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April 21, 2006


Odd that a finance/history major would say this. I wonder what your kids will go into. America is becoming a speculator's land as each day passes. The media-industrial complex is to blame for this. The side effect of boomer world is implicitly teaching all children that we value money at any and all costs. This is what is leading to the death of innovation here.

When I was a teenager, I was developing software for a small software company I had, while all the other kids were playing football/baseball/talking about body strength/fat percentages/etc.

I call this "strokefesting", where people feel good telling each other how great they are instead of executing and doing something for themself! This is a core problem here, and it has got to change. Forget baseball camp, instead, why not teach them math or the "suburban back yard science lab"?

I have an 11 year old and the cultural draws to banking, hedge fund management, law are very strong. When Tim Draper was out in India, he asked many kids what they wanted to be and a lot said they wanted to be a technology entrepreneur like Bill Gates. How ironic...they want to be like an American entrepreneur and our kids gravitate elsewhere.

Another experience...I was on a guys getaway and I asked all 20 guys what was their best subject in high school and nearly all of them said science or math. Not a single one went into science. All are in real estate, law or banking.

I think we need to start immersing kids in science, including, as you say, summer camps (NASA space camp, Northwestern computer camps, biology, even small company creation programs).

I actually taught programming in high school (remember PASCAL?)and at a Sierra computer camp (1/2 day programming, 1/2 day on the lake, trails, etc) when I was in college (I was also a computer science minor at school). The National Lego Robotics program is awesome and I am trying to get it rolled out at my son's middle school.

We need to start promoting our scientists and tech entrepreneurs more to our kids. If we don't the only messages they will hear are about making $100m by managing hedge funds (eventually for the Chinese asset holders!).

So I feel the need to log a counterpoint here. I'm not going to argue science per se (I agree we're falling behind). But let's be careful about damning the humanities and liberal arts degrees. The value in BA degrees is often learning to learn -- pushing intellectual curiosity to a level that enables one to adapt as the world changes and science gets re-written and evolved ever faster.

If we are living in a world of accelerating clock speed (see http://radio.weblogs.com/0111718/2005/08/31.html#a287 for a great post on this topic), we need to be careful about forced learning of "todays" specific knowledge and forgetting to embrace the love of learning with our kids...

I'm going to push my kids for a balance between humanities and the sciences. For it is through balance that I think our future is brightest...

Duh? 50% of the population systematically escews engineering disciplines. What do you expect?

the populatoin size of each country must be taken into account in comparison to the number of graduates, not just the number of graduates

Each of these countries has population of 1 billion +/- few millions. Of course they'll have mor e students with certain degrees.... matter of fact, they should have better numbers when it comes to educational degrees in every field

When I was a high school student, 20 years ago, there were no role models or descriptions of jobs. We were given a few days a year in career counseling, a handful of pamphlets, and the army and police would have reps there. As far as I knew, there were no jobs in chemistry or engineering available other than as teachers. I suspect nothing has changed in the last 20 years in schools.

I went into programming, because I saw role models there. Now, of course, mass layoffs over the last decade and transferring of the jobs to overseas has not gone unnoticed by high school students.

"O WHAT!!!
Each of these countries has population of 1 billion +/- few millions. Of course they'll have mor e students with certain degrees.... matter of fact, they should have better numbers when it comes to educational degrees in every field"

Glad someone else noticed this. Show me per capita and then we can start getting worried.

Also, people act as though a better India and China is harmful to the US. Do you realize that the more money they have the more US goods they can buy?

Just a thought - Law of supply and demand. If engineers are lacking, they will get paid more and therefore attract more students.

...going into finance next fall...

I have been an engineer (female, by the way, John Funk, not all women eschew math and science) for 11 years now. I would NEVER tell a child to go into engineering these days. The salaries are dropping and many large companies have stopped hiring in the US, and are only hiring in China and India. Why hire 1 engineer in the US when you can hire 4 in India or 10 in China? And let's not even get started on the image problem engineers have in the US. If I find myself amiably chatting with someone at a party, and then I tell them what I do for a living, their face will inevitably cloud over and they'll say something like, "Oh, I never liked math." or "Wow, so you work with all nerds?" Ugh. Until the public perception changes, kids will never be drawn to scientific fields.

I've been an engineer for 8 years, and I would never tell my kids to go into engineering. The future looks bleak, big US companies are only hiring in China and India.
I'm getting my MBA in finance and getting out of engineering world for good.

Why on earth would the kids WANT to?

It's a well-known fact that the engineering job market in the U.S. faces many threats from cheap labor in other countries. By contrast, one could get a job in marketing, management, or finance without much effort.

Engineering is much harder and yields less rewards than one could gain from a business major.

The only people who are still going to take this kind of work are the people who genuinely love it, and those people are only ever going to make up some small percentage of the population.

Who's to blame for this?

Businesses. They've been willing to push all their engineering talent overseas, and now they pretend like it's a "crisis" situation. The reason why so many indian and chinese students take engineering? Because there are literally thousands of western companies pumping millions of jobs into these markets.

Of course, what these same companies aren't realizing is that they could just as easily move most of their non-engineering staff overseas, too. Middle management, accounting, finance, marketing, design, etc. can all be done just as well in india and china as they can be done in the US.

"Also, people act as though a better India and China is harmful to the US. Do you realize that the more money they have the more US goods they can buy?"

Except that the U.S. doesn't produce many goods. They can't buy what we aren't selling. American manufacturers moved all their jobs to cheap labor nations, and their competition eventually realized that they could just run the business themselves...so now there's hardly any american companies that actually make physical products. Where do you think Lenovo came from?

The same thing will happen to the tech companies in coming years. Eventually all those indian and chinese engineers that Microsoft, Yahoo, etc. employ are going to realize that they can just start their own damned company, and now these companies are going to be forced to compete with indian & chinese companies, but will have no engineers to hire.

It's as Marx once said: "A capitalist will sell you the rope to hang him with". America has already sold the rope, it's just a matter of time before the box is kicked out from underneath us.

America's days of being the sole super power, of having a better quality of life than the rest of the world, of not having to really work for anything, are numbered. Taxes are going to get higher, unemployment is going to rise, salaries are going to drop, government programs are going to be slashed, businesses are going to fail, and inflation is going to skyrocket.

Of course, this all will eventually balance out. Life will be worse for people in developed nations, but it will be much better for people in china and india. Smart people won't have trouble finding work.

Personally, I think it's probably what's in the best interest for the world as a whole. Indians and Chinese deserve a chance the same as everyone else.

Disclaimer: I'm an engineer that has never really had that much trouble finding jobs once I had skills that are in demand. When I update my resume on monster or hotjobs, I get flooded with requests from headhunters. I've been doing this for about 8 years, and I make about 6 figures in total compensation (salary, stock, bonuses, etc.).

Quite simply, the reason that Americans don't want to become engineers is that the rest of society doesn't understand what they do. And frankly, if they don't understand what you do, then they aren't going to respect you. Additionally, with more science related jobs being outsourced to India and China, why would one criticize teenagers who want to pursue a career in law or finance? If I were a teenager, I would see the writing on the wall and tell myself that math/science might make me a better realtor or accountant, but I don’t want to be an engineer – shit, the average engineer has not seen a raise in many years. Sure the computer and electrical engineers in Silicon Valley are doing well, but what about your avg engineer? (ie civil, mechanical, chemical, etc.) Most of them are slowly being replaced with “teams” from outside the USA. In reality, US businesses are partly to blame for this because engineering truly can be outsourced. If we could outsource doctors and lawyers, US firms would do it in a second. In fact, offshore lawyers are being trained in American law and hopefully they will start affecting American lawyers. When that happens, American lawyers will quickly start complaining and worrying about “foreign” interests interfering in their profession. Hopefully by then it will be too late.

Just as some people commented earlier about being multifaceted, i.e. equally good in the arts as well as the sciences, I also believe this should be the way to go.

Education should become more than just a "this is my major so thats the only thing I'm going to study for the next X years I'm in college".

I'm in first year engineering at Queens University. One of the topics often brought up is how china and india are producing more engineers and how we are going to be competing for the same jobs when we graduate. This is just another reason that we are pushed to exceed.

I just did the per capita numbers and the ranking is:

1. Japan
2. Taiwan
3. South Korea
4. US
5. China

With the US and China pretty close to each other, South Korea and Taiwan pretty close to each other, and Japan far and away ahead.

This shouldn't be too much of a surprise.

Has it occurred to anyone that we are entering an era of abundance, not scarcity?

We have worked out how to get machines to do our work. How many readers still do their laundry by hand?

We have figured out how to automate knowledge transfer (universities), and discovery (capital-driven research).

As long as there aren't artificial barriers that prevent people from becoming engineers, there's no reason why the deficit can't correct itself when demand for engineers pick up.

US Universities are getting so expensive, it would be cheaper to send one's kids to China or India to learn engineering or medicine.

I know people don't want to hear this, but if we want engineering and science to become dominant in the US then we need to do at least 3 things:

1) Kill the public school system and switch to a private school system. There is no other way to break the poor accountability forces in the education system today, even if that means a few people get left behind. I'm sorry, but it's just the truth.

2,3) Kill the patent and copyright systems. I'm sorry, but you can't treat the free flowing nature of information in the information age like a threat and expect to do well. It is very sad, because people try to categorize these as property rights when they are nothing at all like property. I know that some inventors will withhold their inventions, and others will withhold R&D, but the truth is that there are millions of inventions and works not being used and applied like they could be and that is harming society and it's technology culture far more than anything else.

It should not be lost on people, the minimal number of public schools in places like Hong Kong and the culturial disrespect of patnets and copyrights in Asian society. The fact that western culture clings to patnets, copyrights, and public education so desperately means to me that we are in deep troubble.

Also, you must take into consideration their culture. For the Indians if you come from a good family... you must become an engineer or a doctor. Otherwise you don't get that much respect in the community.

A couple of comments:

1) Regarding David's comment about public school system, Steve Jobs said that public schools spend $44,000 per child to get frome elementary to high school. He also argued if the public education was made private and each child given $44,000 to go through the education, that would increase quality. I agree with this. It would increase schools to compete, which in turn would increase quality.

2) The goal of engineering is to create, and develop. I think the US will always have room for companies that want to create. Most of the jobs that are going over seas are 1) corporate technical support (programming and qa), 2) qa, 3) mainframe, 4) day-to-day routine, 5) customser service.

What will stay in the US is innovation and "new technology" that has a cultural and emotional effect, which can eventually have an impact overseas.

3) Most items will come back in to the US as we realize the overseas and offshoring items are not working well. I know many companies that try this and realize the time spent to turn a project around takes longer because of levels of miscommunication. It's always blamed on "process", but at the end, there's something to be said if a team is close to the project management offices. Dell already has started moving some stuff back into US regarding customer service becauase of a backlash. I still will not buy Dell tho, because I was very annoyed by the offshore cust svc and do not want to bite teeth and nails to get someone "in-house". I really am not supportive of the offshore model because of time turnaround for software projects. Even if the money is cheaper if the project is late, time is NOT. I'm a software development manager/consultant myself, and I've been in these situations. Unfortunately, sometimes I was "stuck" in this situation and only after much pain was the offshore removed.

Another data point: *all* members of the Chinese Politburo are engineers by training. Not a single member of the US Cabinet...

There is a distinction between quantity and quality. In case, you havent heard, US Universities are still the best in terms of research output by a long margin. It is inevitable that the jobs from advanced economies get taken over by cheaper labor in the weaker economies. The way the advanced economy stays ahead is by investing more in R&D and creating new fields. You can start worrying in the US when the R&D also gets shipped overseas and the R&D output here slows down to a rate slower than in other places. Until then, we still have a lot of breathing room left.

One point that seems to have largely been ignored in the discussion is the quality of the engineers coming out of all these countries. I can speak for India, being an engineer myself, and having come out of one of thousands of the engineering colleges here. I can vouch for the fact that quality of education in MOST of the colleges here is pathetic, and hence so are the quality of engineers produced.

Culture is certainly a major influence here as pointed out earlier by someone else. Anything other than engineering or medicine is considered 'weird'.

My opinion is that the jobs that are getting outsourced are mostly monotonous 'sh*t' jobs, i.e. jobs which needs more 'hard work' as opposed to 'smart work'. Keeping the 'smart work' in the developed countries will mean that the control will continue to stay there, I guess.

Great to see dialog on the post. Here are a number of thoughts on it:
1) unfortunately, absolute numbers (especially when they are multiples) do count in innovation as you have that many more people working on solving any given issue. Productivity and efficiency, as pointed out, are key and the US has been strong on both counts. Also, there are questions about what defines an “engineer” in other countries.
2) I agree with John Funk that balance is critical. There is a significant role for liberal arts and “learning to learn” in our system. That said, if only 5% of our grads are getting engineering degrees, that means that 19x that amount are focused elsewhere. Since science is so key to the advancement of productivity and wealth, I’d like to see that relative number higher.
3) A lot of folks I know dropped out of engineering for three reasons (all well discussed above):
a. The potential payouts were less than law, banking (also rock & roll/sports but no one I know has that talent)
b. The programs seemed more rigorous and demanding (though liberal arts can also be very demanding).
c. There were not a lot of role models to aspire to.
4) Education is a huge issue but not going to go down that path tonight. The passion for science (and the arts for that matter) are being killed within the public school system. Education is the last bastion of unions, as nearly every other sector has been brought to its knees by them. Unions do serve a real & important purpose, but they can also have a toxic effect. Enuf said…
5) The patent system is an issue. Many of our portfolio companies are getting hit by patent trolls. I guess this is what I get for hoping more students would go into science vs. law…they do both!
6) Crisis has always made the US stronger. We rise to a challenge (the Japanese threat in the 1980’s, etc). We adjust and get better at what we do. I believe, if we continue to amplify our concerns loudly enough, we will do what needs to be done.
7) The pendulum always swings too far. To Manish’s point, proximity and communication are often as important as cost. We have had companies pull back call centers from overseas as well as programming efforts. It is hard to impart culture, problem solving and expectations abroad.
Keep up the great comments!

Let me give you the inside perspective, I am a 14 year old from India and let me tell you that things are not that rosy down here. there is a lot of corruption in education and not enough facilities. Also, u got some impressive stats there , but did u know that that only 1/3rd of China's grads have international standard education and only 1/4 of india's grads. Yes things are improving, but they need a lot more improving.

hi im pursuing my engineering from india and im in the third year i have to go usa for some personal problem can i continue there if yes how and where can i get info abt it

hi im pursuing my engineering from india and im in the third year i have to go usa for some personal problem can i continue there if yes how and where can i get info abt it

hi im pursuing my engineering from india and im in the third year i have to go usa for some personal problem can i continue there if yes how and where can i get info abt it

Not strictly limited to math/science. US education as a whole has clear deficiencies compared to other growing international economies. The system now favors the privileged and lazy. Clearly this doesn't help us out against the competitive populations of other countries.

You're whole country has a "personal problem" and it's call too many people. Eat more curry and screw less.

A good part of the competitive edge a country has may have to do with the best, brightest, and most elite, intelligent, and talented scientists, not simply the total number of graduates. (consider for example the total number of scholarly papers written in major journals, per country, or the total number of worldwide experts in a subject, per country). In this regard, the U.S. probably maintains a massive advantage over all other countries put together. Not only does the U.S. have this dominance among the world's academic/intellectual elite, but it also has the established educational/research infrastructure, wealth, quality of life, etc. to attract such elite students from all around the world, many of whom would choose to stay in the U.S. due to its freedom, lifestyle, healthy environment, and richly diverse culture.

I do agree that over a generation or two, the other countries that are producing more graduates will start build a stronger scientific elite of their own, which will start to rival the U.S. dominance. But in the meantime, I think that policy change in the U.S. and among other western allies could have a good chance of maintaining U.S. strength.

Why "should" our kids want degrees? Our greedy, ungrateful companies (WE made them what they are, all so they could hide their money and their jobs from our government and workers! No loyalty to their country OR people) are too busy hiring people who don't even live in this country and half the time can not even be understood when WE call a billing company in the United States to bother with our kids, so far as I can see, if they don't deal in paper, they needn't bother hoping for mcuh. Apparently it's OK if this country becaomes one that makes nothing, creates nothing and sell only things made overseas. Sounds like a third world country to me. The very rich but the rest have no hope, no job....unless India is hiring.

If there are no great jobs, why bother paying outrageously for college while folks in India get degrees funded by US companies dollars at universities built by.....US companies!

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