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I Art Ejumikated

April 2, 2011

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been going over resumes for an entry-level Electrical Engineering position.  I am saddened and amused by what I’ve seen.   These resumes have come from students at University of Colorado and the Colorado School of Mines as well as DeVry University.

For those who don’t know, University of Colorado and the Colorado School of Mines are relatively big technical schools with good engineering and science programs.  They are well respected.  DeVry is a chain of “vocational schools”, with 90+ campuses  spread across the US and Canada.  And DeVry is not well respected.

An Electrical Engineering student of a big school will spend their first two or three years taking “core classes”:  math, science, etc.  And it is not until their third year will they take any classes relevant to their EE degree.  Even then, their EE classes are not quite to the nuts and bolts of electronics.  The net result is that someone in their third year of working on their EE bachelors degree probably has not picked up a soldering iron, or can identify components on a circuit board.  By the time they graduate they are not much better off.

DeVry students, on a whole, have a lot more practical, hands-on experience.  They can solder.  Know their basic electronic components.  Etc.  In terms of hitting the ground running, DeVry students are much better off than their big school counterparts.

Of course, DeVry students have a down side too.  There are some very good students, and some very bad students.   Some are “from the wrong side of the tracks”, and I mean that in a mental state kind of way– not a social class kind of way.  But even these have more hand-on practical experience than the big school people.

As someone who is hiring, it’s a tough call on who to pick.  In the short term, DeVry people are on average better.  In the long term, maybe the big school students are better but there is certainly nothing in their resume that would indicate that.  But either way, I definitely don’t think that DeVry deserves the stereotype that they have.

What makes me worried is that the cost of a college degree is super high, and getting higher.  Several Colorado universities are raising their rates 20% this year!   More and more employers are requiring a degree to even apply.  Yet the knowledge learned in these schools is getting less and less relevant to the actual job market.  This has got to stop.  My prediction is that the college degree market is going to collapse once everyone wises up to the fact that we’re paying more and more for less and less.  It might take 10 or 20 years, but it’ll happen.

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2 comments

  1. I have mixed feelings about your thoughts on what is being taught in schools. You have given a very narrow set of requirements that you are looking for, specifically soldering and hands on experience with circuits. The reality is not many EEs actually do this work.

    Now, I have to be clear. I have worked for a University, specifically I focused on teaching circuit design and fabrication. Basically all of the hands on stuff that you are looking for.

    The problem is, when our students would go off to internships or even full time jobs, none of them touched any of this. This includes students going to the entire gamut of company sizes. Specifically in our town I know of EE based companies with size 6, 140, 150, 250, and 420 of which the EEs that get internships there, only a few say they have done much with circuits. Then when you look at the people sent off to larger companies, like Aerospace and oil companies, they also don’t touch this stuff at all.

    It is hard for students to really care about learning about things like that when they hear from other students that it doesn’t really matter if you learn it.

    Ultimately, the University I used to teach at still devotes a year long project to the skills you are looking for, but I think you have taken it a bit to far to say that the Universities should completely change just to meet your work environment.


  2. I guess my problem is that in my tiny corner of reality all EEs are circuit designers. Of course, this isn’t strictly true for the world as a whole. Some EEs grow up to be component engineers, CAD library masters, project managers, etc. These folks don’t require the sorts of experience that I’m requiring.

    People who design circuits do need actual design and debug skills. They need to know which end of a soldering iron to grab. And they need to know the difference between a resistor and a CPU. Of the resumes that I’ve gotten recently, I have my doubts.

    Years ago I hired this one guy straight out of U.C. Santa Barbra, with a Bachelors in E.E. About a year or two later I asked him how much of his degree directly applied to his job. His answer: 10%, mostly in math and basic science. In that 1-2 years, he designed several PCB’s, from conception to volume production.

    I do agree with you about the Aerospace companies (I have no experience with oil companies). I’ve met people who have worked in the Aerospace field for 5+ years and don’t have much more to add to their resume than when they graduated.



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