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By Jack Ganssle

Loss of Options

Published 11/19/2001

"I'll probably be maintaining this crap until I retire."

So ended a good friend's recent frustrated email. In previous paragraphs he told of having completed a large project on-time and on-budget. His bitter reward? Being stuck on the maintenance crew. Maintenance: the deadly, dreary dead-end of a successful project. We've all got to do some from time to time, but when excessive it destroys our passion and creative spark.

A year ago Jim would no doubt challenge his boss. He's a smart guy, so would have an offer or two at other companies in his pocket, first. Times have changed. Hiring isn't completely frozen in the embedded sector yet, but it's quite moribund. Jobs haven't been so scarce since in the early 90s.

I get a ton of email. The two most common themes are "how can I become an embedded engineer?", and "we're desperately looking for a firmware person. can you help?" The second group of emails has almost disappeared over the last 6 months. A few - very few - people now write looking for jobs, but these requests are fortunately but a trickle.

My sense is that most developers have work, but many are fearful that things may get worse. A recent poll on embedded.com (http://www.embedded.com/pollArchive/?surveyno=2308) suggests that only 36% of us aren't concerned much about the future of our jobs. The rest range in concern from "starting to really worry" to "lost my job".

When there are hungry mouths at home most of us, like my friend Jim, will trade fun for a reliable paycheck. This Faustian bargain is sustainable for short periods of time, but over the long haul it corrodes the soul till we become cynics, forever disenchanted with the company and our career. I've met plenty of engineers who are fixtures at a company. They find fault with everything and everyone, and seem to have lost their zest for engineering. And maybe even for life. Their attitude is unhappily infectious, and can easily poison an entire department.

Life is hard. It's impossible to always get an ideal mix of money and exciting work. But I do think that it's our responsibility to maintain and nurture our passion for, well, everything. For your spouse, for your kids and of course for your career.

Most of us will spend forty years or more working. The job will eat the vast majority of our waking hours. When the thrill is gone, if the whole thing is nothing ore than a wage-earning drag, you've got to make a change. Maybe today's the wrong time. But the economy will bounce back. Embedded designers will be in huge demand again.

Spend as much effort designing a satisfying career for yourself as you spend creating products for the company.