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By Jack Ganssle

A Wal-Mart Future?

Published 10/12/2005

Though much of the economy has rebounded since the dot-com crash, and though there are engineers being hired now, I'm still flooded with tales of woe from developers unsuccessfully searching for work. Here's an email from a correspondent who wishes to remain anonymous:

"There seems to be a great discrepancy between "official" numbers and the truth. I worked as a software engineer/embedded developer for several years, but I can't buy a job right now.

"I was laid off from my job working for Lockheed at the Kennedy Space Center in 2002. I have been unemployed since then, despite working my behind off looking for a job. The state government here in Florida constantly shouts `Florida has low unemployment!! There are plenty of jobs!!!' When we were laid off, the state sent `employment counselors' to help us. They told us that the only jobs were at Wal-Mart, and that we ought to be glad that if we could get a job there. They browbeat us to death with `Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart.................'

"The representatives of the state of Florida told us bluntly that engineering jobs were NOT for Americans. We were told bluntly: `it's a global economy, and engineering jobs are going overseas. That is part of globalization. You must accept this. Your career is over. Americans are going to have to accept low-wage jobs, because that is the result of globalization. Wal-Mart is the only place that is hiring and you need to work there.'

"Oh, I've been offered jobs. I've been offered jobs in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Korea. I have also been offered jobs in embedded development --
but to keep the job, I would have to sleep with a cell phone to provide 24x7 customer support. I also would have had to travel on 2 hours' notice, both internationally and domestically, to provide on-site support. I turned all of those jobs down. I've been mocked, yelled at, and cursed at. In an interview earlier this year, a female engineer stood up and screamed at me, saying `If you won't work in Iraq for us, you don't deserve to have a job!!!!'

"The IEEE recently published a nice graph that shows a massive decline in the number of EE jobs in the US. [Note: I haven't been able to find the graph. does anyone have a link? - Jack]

"My opinion? The current administration has promoted policies that have driven engineering jobs offshore. They've wrecked the economy, and the federal and state governments are lying about it. The job market is horrible. Unless you want to work overseas, or provide customer support (on-call, global travel) then you are in big trouble. If you have a decent job, you better hang on, because if you lose it, you will never work again. The truth is that the job market is horrible, and the number of jobs in the US is declining, thanks to a bad economy, greedy CEOs, the offshoring of manufacturing, and now the offshoring of engineering and software development work.

"If you have any thoughts you would like to share, please reply. Oh, I do know a former Lucent MTS who now works at the local Wal-Mart, wearing a blue vest."

Wow.

I don't know the writer personally, so it's possible his frustration has boiled over to some level of exaggeration. But too many others write, perhaps somewhat less eloquently, with similar stories.

Are engineering jobs really so scarce? Is a $8/hour Wal-Mart job our destiny? What do you think?