The single, young, energetic, upwardly mobile engineer constantly angling for better pay and greener pastures was for decades a Silicon Valley stereotype. But that image no longer holds true.
The go-getters are now in India.
The "EE Times 2006 State of the Engineer Survey" on salaries and professional concerns found that Indian engineers are confident, ambitious and anxious for better pay. With good reason: The mean base salary of Indian engineers is $38,300, less than half of what U.S.-based engineers earn.
At the same time, the climbing salaries of U.S.-based engineers can't suppress some dissatisfaction over compensation, management and overseas competition.
"We are not professionals," said Eric Gene Price, senior software engineer with Honeywell in Phoenix. "Engineers must sacrifice to keep CEOs, marketing types and bean counters living the lifestyle they are accustomed to. If you show up five days a week to work for the man, guess what? You're just hired help."
Seventy-three percent of electronics engineers in the United States received a pay increase last year. Raises averaged 4.6 percent, lifting the profession's mean base salary to $99,300, up slightly from $99,200 the year before. Only 40.3 percent of engineers got a raise last year in Japan, where the mean salary is $75,803. In Europe, 69 percent received an increase, and the mean base salary is $71,800. Eighty-five percent of engineers surveyed in India received a pay raise last year.
Issues commonly viewed as American--offshore outsourcing and the immigration of foreign-born professionals--are in fact global issues, according to our survey, which was conducted in the United States, Japan, Europe and India. Half of employers in the United States and Europe, and over a third in India, send design work offshore, our survey found (see story, page 20).
Affirming the global scope of the electronics industry, the survey found that engineers from India, as well as from the United States and other countries, move around the world to find work. Two percent of respondents in India and 4 percent in Europe were born in the United States. A similar 4 percent of respondents working in the States were born in India.
Immigrant engineers, including those working in the United States under temporary H-1B visas, rankle some American engineers, who claim the immigrants' presence suppresses wages. "I regularly call my congressional and senate representatives to dissuade them from giving jobs away via H-1B, L-1 and equally pernicious visas," one surveyed engineer said. "[The U.S. Senate's Immigration Reform bill] seriously jeopardizes engineering as a profession. I also regularly respond to any such idiots publishing material that H-1B is good for America. I mention the issue to anyone who'll listen, but unfortunately it often falls on deaf ears."
Sixty-two percent of U.S. engineers said their companies employ H-1B visa workers. And workers on such visas accounted for 6 percent of U.S.-based survey respondents this year.
One H-1B worker from India, who requested anonymity, said engineering jobs "are much better in India, with good salaries." But he works in the United States because he admires the "professionalism and dedication toward work."
But another visa holder, Alan Waltho, sees things differently. A British native who works as a senior staff engineer at Intel Corp., Waltho said the "financial rewards are definitely better in the U.S."
Among the U.S. respondents, more H-1B workers than other workers identified themselves as younger than 35. The same group received an average pay increase last year of 6.0 percent--higher than the survey's overall average increase of 4.6 percent, but lower than the 6.9 percent increase averaged by all U.S.-based engineers younger than 35. The average salary increase for all engineers surveyed in India last year was 8.9 percent.
The ambition of India's engineers is reflected in their career aspirations. Thirty-three percent said they hope to become a chief technical officer, compared with 27 percent in the United States and 41 percent in Europe. Twenty-four percent of the Indian respondents hope to become a president or CEO, vs. 10 percent in the States and 13 percent in Europe. And 28 percent hope to be entrepreneurs, vs. 22 percent in the States and 20 percent in Europe.
The most frequently mentioned career aspiration for those in the States, cited by 27 percent of U.S. respondents, is senior engineer. Only 7 percent of Indian engineers named that position as their highest aspiration. (For more information on India's engineers, see story, page 1.
The stress of an engineer's work is viewed as oppression by some and as motivation by others. Sometimes it is both (see "EEs love the stressful life," page 2.
Compensation holds sway. Mark, a hardware development manager who asked that his full name and affiliation not be used, said the 2.3 percent raise he received last year was lower than in previous years. His compensation is insufficient, he said. "My experience includes major mismanagement by executives who then demand that the engineers work overtime and weekends to make up for their screw-ups. The discrepancy between the engineers' salaries and those in executive management is excessive."
One engineering project manager for a hardware manufacturer in northern California, who received no salary increase last year, has a contrarian view. "I believe a good many engineers in this country are overcompensated," he said. "I'm familiar with engineering salaries in the Far East. There are intelligent, hard-working, dedicated engineers working for a third to a tenth of what we're paid in the U.S. Candidly, they work harder--not always smarter--than U.S. engineers, and particularly harder than U.S.-born engineers. Given that we have a global economy, something has to give."
Others are satisfied with their salaries. "I'm trying to give my employer more than they pay for," one said.
Said another, "I am paid to produce, and that is the quid pro quo for my significant compensation."
One executive said his company keeps engineers happy by focusing on quality: quality of life for employees, and quality products for customers. "Happy people make better products, and better products make happy customers," he said. "Happy customers will make your company more successful than anything else you can do."
The personal sacrifices and unrealistic schedules of engineers are complicated by requirements for continuing education, sometimes at the engineer's own expense. "Keeping up to date technically, especially in the software realm, is especially tough," said Greg Guyotte, a software systems engineer for Texas Instruments Inc. in Dallas. "New development technologies are appearing at Web speed."
But the demand for change also allows for rebirth.
"With regard to technology, I always try to keep up to date and continue to educate myself," a U.S. respondent said. "As an engineer, I think it's important to realize that you never stop learning."