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Are the glory days of analogue engineering over?

16 Jun 2014  | Karen Field

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Part of the reason for the delay is the relatively small pool of qualified candidates and the fact that the skill set required has become much more niched, says Wintz. "From what I see, I'd estimate only about one in 45 engineers might actually be qualified for one of these positions," he adds.

A challenge with mixed-signal design in particular, he says, is that while an engineer with five years of experience could possibly do the job, it would involve working side-by-side with a very senior analogue engineer to get the rich analogue knowledge needed to understand the small nuances of a design.

Is the pool shrinking or are expectations growing?

Some engineers suggest that it is not merely a matter of the pool of engineers shrinking, but rather that the expectations of some employers are growing, bordering on unrealistic.

"My engineering buddies tell me about job requisitions they've seen for analogue engineers that require expertise in all of the analogue buzz-word areas," says Paul Rako, a former analogue engineer himself, who now works as a creative writer at Atmel Corp. "And then they throw in 'Must know VHDL,' which is a digital programming language. What? It's like two different worlds. Your head would literally explode if you tried to fill it up with all that information!"

Randstad's Wintz admits that he's worked with a handful of clients that have had positions remain open for a year or more. "What it tells me is that their criteria is too strict, and that they are asking for so many skills that basically no one on the planet would qualify without client-specific ramp-up and training," he says.

Barry Harvey, a staff design engineer at Linear Technology, asserts that companies have always had unrealistic expectations when it comes to hiring analogue engineers.

"Say that your company wants to build a widget that requires real arcane experience. Guess what? You can't get an expert at a moment's notice and of course, most management cannot plan or wait, so they just hire or draft a non-optimal choice," he says.

He notes that every company he's worked at before Linear Technology wanted to make ADCs but never had the right talent. "Radio design is like that, except you can hire a green RF-trained college grad," he says. "The problem is that experienced RF guys are well-retained—or retired. Very few companies today are like Linear, where there is serious staffing continuity and long-term planning for intellectual growth."

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