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By Jack Ganssle

Engineering Shortage

Published 11/27/2006

A recent very short but astonishing article on embedded.com (http://www.embedded.com/rss/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=195800005&cid=RSSfeed_embedded_news ) is just packed with spicy news derived from a poll of embedded big-wigs. I don't even know where to begin. Only 19% claim to do a good job of eliciting customer requirements. 88% don't do a good job of testing software before its release.

Wow.

Then there's the stunning statement that half of these firms plan to outsource some or most of their firmware work, due to a lack of in-house software expertise.

Again, wow.

Just a few years ago hoards of unemployed engineers were begging for any sort of job. But recently there's been more rumbling about increasing H1-B visas due to this supposed shortage; today about 6% of engineers in the USA are non-citizens working under this sort of visa.

Another factoid in the article says execs despair about time-to-market issues. 46% claim this is their top management issue. I wonder how that dovetails with this new demand for engineers. Late? Toss more bodies at the problem. Of course, long ago Fred Brooks showed that adding people to a late project makes it later.

The law of supply and demand says any resource scarcity, be it oil, PS3s, or jobs leads to an increase in prices. Yet Robert Half Technology claims that IT wages will climb a mere 2.8% in 2007, less than the rate of inflation over the last year. Engineering salaries are continuing to go down in real terms, which hardly squares with a talent shortage.

My anecdotal evidence seems to reveal that most of us have pretty decent jobs now. We've recovered from the dot-com crash. The explosion of offshoring suggests that worldwide engineering employment is going up, which in itself makes sense given the increasing complexity of products. So maybe the demand does exceed the supply. But why haven't salaries followed suit?

Are CEOs plugging a shortage as a masquerade for getting lower-cost workers? The average engineer makes about $100k in the USA, which is a lot of money; the cost to the company is probably close to $200k/engineer/year. This is indeed a pretty decent wage compared to most occupations. How much of the world would be thrilled to make a tenth of that?

What do you think? Is there really an engineering shortage, or is this a ploy to drive down costs?