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Career path guidance

Discussion in 'Electronic Design' started by mook johnson, May 27, 2004.

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  1. mook johnson

    mook johnson Guest

    Howdy Folks,

    I am humbly seeking advice on career path moves to learn from your successes
    and mistakes.

    I have a BSEE and 8 years experience. I'm mostly an analog engineer in a
    company that does low volume and low technology products for oil fields.
    These are used downhole so extremely conservative designs are the norm. We
    push the edge on nothing. The is a niche market emerging on high
    temperature electronics (200 - 500 C) for jets, cars, etc.

    Problem is that I have been promoted from jr. engineer to engineering
    manager over ~30 engineers & techs, in 8 years. That seems fast to me since
    I've only completed 1 large scale project and a few smaller scale ones in
    that time (lots of down time). The stuff I've worked on is performing great
    in the field, but I'd like to have more experience under my belt before I
    move up to the ranks of management. The projects have been largely analog
    such as a 10 mile cable telemetry drivers, offline SMPS, offline BLDC motor
    drive, thermal performance, electrical reliability, load switching, analog
    measurements, sensors, A2D, and some slow 8-bit digital microcontrollers and
    PICs to control things and communicate with the host.

    Should I be concerned about not learning high speed DSP, FPGA (xylinx
    spartin), Tera-flop processing speeds, other industry technology?

    How bad is it to corner yourself into a niche? how do you avoid doing it?
    As a manager, I'll only be exposed to new technology by looking over the
    shoulders of others. I feel like I'm getting less technically savvy by the
    minute. :)

    Your advice is appreciated. It can be a simple as telling your career

  2. Dan Fraser

    Dan Fraser Guest

    As a manager all you will need to know is enough to stter other people and
    to know when they are BSing you. Others need to think you now the stuff but
    as a manager all you really need are the buzzwords.

    On the other hand, 2 years in management, if you get laid off, you'll be
    next to useless as an engineer again.

    Do you real Dilbert?
  3. Tim Wescott

    Tim Wescott Guest

    More importantly, do you _want_ to be a manager? Remember that managers
    _manage_, they don't engineer -- if you see yourself enjoying that then
    go for it, and plan on picking up the necessary business skills. I've
    gone the opposite direction, having recently quit my day job and taken
    up consulting to avoid becoming management.
  4. Guy Macon

    Guy Macon Guest

    Is there any chance that you are being set up as a scapegoat?
    Your biggest problem will be that companies looking for engineers don't
    like to hire managers, and companies looking for managers have a tendency
    to not want managers from other companies, and especially other *kinds*
    of companies. You may end up in a situation where you have to take
    whatever they dish out because nobody else will hire you. I am not saying
    that this always happens, but I have seen it.

    Take a look at and note hidden
    rule number four...
  5. Jim Thompson

    Jim Thompson Guest

    Wrong! My policy, when I was a manager, was simple... be able to do
    everything the troops could, only better.

    Let the troops take the credit and glory for every accomplishment.

    (What do I need glory for, as manager I get the _money_ ;-)
    Not if you follow my policy. (But the paperwork hassles can hamper
    your ability to learn and hone your skills... that, and the political
    BS, caused me to ultimately opt out of management.)


    ...Jim Thompson
  6. Joerg

    Joerg Guest

    Here I agree with Jim. You have to understand what your engineers are doing or
    projects will run out of control faster than you think.

    Also, you'd have to enjoy managing. I always did. But I know many, many who
    didn't yet stuck to the role they were put into.

    If you pursue managing: Get involved, take interest in all the projects but
    never micro manage. Give people decision making power and praise. That's not
    easy. Once I had to reluctantly let our SW guys pick an operating system I
    didn't like at all. But I allowed them to come to their own consensus with just
    one little demand: I'd hold them responsible to make it work.

    Now for the hard part: You may be faced with tough decisions in the future. An
    example is a layoff. Not for the faint of heart but that may have to be done at
    some point. Also, you will become a buffer between upper management and your
    engineers. That can be pretty nerve racking but for me it was ok.

    Regards, Joerg
  7. mook johnson

    mook johnson Guest

    These are exactly the kinds of comments I was looking for.

    Keep them coming and thanks.
  8. Terry Given

    Terry Given Guest

    Beat this: I sacked myself as R&D manager because I found out I was crap as
    a manager, and am really only interested in designing circuits. My boss was
    surprised, to say the least, but we solved the management issues (it was an
    offshore R&D house with 5 engineers and a technician, for a US company) and
    I went back to designing circuits - win-win for the company.

  9. John Larkin

    John Larkin Guest

    Right: management is a pain. There's nothing more fun than designing

  10. Nonsense and complete crap. The above answer is, essentially, correct.
    You are a dreadful manager then. Period. Its a most basic, non debatable
    point, that this what *good* managers must never attempt do.

    You are simply not not being realistic. Your simply dreaming. A manager
    may well be managing projects that involve very complicated software and
    hardware. It is simply not possible to be an expert in all of the
    *detailed* aspects of such projects. A managers job is to organise
    *other* experts to the job, not be able to to the job himself. He needs
    to know when to but out, and let those that actually know the details do
    *their* job.

    Kevin Aylward
    SuperSpice, a very affordable Mixed-Mode
    Windows Simulator with Schematic Capture,
    Waveform Display, FFT's and Filter Design.
  11. Your sick.

    Kevin Aylward
    SuperSpice, a very affordable Mixed-Mode
    Windows Simulator with Schematic Capture,
    Waveform Display, FFT's and Filter Design.
  12. That is not what Jim is saying. Sure, you need to have a good
    *appreciation* of what your engineers are doing, but Jim is claiming
    that the manager should be *better* in all details then the experts that
    are being paid to do that job specifically. Its daft. Its a complete
    waste of resources.

    I can't believe that people can be so clueless as to the function of
    what a good manager is.

    Kevin Aylward
    SuperSpice, a very affordable Mixed-Mode
    Windows Simulator with Schematic Capture,
    Waveform Display, FFT's and Filter Design.
  13. Terry Given

    Terry Given Guest

    The aforementioned answer is IMO a THEORETICAL one. In practice, the manager
    is going to have to make decisions. If 2 techos with similar qualifications
    come to a manager, and state opposing cases for a course of action, who do
    you believe? IME most managers go with the guy who is WRONG, because they
    just didnt understand the explanation. I lost an argument a while back to a
    guy whose entire argument was essentially that 2.31 > 3.0. I won the battle
    though, when things turned to shit a-la my predictions.

    However Kev is dead right about managers not designing. I had an R&D manager
    who insisted on doing everything, himself. If he had been capable, it may
    have worked. alas he was not. We turned upward delegation into a sport thoug
    h, and twiddled our thumbs while he did our work (but didnt collect our

  14. No one said life was simple.
    But there is no practical way to avoid this situation. Its a basic fact
    of life. People *have* to make decisions based on an incomplete
    understanding. We have to accept that wrong decisions are always going
    to be made, and that no blame can be attached for making those wrong
    We can all recount these type of situations. However, it dosnt realy
    mean much. One neglects all the times when we were also wrong.

    The universe is described by a big probability function. It is
    impossible to make predictions 100% correct. Indeed, evolution tells us
    that out of large number of mutations (i.e. possible trial and error
    solutions to a problem), only a few are an improvement in net survival

    The point here, is that managers need to address, and be expert in,
    different issues then design. That's what "manager" means. You cant
    *expect* then president of the US to understand the details of
    constructing a nuclear bomb, which is what Jim is suggesting, and is a
    complete non starter. The president only needs to know the bigger
    picture. Of course, he has to trust scientists on some aspects, and this
    could result in a wrong decision, but there is absolutely no way around
    this fundamental issue. Its *impossible* to be master of all trades. We
    just have to live with, or not as the case may be, with this aspect of
    our finiteness.

    Kevin Aylward
    SuperSpice, a very affordable Mixed-Mode
    Windows Simulator with Schematic Capture,
    Waveform Display, FFT's and Filter Design.
  15. Terry Given

    Terry Given Guest

    Amen to that.
    I try and make decisions based on risk management. I do this with my circuit
    designs too - identify the areas that are highest risk, make sure I check
    them adequately, and have strategies to deal with negative outcomes. For
    example as long as my circuit layout allows me to place the correct parts,
    lots of mistakes can be fixed at low cost. conversely failing to take
    thermal and mechanical operating conditions into account at the design stage
    typically leads to nightmare re-design scenarios. Its usually pretty obvious
    where time is better spent in the design phase using this approach.

    Note the deliberate use of *try* - you are dead right, everybody makes
    mistakes, its only the reasons that change.
    mistakes are an opportunity to improve skills. When I make mistakes, I try
    to find out the root cause - and learn from it. sometimes I learn
    measurement techniques, or analysis methods, or cross-checking etc. But
    invariably there is something to be learned.....even (especially :) if its
    someone elses mistake.
    Indeed. Statistics are also meaningless in the context of an individual -
    obviously so, to you. but lots of people get really stuck on this.
    Yep. "A good leader makes decisions. Sometimes they are right" - I dunno who
    said it, but IMO its true. The worst bosses I have had are always the ones
    who cannot make decisions, and by inaction cause great harm (didnt Bill
    write a play about that). The best bosses were the ones that made decisions
    and then measured their performance, correcting when necessary (quality
    people talk of Plan-Do-Check-Act to solve issues, ie close a feedback loop
    around a problem to make it go away).

    As far as being an "expert" in all of the things your staff do, I think
    (with a bit of creative interpretation) that it is actually achievable. I
    think troubleshooting skills are the key. A thorough understanding of the
    basic principles of the various engineering disciplines is helpful, but
    having excellent engineers whos judgment you can rely on is better.

    Getting team dynamics to work is the other good trick. A friend of mine
    described managing engineers as "like herding cats with egos".

  16. Jim Thompson

    Jim Thompson Guest

    But you're illiterate ;-)

    ...Jim Thompson
  17. John Larkin

    John Larkin Guest

    No, really Kevin, you should try it some day.

  18. Ahmm.. after 30+ years of doing so, I have really outgrown it. Shagging
    birds is much more fun...Its what we are designed to do.

    Kevin Aylward
    SuperSpice, a very affordable Mixed-Mode
    Windows Simulator with Schematic Capture,
    Waveform Display, FFT's and Filter Design.
  19. No I'm not. My parents were married.

    Kevin Aylward
    SuperSpice, a very affordable Mixed-Mode
    Windows Simulator with Schematic Capture,
    Waveform Display, FFT's and Filter Design.
  20. I hope you realised that I was being a bit deeper here. Our brain, as is
    life itself, is a Darwinian machine
    ( All of our process
    resolve to only 3 principles. Random generation of traits, selection of
    traits, and replication of those traits.

    The *only* way we can predict *anything* and *everything* is because of
    a prior trial and error process. its absolutly inherent that all
    knowledge is gained from selection of mistakes (bad mutations).

    Making mistakes gets bad press, but the reality is that it *is* the
    mistakes that must occur to make successes. Even playing the guitar. If
    you never play a bum note, you aint playing anything new.
    and you were doing so well up to this point:)

    Its not achievable in a million years. A few hundred years ago, it many
    have been possible for a good scientist to have a really good handle on
    the sum knowledge at that time. Today, its completely out of the
    question. As I said, its a complete non starter. Why do you think there
    are so many specialist medical doctors? Most expert technical papers, in
    any general field (medicine, physics etc) are only understood in detail
    by a scant handful of specific specialists.
    Yes. The key phrase here is "basic principles". That is all one can ask

    Kevin Aylward
    SuperSpice, a very affordable Mixed-Mode
    Windows Simulator with Schematic Capture,
    Waveform Display, FFT's and Filter Design.
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