Circuits & Systems
John R. Platt
Here's a snapshot for you: On 1
December of this year, more than 8,800 circuit
design engineer jobs were listed on Monster.com
and 3,300 advanced circuits jobs listed on
indeed.com, along with 4,700 test engineer jobs,
2,500 digital signal processing jobs, 3,700
computer-aided design jobs and...
Okay, you get the idea. There
are a lot of jobs out there for people with the
right skills in circuits and systems.
"That's contrary to the popular
belief that there are no jobs," says Vojin G.
Oklobdzija, IEEE Life Fellow and president of
IEEE Circuits and Systems Society (CAS).
"Good people are in demand."
It's easy to see why. Not too
long ago the main application for circuits was
in computers. Now they exist in almost
everything. "Circuits and systems basically
spans all of electrical engineering," Oklobdzija
says. "I like to think of the integrated circuit
as the basic fabric for computation for
anything," says Jacob Abraham, IEEE Fellow and
the Cockrell Family Regents Chair in Engineering
at the University of Texas at Austin. That
includes applications ranging from wearable
devices to smart cars to medical robotics – and
whatever is on the horizon.
Supply and Demand
Despite the constant need, the
right employees can be extremely hard to find,
says Oklobdzija. "These projects are extremely
complex," he says. "You simply need people with
good skills and years of experience to handle
it." A project he worked on last year required
hiring hundreds of people. Finding candidates
with the right skillsets was difficult. "You
need to give yourself a year to hire people and
build your team."
In order for employees to get
those necessary skills, they must invest time in
focused education. "A lot of the companies that
are hiring chip designers now want master's
degrees," Abraham says. "That's the point where
they are ready to start working immediately and
contributing to a group when they join a
Oklobdzija says the required
knowledge base begins with a solid understanding
of fundamentals such as mathematics and physics.
Abraham adds that people working on integrated
circuits require knowledge of both software and
hardware. "Someone who knows both hardware and
software would be able to make a lot more
contributions than otherwise," he says.
Abraham says the demand for
employees is so big that many of his students
have job offers before they graduate. "Students
don't seem to have any trouble getting jobs in
design or verification or test, anything related
to integrated circuits," he says.
Of course, not every student has
the right skillset. "If you look at students
from the top ten schools, where they have good
quality, rigorous programs, they come out sharp
and well-educated," Oklobdzija says. "They have
no problem finding jobs." That might not be the
case with other schools lower on the list.
"People are interviewing for very specific, very
narrow skills," he says. "The students fresh out
of school don't necessarily have those."
In Demand, Under-Utilized?
One odd aspect of this demand
for skilled employees, Oklobdzija says, is that
some of the top employers are hiring more people
than they need so they have them when they do
need them. "They realize that when you need to
boost a project you can't spend a year hiring,"
he says. "They are basically keeping them in
reserve." These employees may not be fully
utilized year-round, but they are ready when the
right project hits.
This has actually contributed to
the difficulty in finding employees, Oklobdzija
says. "This has created sort of a vacuum." He
points out that this is another indication of
the need for skilled employees.
Offshoring Threat (and
As you might expect, offshoring
has had a major effect on this industry.
"Manufacturing jobs have been taken by China,"
Oklobdzija says. "Now design is being taken away
by India. What you could pay one person here
we're paying five people in India. The quality
of those five people is not as good, but it is
Many of the jobs that remain in
the U.S. require the best employees. "There are
still opportunities, but they are for people
with highly tuned skill and experience," he
That won't change any time soon,
especially as more advanced interdisciplinary
applications such as those in the biomedical
area emerge. "You're talking about the fringes
or the margins of electrical engineering,"
Oklobdzija says. "That's where the next
opportunities and challenges are. I don't think
those jobs will be offshored. That cutting-edge
development is here."
Abraham agrees, and sees that
this future is already ready for today's job
candidates. "I see driverless cars, robots and
medical applications as potential areas where
people can get jobs," he says. Meanwhile, the
capabilities of today's systems must constantly
improve to increase processing power, improve
power usage and further reduce size.
Even as what Abraham calls "new
paradigms" emerge, the same skills will be
required. "The applications will change, the
technology will change, but the basic
fundamentals don't change very much," he says.
"You're still doing basic computations and
processing of signals. That makes this a
potentially very good field to be in."
John R. Platt is a freelance
writer and entrepreneur, as well as a frequent
contributor to Today's Engineer,
Scientific American, Mother Nature
Network and other publications.
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