Before the internet, it was cumbersome to gather information to support an argument’s veracity. Henchmen equipped with stacks of recycled paper would be deployed to social areas on a mission to collect the public’s opinion, tedious work expensive both in man-power and time. With the advent of the world wide web, online surveys came to mitigate a lot of these disadvantages. What was previously a lengthy conversation and numerous strokes of a pen shrunk to a few mere mouse-clicks. Such progress gave Aspencore (an electronics industry-focused media platform) the means to conduct their engineering field study – “Mind of the Engineer” on 1,494 electronics engineers from diverse backgrounds (including yours truly), gaining valuable opinions on their profession facing the most recent challenges of 2020. Being a motley of biased data from the masses, I aim to provide personal feedback, comments and analysis on the conclusions made in the mentioned field study.

A review of Aspencore’s research may help in future planning and decision-making too. Due to the significance of their research, I highly recommend getting a personal copy of their paper which is available and free to the public. I guarantee it is a treasure chest of data that will surely help broaden anyone’s intuition of the immediate landscape when it comes to electronics technologies. 

The paper opens with sufficient details on the census, followed by a brief summary of key points (some of which are already inherent to the engineering profession – like “their jobs require them to work faster than in the past” – a requirement that should never change). It is then succeeded by graphs and numerical data based on total respondent feedback, which makes up the rest of the text. Let us start by looking at the most impactful statements below. 

Application and Interest in Sensor Technology is at its Peak. 

It is unsurprising to find a growing interest in sensors, as it is the main player in implementing IoT applications. In fact, most emerging technologies get their inputs from sensors (i.e. data for machine learning and artificial intelligence, user input for smart applications, etc.). This was derived from Aspencore’s statistic on adoption and interest of new and emerging technologies shown below. 

New and Emerging Technologies – Adoption and Interest. Image courtesy of Aspencore 

There are complications in the y-domain of the statistic, because some help realize other technologies. For example, artificial intelligence and machine learning are listed separately, though machine learning falls under the umbrella of artificial intelligence (the same goes with 5G being a wireless connectivity protocol). Sensors enable signal processing, IoT, industrial control and automation, autonomous automotive, etc. which makes sensors a pervasive technology and hence a pivot of interest. 

It is surprising though to see 5G near the bottom. With all the benefits a faster internet has to offer, making possible a plethora of bandwidth intensive IoT and smart apps., I was personally expecting to see it make the top 5 at least. Perhaps most respondents believed 5G did not have much to offer? 

A.I. and Smart Apps possess Significant Growth Opportunities 

Focusing on the grey area of the statistic, A.I. and smart apps. seem to be taking the spotlight. I strongly agree with this given my inbox is spammed to the brim with emails themed on their marketing. Aside from the unusual digital clutter, A.I. is a flexible technology and works with anything involving information analysis. Smart devices are also becoming cheaper, helping people accomplish their everyday tasks with more efficiency. At the other end of the line, only a small portion of respondents share an interest in design tools. I have to admit it does makes sense given EDA and CAD tools only appeal to designers who are just a portion of the respondents. 

COVID-19 pandemic and Changes in the Workplace 

Majority of respondents worldwide were offered alternative work locations. I too, was offered to work-from-home or ‘telework’ after accomplishing some vital activities as a skeletal worker (being cognizant of how other departments do their work has its perks and can prove essential during dire times). I also know some friends who were offered to work at a hotel (since their actual residence was too far away). As for work-from-home tasks, I first did some activities related to pre-silicon evaluation. Being at home didn’t have the same feel being surrounded by wonderful people at the laboratory but at least I got to practice aloud my eccentric monologues. 

Most also preferred to do research on technical topics when working at alternative environments. Indeed, some of my colleagues who had no requests for a product engaged in intensive research when working from the comfort of their homes (the topics of which I may not be allowed to disclose). As for the tools used to access company resources remotely, a bar graph is illustrated below. 

Technology Used for Alternate Work Location – Image courtesy of Aspencore 

Same with the majority, I use a VPN with a company owned desktop to access company resources. A VPN is the most secure flexible viable option for any teleworker assigned with a variety of tasks in my opinion. Unfortunately, my internet connection became problematic early March this year with sporadic network outages from time to time (not that it was already slow to begin with). It honestly never occurred to me that I’d have to worry about internet speed someday (as I was not a heavy internet user). Thanks to the pandemic, now I have to worry about establishing a reliable internet connection at home. 

A tentative solution I came up with is to use two (2) routers from different ISPs. When a network is down, I’d switch to the other. It’s definitely a straightforward approach (and albeit more expensive), but there are still instances when both networks would go down. Then I’d look out the window and reminisce simpler times when one’s productivity did not depend on one’s wi-fi. 

Corporate login portals are limited to web browsers (if I’m not mistaken), so unless your company spent extra dollars on hiring a web developer to interface the company’s custom design tools (with floating licenses) that undoubtedly have many versions and require frequent modifications, the only resource that can and will be accessed from these login portals are documented archives and official company forms. 

I’m thinking the additional external peripherals mentioned are special hardware that further encryption between the employee’s PC and company database. For example, a microprocessor can run a small linux OS with another VPN installed. Though doing so may be overkill unless security is of utmost importance. 

Chinese suppliers are at a low since 2018 

A potentially decreasing number of suppliers from China may have been brought about by the US-China trade war. News of companies withdrawing their production facilities from Chinese soil are spreading and could be turning into a trend. If the migration continues, a further drop in suppliers from China can be expected in the years to come. 

The remaining points mentioned in the paper still meet the norms and expectations in an electronics engineer. From continuous learning and training being a key part of ANY job (even when I worked as a cashier, I was training myself to become more amicable with customers – being shamefully unprepared to build momentary rapport) to IP cores most often selected during the “conceptual design” phase (I doubt things would go smoothly if it were selected in any other phase). 

To summarize, sensors, A.I., and smart apps. are most likely to be the next big thing to hit the electronics market. For electronics companies severely affected by the pandemic, VPNs are the way to go for remote access and work-from-home arrangements.