the curriculum today it has been severely watered down. The course almost killed us, and there really was no such thing as a “life” in our final year, but we came out with a B.Eng. in Electronic Engineering with a good foundation of digital/analog electronics (Smith charts included unfortunately), data networks (OSI 7 layers – fun!), OS architectures (OS9 for some strange reason), software development (assembly and pascal), and semiconductor manufacture. We even had courses on economics, accounting, project management, law, and even marketing. If memory serves, we were light on system-level design, but that makes sense given the era. There were electives, but only within the field of electronics, so beyond the core subjects you could develop a specialization…there was no Physical Education, or Creative Studies, etc. to make up credits. It was 24/7 engineering. I’d say this did prepare me well for the big wide world, but back then the amount of stuff to study was extremely limited compared to today. Was there even a “verification” discipline back then? The internet hadn’t been invented, never mind all of the different hardware and software protocols to make it work. If a course were to teach bus architectures today, where would it start…and end VME-PCIe-MIPI-OCP? Maybe the stopping points are the boundaries of abstraction? Beyond a driver’s API ye shall go no further…unless you want to specialize in firmware and OS development. I guess “awareness” is the key, and then you need to follow your passion.

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