The engineer's crisis: Re-skill or face extinction (Part 1)

The engineer's crisis: Re-skill or face extinction (Part 1)

Summary: A recent skills and jobs survey is a harbinger to a nightmarish future that awaits the average Indian engineer.


Several days ago, I posted this article about recent trends in the job and skills landscape in India that was based on the India Skills Report 2014. However, there was one crucial component of that report that I thought was important enough to save for a fresh post.

'You're a data what?!' Five jobs that will win out in the big data world

'You're a data what?!' Five jobs that will win out in the big data world

'You're a data what?!' Five jobs that will win out in the big data world

In a potential blow to the 600,000-plus engineering graduates that are churned out of the country's institutes, the survey unearthed a disheartening trend taking place in the hiring landscape that almost certainly spells doom for engineers. Apparently, firms are hiring more vocationally trained people and management graduates than engineering degree or diploma holders. "Even the IT and software industry plans to hire more of management graduates than other domains," the survey noted.

If you're a tech professional, you're probably not all that shocked, since you've been witnessing the steady commoditization of yourself and your tribe. Companies have begun to lean more and more towards not just someone who is a C++ guru, but also someone who understands marketing and sales.

Thanks to the cloud, today's marketing professional increasingly utilizes plug-and-play tech products, requiring very few calls to the in-house tech team to help them out. On the other hand, the average engineer working in IT has a very poor contextual sense of the environment in which he or she operates — be it the competitive landscape for the company's products, how the sales process works, or even what the annual revenues and market cap of the company is and what this means, for instance.

When tomorrow's managers will neither be marketing specialists nor tech experts, this places the engineer in a serious existential crisis.

What today's engineer desperately needs is a reboot — a reconfiguring of the skill set to ensure relevance in tomorrow's workplace. Yet, it's not so easy to do when you've spent seven to 10 years in a company, earning a healthy monthly salary, with a family to fend for, and have very little savings in the bank.

Read my next post about an innovative Indian graduate management program that may just be the antidote to the engineer's travails.

Topics: IT Employment, India, Tech Industry

Rajiv Rao

About Rajiv Rao

Rajiv is a journalist and filmmaker based out of New Delhi who is interested in how new technologies, innovation, and disruptive business forces are shaking things up in India.

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  • Applied psychology

    I'm not Indian. I'm not even an engineer. But that summary is scaremongering clickbait at its worst.

    "Soon you and your family will starve to death on the streets and it will be your fault because you are useless! But don't worry. I have the solution! Just click on my next article!"

    I bet it will turn out that the writer of this article is sponsored by whoever organises that management course.
  • Old Song

    I have been hearing this theme ever since I graduated as a in 1975. Every few years there is another article about the need for technical managers and how education is lacking.

    As a general note my friends that went into management rose threw the ranks. Made lots of money for awhile. When technologies shifted the were let go. Lacking any current technical skills they are now unemployed. I stayed technical not making as much money and continually upgraded my technical skills. I find lots of job opportunities. I suspect in total in my career I may actually make more money. Kind of like the tortoise and the hare.
    • Same here

      although I was always more of a generalist and always working with new technologies as they came out. I was also a firefighter, called in when projects had gone pear shaped, to try and bring them back on track.

      One point in the article did ring true, I've met a lot of fellow techies who don't understand users or the UI design. They are technically very good programmers, but they have no sense or design. Easy to use? I can use it, where is the problem?

      Those who don't adapt and those that can't see the problem from the user's side of the fence do have problems. Those that can adapt and those that can see how important a good user interface into the product is have it a lot easier.

      And I agree about the management types. At some point the company ends up with too many middle manager types and too few workers. That is when they build their B Ark and send off all those useless middle managers to colonise a new planet.
      • They should

        stick analysts on that B Ark too.
  • Not every job need a Engineering degree

    The problem is a lot of work need just a vocational trained skilled technician but management and CEO insist of pushing more for years STEM degrees. It may looks like management finally seeing the light.
    The answer is not is not as you say trying to keep a very bad idea going i.e churning out engineers but look into vocational training or business management instead.
  • Not every job need a Engineering degree

    The problem is a lot of work need just a vocational trained skilled technician but management and CEO insist of pushing more for years STEM degrees. It may looks like management finally seeing the light.
    The answer is not is not as you say trying to keep a very bad idea going i.e churning out engineers but look into vocational training or business management instead.
  • What is Engineering if not Vocational?

    I took an Electronic Engineering degree course which included industrial training and the result was that I was offered unconditional employment before I took my degree exams. I spent a few years in electronic hardware design, both chip design and system design before I discovered software and since then I've never looked back.
    Engineering is absolutely vital to any country that has any idea of being truly independent - i.e. minimal outsourcing, so I feel this article has got hold of the wrong end of the stick. Engineers are like farmers, doctors and teachers - occupations we cannot survive without.
    • Re: What is Engineering if not Vocational?

      Absolutely, I couldn't agree with you more.

      Except that in India, a country that is perhaps the biggest generator of engineers in the world, we have thousands and thousands of them employed by IT Services firms where the scope of what they do is limited. These people are also eminently replacable by the hundreds of thousands joining the workforce every year. This is where most of our engineers work -- not in bridge building or in Fabless companies or in automative design....but in software services.

      In an IT firm today, in order to move ahead and out of the 'commodity' bin, you need to be able to work across functionalities, manage teams and understand the business as a whole. But only a few exceptional ones stand out and get groomed to do so while the rest just plod along.

      Here's a peek at what TK Kurien, CEO of IT Services company Wipro said recently in an interview which may add perspective to this entire discussion of skills and engineers:

      "The other big step we’ve taken is, which will get announced in the next couple of months—we’re de-linking your grade versus the numbers of years you’ve spent.

      What we’re saying is, if you have a certain skill, you’ll get paid and slotted into a grade. If you have a certain skill level that is extinct, you can actually go back in terms of grade…at the end of the day, we’re in the customer service business, not in the “employ more” business."
      Rajiv Rao
  • Engineering without being one?

    The discipline we call engineering is rooted in the need to assure one has the skill to build or design things that won't endanger others; engines, steam engines originally, often exploded when built by "engineers" who could not (or would not – my addition) design boilers, fittings and parts to safely contain steam at temperatures and pressures used. It became necessary to prove competence at engineering and pass a grueling examination to become a registered Professional Engineer before holding oneself out as an engineer at all.

    Luckily for me, since building a railgun in my bedroom at 12, playing and studying on my own all my life, including different aspects of radio and avionics in a 21 year military career, taught me enough to later be accepted as an engineer by employers who needed the skills I brought to the job. I've *been* an engineer at work, if I'm not away from work. And it's been really good working at, too.

    Being to a large extent self-educated, I've picked up much on my own and via the military beyond what I might have learned from a degree in engineering, and that has often helped resolve problems due to miscommunications, or misunderstanding of basic physics.

    If (say) software engineers acquired management skills with their degrees, they would be more than competitive with those graduating with degrees in management, because they would know what they it takes to do it, as well as supervise and direct it. They would know what shortcuts NOT to take, and their projects might not “explode” due to lack of management understanding of design and verification. Many of the ills of technology can be laid at the feet of too thrifty, too hasty processes, and too much bowing to the Gods of Cheap and Fast.

    Why not add what engineers need to compete with the MBA's to what they already learn?

    What kind of additional knowledge? Here's a question I'd enjoy seeing asked of potential engineering employees: Given the story of Queen Dido and the founding of Carthage, calculate its size when first founded. Use whatever online or offline resources are needed. Show sources, references and calculations. Time limit; One hour.

  • Engineering Degree, but not Engineer.

    How many people remain as Engineer after graduated with engineering degree and diploma?

    Here in Singapore, less than 50% continue to pursue and remain as an engineer or engineering role. I know many has switched to sales and marketing and other fields. I agree with the writer that in this modern age, the more skill set you have, the better it is for you.