Saturday, August 29, 2009

Test Engineer of the Year

Test and Measurement World may appear to be yet another trade magazine , and sometimes they are. But they also do great things for the test engineering community, like the salary survey. Their annual Test Engineer of the Year award is another one of those community service sort of things. Pretty cool.

So, go read about the past finalists and winners. Then recommend someone you know who deserves the award. Then vote.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Statistics is cool

During vacation I read this article about statistics being the job of the future (also, refer to this talk by the chief economist at Google). I've posted a lot about statistics before (here, or here, or there for example), and I seem to use it a lot in my job, especially when dealing with large sets of data on a lot of DUTs. So that article naturally jogged my brain to recall a conversation I had last month with some other engineers at work.

The field of computational physics has existed for a long while - at least as long as relatively cheap computer time. The premise of comp. phys. is that many of today's physics problems don't lend themselves to elegant mathematical solutions. You have to apply numerical techniques to simulate, prove, or disprove a theory. When I was in grad school two decades ago I knew a post-doc whose entire job (at least while I knew her) seemed to consist of running Monte Carlo simulations on potential collision results at Fermilab: computational physics.

But let's go one step further. Decades ago one of my favorite books was the award winning Startide Rising by Dr. David Brin. One premise of the novel was that, while other alien races used brute force numerical calculations to figure out engineering, the upstart humans were pursuing solutions using mathematical proofs, theorems approximating effects, etc. Good stuff, but I suspect that the aliens are right. I predict that as science progresses, more and more discoveries will be made using powerful computational tools, not "elegant mathematical formulas."

I'm not sure how much that last, rather speculative paragraph has to do with test engineering. But if scientists can theorize about something, sooner or later it has to be tested. Until then it's just theory. And I think that testing will increasingly involve statistics.

Monday, August 17, 2009

2009 Salary Survey

The 2009 TMW Salary Survey came out this month. I've written about their survey before, but it's always interesting to take a yearly peek into how everyone else is doing.

Interesting tidbit #1: The highest ranking for "New technology learned about in the last 2 years" was clearly RF Measurement (38%). I guess that makes sense when considering the prevalence of WIFI and Bluetooth devices.

Interesting tidbit #2: There is still no breakout of salaries by geographic area. Too bad.

Interesting tidbit #3: The highest paid group of engineers are those with 30+ years of experience, followed closely by the 20-24 years group and then the 25-29 group. To make sure this wasn't a fluke, I checked the 2008 and 2007 surveys as well - they had similar results.

What does that last tidbit mean? I considered that question for a while & ended up with two guesses:

Optimistic view: In some professions the older you are the less you are worth. In test engineering, the more experience you have the more valuable you are. The engineer's programming skills, knowledge of test circuitry, etc., do not go out of style or get stale.

Pessimistic view: Most engineers are forced out of the profession as they age. The ones that are left are the exceptional few with skills not easily replaced, so they can command higher salaries.

For obvious reasons, I prefer the former over the latter.