Because a degree in engineering is a fast-track to career marginalization by the frat-boy MBAs who see technical workers as interchangeable cogs?
Because engineering virtually guarantees you a minimum of social interaction in college, when your peers are actually enjoying their lives?
Because you'll run smack into the wall of age (and possibly sex) discrimination, right when you should be entering your prime earning years?
Because you've got to eternally compete in the job market with 20-year-olds who will always be more proficient with new technologies, and willing to work at lower wages?
Let's be real: as a career, engineering sucks. We shouldn't scratch our heads and act totally shocked when young people turn their noses up at the prospect of working like a dog until they turn 40, only to be laid off by the guys who played frisbee golf and drank their way through school.
Come on, that's not the typical experience of most engineers outside the IT/software sector, and as far as I'm aware, most engineers don't work in IT. I'm an EE in oil and gas and it's definitely a "pay your dues" industry where often, the young people are the ones that are marginalised. Believe me, a guy with 30 years of experience isn't competing with 20 year olds, and their payscales are astronomically different (obviously in favour of the experienced). Furthermore, most of the middle managers and top level executives are engineers (eg. Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon is a civil engineer, van der Veer, CEO of Shell is a mechanical engineer, etc).
I'm told it's a similar story in the mining and manufacturing sectors also.
(That said, my father's an EE, and I know that age discrimination is a problem in his industry, too...it's just posed as a question of salary discrimination.)
Thankfully, he had it in him to go back to college and retrain. He's now an analytical chemist, making far more and doing less work ;)
Engineering is a tough degree, I have seen quite a few people drop out of CS and EE degrees in the last 4 years.
- Honestly the initial years of the program are quite boring, this is a huge de-motivator. People seem to get burnt early during the degree.
- Most teachers don't seem to give a shit. Not all, but many. Young people need motivation not everyone is driven, even as an engineering student. Especially with the content being tough, the faculty needs to show a little more enthusiasm through programs, events and 1-1 with the student.
- Its definitely true that I could have spent more time on working on my startup and other activities in college. Although I have managed to create balance between school and life. I party, I am not an A student. Although, I really don't aspire to be either. I could be more happy getting those As and Bs on all my classes but I will live with A/Bs and Cs. It does take a decent amount of effort to get a low B in an engineering class. Business and liberal arts classes are much much easier. I get a little annoyed when people whine about their silly little stats and writing classes.
There's always hope that the complete collapse of the Wall Street institutions build by those "frat-boy MBAs" will change things. Probably not though. They'll get bailed out by that other frat-boy MBA institution, the government.
Of course the fact that Philip Greenspun walked away from Ars Digita with ~ $8 million proves there are some opportunities.
Kinda an interesting change, to see lots of innocent MBAs lose their jobs because of the fuckups of a bunch of egotistical math geeks. Normally it's the other way around.
The fact that I have a B.A., B. Sc., MBA and ABD have nothing to do with my contention. Of course, it's also better not to be old ;-)
I agree that the interdisciplinary background is best to have but it's even more important to go out into the real world and use those skills. Philip was able to learn how to deal with MBAs by dealing with MBAs - might have been even better than getting an MBA.
Maybe the purpose of the MBA is to just get you accepted by the other MBA types which are in the higher level positions.
10 years in, I'm near maxed out at what an EE can make in my geographic region. That salary happens to be about 75 percent of what the average law student in my area makes right after graduation.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, majoring in engineering is a BBB (Bad Bayesian Bet) from an economic and even intellectual stimulation point of view.
The belief there's some kind of massive inefficiency in the market that disproportionally rewards a bunch of frat-boy do-nothings at the expensive of us geeks reeks of a little sour grapes.
If engineers were willing to move into management (that group is who MBA educations were originally intended for) then the problem would self-correct, but too few engineers are.
The answer? Because some of us actually like tech. There are two types of people who join engineering: those who have been doing it in some amateur form or another for years, and those who are in it because they had nothing else better to do, and it seemed like an ok bet.
The former won't be attracted by an MBA, because they enjoy being in the trenches, working out the difficult technical problems. They derive thrill out of the act of engineering, and that's why they are there.
The latter will inevitably go for an MBA, or go work at some bank in the vain hope that someone will notice him and promote him to day trader status (believe me, many engineering grads work at banks precisely for this reason). They have no real interest nor attachment to engineering, and will simply go for whatever pays the most.
I think the belief that all MBAs are just frat-boy do-nothing is sour grapes. That being said, I do believe that the industry and investors in general have altogether too much faith in MBAs and pure-management types. The company my father works for had its engineer-CEO retire a couple of years ago, and investors replaced him with a pure manager - someone with no engineering expertise, and is a "pure" business type. The company is floundering, selling off assets, and generally in a miserable state. To me the concept of letting non-experts in the company's field manage the company is downright insane, but yet people do it on a daily basis. If you run an engineering company, for God's sake hire a CEO who's an engineer.
It's true that it's much more difficult to evaluate MBA competency than engineering competency, but I do think the market is some what efficient. I've worked some pretty idiot MBAs (Harvard no less) and they haven't really gone anywhere too far.
Also, at least here in San Francisco, I've met more MBAs than I can count wishing they were engineers so they could build their ideas themselves. Consider yourself incredibly lucky and privileged to be able to take your idea from pure thought stuff to reality.
More than a wage commensurate with your intelligence? So much that you are willing to not only explore it on your own but solve any problem, no matter how mundane, that anyone places in front of you just because it's tech? For decades on end?
-Work for a big company, a small company or just work for yourself.
-Work from anywhere in the world you can take a laptop and an internet connection
-Use free tools to create a product you can duplicate (and sell) infinitely
-Be a part of an extremely active and passionate community that is on the cutting edge of the industry that is driving the global economy
Where else are you going to find that much flexibility and potential?
-Real Engineers are often professionally licensed. Sometimes they have to get certified in every state they operate in. Some require a minimum of 5 years of experience before you can even apply for them.
--Real Engineers use software that often doesn't play well with laptops. VLSI/VHDL apps come to mind at first. Huge PSpice sims come next. AutoCAD and all that come next. Run into issues like needing to have a license server, or hardware dongle. And some of those special engineering programs cost $25,000/license. Not free in any sense of the word.
--Real engineers -- civil engineers I'm looking at you -- are not extremely active and passionate. They are punch clock engineers. Even in undergrad civil engineers are known as 9 to 5 engineers. Being home every night to kiss your wife is apparently one of those awesome job perks in a field that's barely changed in 30 years (i'm specifically singling out highway development in civil engineering here. This isn't meant to be flamebait.)
--Real engineers often need real budgets. Which is why governments or large corporations pay for us. With government, there's a chance you might need a security clearance. No more international travel unless its cleared with the state department.
The real truth is you become an engineer to solve the really hard problems that nobody else thinks about. Like how man will colonize Mars. Or what we're going to do with all these mountains of garbage piling up. Or what's the cheapest way we can deal with nuclear waste that doesn't involve dumping it into the ocean. Or how do we effectively managing the supply chain of a nuclear power plant so it can turn a profit (this is one I'm proud to say I've tackled.). How do we get military goods from one side of the world to another on a daily basis?
You have to want it.
While 'Engineer' is a set that may overlap 'Open Source Programmer' (what you described), it's definitely not an equivalent set, and I wouldn't even say it's a superset.
Clean Room Technician: You know what they do with engineers when they turn forty?
[to Aaron, who shakes his head]
Clean Room Technician: They take them out and shoot them.
Anecdotes can always be countered by anecdotes.
You are what you make of yourself.
I think that a lot of the appeal of startups to young engineers is that they represent the opportunity to do things differently. Rather than tethering your future to the MBA bean-counter at corporate, you can have the chance to be corporate. That's a critical difference.
The fundamental difference between your average MBA and your average engineer, in my opinion, is that engineers are viewed as tactical assets by the business people, whereas business people view themselves as strategic assets. Only in small tech companies are the technical problems so important that the engineers become strategic advantages. That kind of thinking is still pretty rare.
(But for what it's worth, your hypothetical Bain consultant is earning a six-figure salary, traveling around the world and developing hugely important business experience and professional contacts that will serve him well when he leaves consulting. Even the best engineering jobs have limited expanse and authority -- you interact with techies, focus on the details of implementing someone else's vision, and rarely rise to a level where strategic thinking is required.)
I don't think either approach is wrong. They are just different. Do they produce different types of engineers? maybe. There are many other aspects to consider as well.
When I was at GT (late 80s) we were on the quarter system, they've since changed to semesters. If you wanted to finish a BSEE in 4 years, you needed to take 7 or 8 classes a quarter. 6 was a common load and hence the average time to graduate was 5 years. There were no "crib" courses. Every class made you work for your grade; every one. If you had a bad week, your grades would suffer as there were tests and graded assignments every single week. I was told when I was there that there had not been an EE student in anyone's memory that finished with a 4.0 GPA. Even the most gifted student with perfect study skills would eventually get taken down a notch.
Most all classes were graded on a bell curve. Even in your junior or senior year, you were reminded by professors that 40% of the class would repeat the course.
Schools like GT have a social obligation to take on more than they can handle. That means doing more (more students) with less (less faculty, less support structure). That said, I think they do a great job.
If they had more funds to provide students with more tutors and more private scholarship money to allow students forgiveness if they needed to take a quarter off to rest, the graduation rates might improve. Keep in mind that most students at a school like GT are at least half operating off state and federal support funds. These systems do what they can, but are unforgiving if you need to take a break or require some other support like a tutor.
I'm a proud alum. I support my school scholarship funds through alumni channels. I think if people want to see things improve, look at schools that are working hard and doing things right and throw more money at them; they always need it.
But in my 5+ years at GT I've never felt a lack of support made available to me. TAs, professors, tutors (in some cases) and other resources have always been pretty readily available. Most of all, the "fight the shaft" perspective means students are generally willing to help eachother out and work together.
Far fewer classes are graded on a bell curve, too, though the average GPA at Tech remains around a 2.7 or 2.8 and it really is uncommon for people in the harder majors to graduate with a 4.0.
That's not to say that the Institute can't use more resources to do a better job than it is currently doing. But for better or worse, GT is no longer the throw you in the pool and see if you manage to swim school it once was.
It really was a great education and the pains we experienced did bond the students in natural support groups. I have several life long friends from that journey. Other than going to UGA and having more access to women, I wouldn't have done it any other way ;).
Maybe the engineers you describe tend to roll with the kicks and take pretty much anything that's given to them as long as they're more or less left alone to work on something interesting, while the frat-boy MBAs are more the type to drift through life on other people's backs and make enough noise to get what they want? Maybe there are engineers who had a blast in college (I know I did), and there are business types who spend all their time studying?
It's easy to just blame it on the degree, but it's never ACTUALLY that simple, is it?
That's the hard truth folks, don't get into engineering if you don't love it.
Earning a degree in engineering is the functional equivalent of buying your way into slavery.
Your second point is key. Corporate society is structured so terribly that the big-box companies pretty much can't get top talent (and fire what little they can get for various forms of "insubordination"). No one with any talent is going to answer to a frat boy.
There are two somewhat parallel (but unequally situated) trees within the modern workplace, the old-style management tree ("visionaries" at the apex, implementers at the bottom) and the technology tree (of which technologists occupy the middle-upper levels and the lower ranks are filled entirely by machines). The tech tree has historically been mounted to a middling position on the management tree, resulting in a scenario where technology people become peons. The world's learning that this arrangement is a fistful of fail, and the mount point is moving up in the structure... but this is a discrete sort of transition, and traditional managers have to be brought kicking and screaming to it, so it usually happens through the destruction of old and creation of new companies, rather than within existing ones. This is one major reason why big-box companies have been slowly melting down, while the bulk of the nation's private sector talent was rather uselessly employed in an abstruse game called "finance".
In finance, technical people ("quants") were often given a designation one-half level above their seniority-based position, e.g. an entry-level quantitative analyst was between the "analyst" and "associate" levels. Finance is old-style corporate compared to cutting-edge startups, but Wall Street has (had?) a better grasp of how to capture talent than most F-500s.
I think it's a big mistake to assume that every engineering dropout represents a failure of the college, or even a failure of the student. Maybe it's simply a question of incoming students not having the slightest idea what an engineering degree is all about. I seem to remember a lot of people who signed up for engineering before they discovered that you need to learn a lot of fairly difficult math and physics to be an engineer, after which they switched to something else.
That's why the dropout rate is so much smaller at MIT and other elite engineering schools: The students are preselected for their affinity for math and/or physics. For example, I can't help but notice that Olin's "redefinition of engineering education" includes this bullet point:
Applicants are required to spend a weekend at Olin before acceptance. During the weekend they participate in team engineering projects to assess their teamwork and technical skill.
Note: "Assess their technical skill." Now, I'm not saying that Olin's not a great school, but if you get to hand-pick the students, and then you give them a 100% scholarship, having a low dropout rate isn't much of an achievement. I assume with confidence that the vast majority of calculus-phobic people get weeded out before they ever get to Olin. At least, I hope so, because otherwise this practice would be cruel and unusual punishment:
Other engineering schools require students to take foundational courses in physics, thermo-dynamics, chemistry, and math for the first two years. Olin introduces these disciplines as needed throughout the 4 years.
If there's anything worse than hitting the wall in year one, it's being encouraged to go through a year or two in the major before you hit the wall.
Someone suggested it's because we live in a "services economy" not a "product economy" and, therefore, the value of engineering is declining. There is some truth in that: google isn't an engineering firm, they are in the entertainment business, very much like ESPN, Fox and those annoying guys in big hats at your local Tres Amigos.
Our system also rewards engineers way more than teachers, graduates who go into public service, and-- at graduation time, at least-- anyone with a humanities degree. I'd worry about fixing compensation for teachers before rewarding engineers...
Google is an engineering firm, they just happen to make money from ads.
To begin with, multiply by (12 months worked by others)/(9 months worked by teachers).
Then add in the value of the state health plan, usually fantastic.
Then add in the real value of a defined benefit pension plan (chances are you only get a defined contribution plan) available in most states.
Then add in the value of tenure, which I'll tentatively estimate as effectively doubling the salary (1).
All that is actually pretty good for a group of people who tend to come from the bottom of the barrel cognitively (http://www.ncsu.edu/chass/philo/GRE%20Scores%20by%20Intended...).
The idea that teachers are underpaid is a myth propagated by teachers unions and their lackeys in the media.
(1) Many tenured professors could easily double their salary by quitting, but choose not to.
I'd give a multiple of 1.2.
On the other hand, lack of external employment options makes tenure MORE valuable, since it raises the risk premium the teacher would demand to quit the tenured job.
Since my financial math is rusty, I won't try to compute the actuarial values of these revenue streams, however.
Teachers rarely get overtime, but overtime is necessary. The best teachers I know, and I know about 20, work 7-7. They work during the summer to setup curriculum, to tutor summer school students, to select books, to setup their classroom. And they do this all without any extra pay than their salary. They also supplement poor school budgets with their own money to buy supplies the students need to learn.
They are generally pressured to pay into a Teachers union that supports the misfits in their profession, and doesn't generally help them at all. These same awesome teachers are paid solely on the number of years they have been working -- not (at all) by performance, skill, or student/parent reviews. This translates into little reward for awesome teachers over not to awesome 8:15-3pm teachers.
But I digress.
Isn't it just as likely that people drop out of all or many programs at relatively the same rate? Psychology, Pre-Med, Law, Business, Journalism, Poli Sci, etc.
These are undergraduates, after all.
Why should we want to minimize drop-out rates anyway? It doesn't necessarily indicate there's a problem with the curriculum - engineering should be a tough program. The only way you could minimize drop-outs would be to prevent all but the strongest students from entering in the first place. I think it's telling that the highly-selective schools have very low drop-out rates. Is MIT's methodology all that different from less selective universities? I doubt it.
I really agree this. It's hard for a foreigner to work here.
Mixing up incentives is a dangerous business. I would prefer a more mundane approach, like increasing the number of H1B visas.
I would prefer an approach that is more realistic and honest about the state of immigration - the H1B is organized as a work visa, not an immigration visa. What the US needs to do is establish means for direct immigration for qualified, professional people. The problem with H1Bs all stem from the fact that, if the recipient desires permanent residency, he/she is essentially a slave to the sponsor company for 5+ years. This encourages abuse both in employee treatment and in wages - which affects everyone.
If highly qualified people can simply immigrate to the US and find jobs, without signing themselves into virtual slavery, we would all benefit.
Well, I know that is false for grad school. (In my department, the percentage of Americans goes up during recessions, as the US applicant pool is stronger at those times. Yet enough Americans apply every year to fill all slots many times over.) I don't know about undergrad, but I would be very surprised if it were true for all schools! Where did you get this information?
Because in business school I graduated with great grades, didn't do anything, and landed a pretty awesome job.
Undergraduate business school was somewhat worthless, but all the free time allowed me to learn how to start my own business and campus job hop like a mofo.
I'll just comment on the "stapling a green card to every engineering degree awarded to a foreign national idea."
I have no doubt this would increase the incentives for foreigners to study engineering in the US, but if we only do this in engineering and not in medicine, law, business, art, humanities, etc... well then wouldn't we create an incentive for US citizens to avoid engineering degrees and instead go into areas that are insulated from foreign competition? It seems that this has already happened to some extent. If one of our goals as a nation is to increase the interest of our young people in science and engineering, we should at least consider the effect a program like this on their career choices, shouldn't we?
I'm not saying there's no room for debate on this subject, but I'm eternally amazed that pundits almost never consider this possibility when making this recommendation.
(BTW, in "the world is flat", Friedman suggested doing this for all doctoral degrees, not just engineering...)
The drop-out rate is directly proportional on how easy it is to enroll in a hard program.
The school I graduated from, FEI (in Brazil), has a very high drop-out rate in the first semester - about 50% on my freshman year, mostly due to calculus and physics. It's also regarded as a top private school in its field.
So, that's why those teachers are not being fired - because students pay for their first semester whether or not they stick around for the second one.
Whether this is a sign of a shortage, I am not sure.
Instead, lets look at ASU in this study:
The study found that the top 5 reasons (as summarized on page 3) are:
1) reasons for choice of SME [Science, Math, Engineering] proved inappropriate
2) poor teaching by SME faculty
3) inadequate advising or help with academic problems
4) non-SME major offers better education/more interest
5) lack/loss of interest in SME ("turned off science")
Reasons 2, 3, 4 and 5 are directly related to failures of the institution. Sure, there are students who cannot comprehend the coursework, but those are few and far between compared to the numbers who simply do not receive the support necessary for them to succeed.
This study, along with many others, points to a common trend: we blame the student for being incompetent or unmotivated, instead of blaming the institution for not providing them the necessary help (that they are paying tens of thousands for).
Another fact to note: I don't see "I'm not smart/hardworking enough to be an engineer" as even an option. It would be interesting to know what fraction of students flunked out or were barely able to avoid this fate.
Plus, I'm highly suspicious of the quality of this study. The authors appear to be morons:
...only the difference on the seventh ranked reason... was statistically significant (p=.019). ... However, another [statistically insignificant] difference worth noting is...
Also, what % of total college students drop out? It's got to be near 50 (though maybe less for declared majors).
Has there been any academic research on the average quality of technical graduates in the USA versus India and China? I don't mean just memorization of facts and formulas, but ability to creatively solve real-world problems. Perhaps that's impossible to objectively measure.
For the short term economy (1-5 yrs), the quantity counts much more than quality. If Bank of America needs to hire 500 interchangeable Java programmers, they probably can't use or manage 10 excellent programmers instead. But for the longer term, a couple Sergeys and Zuckerbergs (or for that matter, Grahams and Morrises) are much more valuable.
Engineering and science faculties, in general, want to produce stars and have little interest in helping students along that find the material interesting but challenging.
I can't really make a more detailed comparison without more information about what aspects of Harvey Mudd you find similar.
Granted, Biology requires a lot of the same classes, so it might be easier to be a bio major if you're already pre-med, but the biology degree itself isn't worth anything.
They don't want airline safety / nuclear reactor controls / bridges devices made by D students. And the best way to ensure that's going to happen is make the person really really really want to call himself an engineer. Its far easier to be a a liberal arts major and convince two girls to follow you back to your place.
(at least in Stuttgart / Germany)
Oops wrong article.
1) Not a single source that can be googled.
2) The NSF gave the College Board 1.8 million two years ago to fund AP science courses: http://www.collegeboard.com/press/releases/51572.html
3) It's highly unlikely that either organization, which have broader educational concerns than AP curriculum, would ever release a statement condemning either political candidate.
2) The source you linked to supports my claim, if you actually read it.
3) They didn't release a statement condemning Obama, but they've been criticizing the AP curriculum since the 90s. (And Obama's plan is to increase the number of students taking the AP.) I'm sure they'd never actually criticize Obama himself, at least not yet, since they will depend on him for lots of other stuff.
The report was issued by the NRC, not the NSF, but the NSF apparently agrees because they paying for an overhaul of the AP curriculum based on the report.
Also, if you do a Google search for:
NSF criticism of AP curriculum
You see an overview of this as the second result. Also, I couldn't find this in that Alfie Kohn book, so I must have stumbled upon it in something I read around the same time.
"The AP and IB courses, while including some of the best education in the subject currently available at the secondary level, tend in general to be out of date, too broad, and too inflexible in their curricula."
So the argument the NRC is making is that the AP curriculum needs to be improved, but is currently some of the best available. In addition, the curriculum is being overhauled.
So what exactly is the problem with advocating increasing AB and IBO students when, even though there are problems, it's currently some of the best education available, and an overhaul to bring it in line with the NRC/NSF recommendations is underway?
First, "including some of the best education currently available" != "currently some of the best education available." What the report is actually saying is that a few components of the curriculum are good, but the courses overall suck. If you read the rest of the executive summary, it absolutely shits on the AP. This might be couched in academic language, but make no mistake about what they're saying.
Now obviously if the courses are made to be completely different then advocating them might not be a bad thing. But right now all that's happened is the NSF has given the college board a small amount of money to reform the curriculum, a process which just started this summer. Right now we have no idea if any changes were actually made, and if so what those changes are and whether or not they are really inline with the NRC & NCTM standards.
Anyway, all we know is that right now the president elect is advocating a curriculum that has kids going through the motions of science and math without actually learning the principles of either subject, and without learning what it means to think like a scientist or a mathematician. And these are just the science and math courses. There is every reason to think the other AP courses, the majority which are not being overhauled, are just as bad if not worse.
Further, even if the science and math courses are overhauled, there are still lots of problems with them. For example, the assessments are inauthentic and norm referenced, and there is no reason to think this is going to change.
In any event, I don't disagree that the AP and IBO need work, I just haven't seen a proposal for what we should be doing instead.
(Maybe if those people learned to say what they mean directly, the non-academic advocates of school reform would have an easier time sorting things out.)
A lot of the AP course problems seemed to stem from the 'teach to the test' mentality, which occurs because college admissions and school rating agencies use the test results in ways the Collge Board/AP did not intend, so schools and teachers are rewarded by gaming the system.
In that respect, almost everything bad you can say about the AP or IBO courses can be said about regular classes thanks to NCLB. At least where my children attend high school, about 2/3 of all classes suffer from the same issues as AP classes, due to the need to put the kids through the state testing grinder.
In that context, the difference between the two is that the AP classes, at least in math and science, while far from ideal, do expose the students to more advanced concepts than they would encounter otherwise.
So, given the choice between AP classes, and non-AP classes that have the same fundamental problems except the course material is easier, what would you do?
I expect your answer is neither, and you would propose something else? Do you have pointers to that info? I really am curious.
E.g. calculus - it's the "hardest" high school math class, but it's the most basic and foundational college mathematics course.
I took Calculus both at one of the top California non-magnet schools (AP Calculus) and a California community college (as well as took vector calculus and differential equations after transferring to a university). AP Calculus AB in high school in a way is "designed to be hard", people dropping the course, plenty of failing grades. It's the course for the "top of the class", the people "good in math". In college it's the course freshmen in any science major takes (at a community college it's the first course to be taken once the students complete remedial/"catch-up" math courses; at a university it's _the_ first math course in a math department other than finite math/statistics for humanities/social science majors).
Do you have any links?