Friday, October 26, 2007

IEEE Denver Section Awards Banquet

Earlier this evening, the Denver Section of the IEEE held its annual awards banquet at the Boulder Marriott.  The picture is of the evening's speaker Howard Lieberman, Chairman and CEO of the Silicon Valley Innovation Institute.  I had the pleasure of sitting next to him during the dinner for a lively discussion of the IEEE and state of Electrical Engineering.

Howard has a very accomplished career in the audio and computer industries, and now he leads the Silicon Valley Innovation Institute.  In his current role he tries to help companies learn how to innovate.  A real challenge in a company where they do not already have a culture of innovation.  Innovation is not something that can be institutionalized.

The discussion at our table centered around the state of Electrical Engineering and the IEEE.  Electrical Engineers since WWII had always felt a sense of security in their careers until the bubble burst in 2001.  Now we are generally a depressed lot because many career tracks have been derailed and job security is a thing of the past.  Outsourcing has also impacted our sense of well being. 

The EE that have survived and even thrived have realized that they are essentially free agents.  They know that there is no such thing as job security whether in a big or small company.  The only security that they know is what they can create for themselves.  We constantly must assess our career to protect ourselves and our families.  As Engineers we still have an ethical obligation to our employers to continually produce value. 

The IEEE at a juncture.  It is struggling to be relevant to mid-career electrical engineers.  Membership numbers indicate that they loose graduates after a few years into their careers.  This is the group most affected by the current shifting career market.  The Institute is not doing an adequate job meeting the needs of these members.  Sure it has career workshops, webinars, seminars, on-line forums, career site, and lobbying by the IEEE USA.  These are all valuable services, but they are missing the most valuable service of all:  the redefinition of what it means to be an Electrical Engineer and assisting these members through the transition.

The IEEE has as many members as the AMA, but the average person cannot tell you what an EE contributes to society;  they sure can for doctors.  The reason is that the IEEE is filled full of academicians and institutionalized employees.  Although the are a valuable resource to the Institute, they do not fully represent the membership at large.  There should be more entrepreneurs, small and mid-size company employees, consultants, and the self-employed.  They should be elected to office, placed on committees, and used as volunteers to shape the future of our profession.  Headquarters should utilize them to understand what education, services, and legislative positions are important.  These actions would not only build a stronger Institute, but make membership of the IEEE a life-long endeavor.

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