Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Are the Glory Days of Analog Engineering Over?

samzenpus posted about 2 months ago | from the put-out-to-pasture dept.

Businesses 236

An anonymous reader writes with this article about the future of the analog engineer. Some say technology advancements are obsoleting the need for analog engineers, while others say that good, experienced analog designers will always be needed and currently are in short supply. After years spent encouraging engineering students to focus on software and digital electronics, some people say the day of reckoning appears to be drawing near: Many analog mixed-signal design jobs now stay open longer or are simply going unfilled, say recruiters, with some engineers even unable to retire because they can't find a suitable replacement. On the one hand, some people blame the shift from analog to digital, which produced a generation of engineers who speak the language of code, not circuit schematics. On the other hand, others say that with the advent of systems-on-chip, the easy availability of free circuits, pioneered by companies like TSMC, and software tools to verify designs, there is simply less need for analog designers.

cancel ×

236 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

The world... (5, Insightful)

Alioth (221270) | about 2 months ago | (#47228763)

The world is analogue. Someone's going to have to design the analogue front end to your digital system. Even if you have a ready made analogue front end, you still have to understand the analogue world if you ever hope to design high speed digital systems. When it comes to the actual voltage levels on your PCB and signal integrity, the nice clean world of software where you can just expect the hardware to be predictable and just work with no effort goes away, you have to have a little bit of a clue about the analogue side if you want your high speed digital signals to reach their destinations intact. Another example is your (A)DSL line, it might be called "Digital subscriber line" but it required analogue design to get the signal from your modem (and it is a modem - it modulates and demodulates the signal) to the DSLAM in your phone exchange.

You might not need as many analogue engineers as you may have (say) in the 90s, but they'll never go away because the world is analogue, and the analogue world constantly impinges on your digital signals especially once you pass single digit MHz speeds.

Re:The world... (2)

Stumbles (602007) | about 2 months ago | (#47228797)

Yep. Until someone figures out how to bypass some physics digital could not exist without analog.

Re:The world... (-1, Troll)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 2 months ago | (#47228803)

The world is analogue.

Really? the number of atoms that form an object isn't a positive integer?

Re:The world... (3, Insightful)

Threni (635302) | about 2 months ago | (#47228819)

And what are atoms made of? (They're certainly not atomic).

Re:The world... (0, Offtopic)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 2 months ago | (#47228937)

It doesn't matter what the quanta are made of. Once an all encompassing component is present in discrete amounts, the total cannot be analogue.

Re:The world... (5, Insightful)

some old guy (674482) | about 2 months ago | (#47228985)

Here's a news flash: Engineers with actual jobs couldn't care less about quanta. In our world, P.I.D. calculations and control loops are based on the actual phenomena being controlled, said phenomena being analogue in behavior.

If you want to have a mainframe grinding out the quantum equations for a functional room thermostat in near real time, that's your business. For the rest of us in the real world, there's analogue engineering.

Re:The world... (1, Informative)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about 2 months ago | (#47229047)

It doesn't matter what the quanta are made of. Once an all encompassing component is present in discrete amounts, the total cannot be analogue.

It would posit that if Heisenberg were still alive, he would disagree with you.

Re:The world... (5, Funny)

neilo_1701D (2765337) | about 2 months ago | (#47229157)

It would posit that if Heisenberg were still alive, he would disagree with you.

But Heisenberg is in a resolved Schrödinger's cat problem...

Re:The world... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229709)

I haven't finished watching the series. Are you saying that he died in the end? Does the cancer come back to get him? Does he get shot by the DEA? Does he overdose on his own blue meth? :)

Re:The world... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229485)

Pray tell kind sir, wherefore the audio from my CD player?

Prithee, my vinyl record composed of a discrete amount of atoms, digital also?

Arst thou, perchance, a software programmer to entertain such fantastical notions?

Re:The world... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47228941)

Um, a positive integer number of other particles. Let me stop you before you do the infinite regress thing: it's digital all the way down.

Re:The world... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47228955)

Protons, neutrons, and electrons.

Breaking it down further, protons and neutrons are made of quarks.

Beyond that, there be dragons.

Re:The world... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229387)

Actually, it's turtles all the way down

Re:The world... (1, Informative)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 2 months ago | (#47228969)

Last I heard from some interview with physicists working at the LHC, there aren't actually any particles, but that they are just a convenient way of describing what's going on. They are no particles, only fields. Whether that makes the world analog or digital, I'm not sure as my physics isn't up to that level. I guess it doesn't matter what the smallest thing is, be it atom, proton, quark, or something else, but rather that the smallest unit is actually something that can't be broken down any further.

Re:The world... (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about 2 months ago | (#47229063)

Fields by definition would be analog.

Re:The world... (2)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 2 months ago | (#47229103)

Fields by definition would be analog.

I don't know what definition of "Field" you're using, but I'd stop using that one and find a better one.

Re:The world... (2)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about 2 months ago | (#47229247)

Fields by definition would be analog.

I don't know what definition of "Field" you're using, but I'd stop using that one and find a better one.

Fields are a physical quantity, but not a tangible quantity. For a field to be digital, it could only have two states - on/off. Since most fields can vary or modulate, there must be some other state than on or off.

Re:The world... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47228843)

Really? the number of atoms that form an object isn't a positive integer?

The amount of apparent thought behind that statement is not a positive integer.

Re:The world... (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 2 months ago | (#47228943)

Really? the number of atoms that form an object isn't a positive integer?

The amount of apparent thought behind that statement is not a positive integer.

However, the hilarity of the retort is most certainly imaginary.

Re:The world... (2)

Alioth (221270) | about 2 months ago | (#47229179)

At least it wasn't irrational.

Re:The world... (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 2 months ago | (#47228935)

The world is analogue.

Really? the number of atoms that form an object isn't a positive integer?

Wiseass.

Re:The world... (2)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 2 months ago | (#47228995)

Wiseass.

Your mom!

(Sorry, I don't know any other infantile retorts. I have no reference about the wisdom of your mother's behind.)

Re:The world... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47228815)

Not to be a pedant (but this is Slashdot), but quantum theory says you're wrong.

Re:The world... (1)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | about 2 months ago | (#47228867)

Uh-huh. And how many bits, exactly, does a state vector represent?

Re:The world... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47228897)

Bits? Wow, you aren't too bright are you? You've heard of the Planck constant, right? Everything has a finite number of states, even time. NOTHING in the physical world is truly analog. Regardless, my statement was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. You should work on lowering your anal-level. You'll live longer.

Re:The world... (5, Informative)

usuallylost (2468686) | about 2 months ago | (#47228919)

The articles headline is a bit missleading. In the body of the article you find that even they admit that analog engineering isn't dead or going anywhere. What is changing is the exact skill sets required. If you are doing traditional circuit design on purely analog equipment you are on hard times because people aren't doing as much of that. If on the other hand you have a foot in both the digital and analog world and can do analog design for digital systems there is a shortage and money is really good. So basically the people having problems are the older analog engineers who haven't kept their skills current. I think you could write that same article about just about any technical field where there has been rapid development in the technology. Some folks end up in dead end specialties that simply aren't in demand anymore. Your options there are retrain, change carriers or compete for the ever shrinking number of jobs. I'd argue that the last one is the worst choice unless you are simply close enough to retirement that the other two are simply unviable. Which actually appears to be the case with most of the guys listed in the article.

Re:The world... (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 2 months ago | (#47228929)

Not to mention power supplies. A switching supply is very much an analog circuit.

Even if you have a ready made analogue front end

But someone has to design the chips. Good analog/RF chip designers are awfully thin on the ground, because it takes many years to really get good. By comparison digital chip designers are a dime-a-dozen (don't take offense, I've done digital but not analog chip design). And analog board level designs, which I've done, don't prepare you much for making chips.

Re:The world... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229165)

"But someone has to design the chips. Good analog/RF chip designers are awfully thin on the ground, because it takes many years to really get good."

They're all Asian. And again, how many do you need if you make chips that are shipped worldwide?

Analog engineers are like movie stars, there's a few of them worldwide. You can't aspire to be one reasonably, the needed supply is tiny.

You should want to be a weatherman. Local. So become a vet, a lawyer, a fireman, a policeman, accountant, etc..

Not a job that requires brain-breaking education and can be outsourced at the click of a mouse.

Re:The world... (3, Insightful)

CaptnZilog (33073) | about 2 months ago | (#47229731)

They're all Asian.

Maybe now, but Bob Pease would have argued with you on that up until his death (maybe a decade ago now?).

Re:The world... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229085)

In addition, the discipline of power electronics has a strong analog component because of motors, transformers, etc. The controls may be digital, but the input waveforms and output waveforms are analog.

Re:The world... (2)

kegdepot (1849914) | about 2 months ago | (#47229289)

exactly. not to mention antenna design, transmitter output filters, receiver front ends (including filters, mixers, reconstruction filters). trust me... I know how to use a Smith Chart.

Re:The world... (1)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | about 2 months ago | (#47229725)

You might want to update your sig...

"The page you requested could not be found. Perhaps it was attacked by a thargoid?"

Analog : Digital :: Embedded : Software Eng. (5, Interesting)

fractoid (1076465) | about 2 months ago | (#47228765)

Analog circuits are always going to be faster, more accurate per area of silicon, and less deterministic than digital circuits. They're also always going to be harder to understand than digital circuits for anyone who isn't a wizard. There's less need for analog circuit wizards than there is for digital circuit designers just the same way there's less need for deep embedded software wizards than there is for your garden-variety software engineers. It hurts to say it but technology is advancing to the point where it's less important to get 100% out of our current technology than it is to get 25% out of it in a manner that mere mortals can understand.

There'll always be a place for analog design but it will be confined to an ever-shrinking niche on the cutting edge where, as bogglingly capable as it is, our digital technology just isn't quite up to the task.

Re:Analog : Digital :: Embedded : Software Eng. (2)

Stumbles (602007) | about 2 months ago | (#47228783)

Back in the day I always preferred troubleshooting, aligning and such things on analog systems. If only analog received the same level of research dollars, investments and all that, things would be very different. In my view, analog has always been superior to digital.

Re:Analog : Digital :: Embedded : Software Eng. (1)

fractoid (1076465) | about 2 months ago | (#47228891)

I think analog has a higher skill cap and a higher ultimate potential (for a given level of technology) than digital. I'd love to see more funding go to it just as an intellectual exercise... but sadly 'easy' is more important commercially than 'awesome'.

(I say this as someone who has a fair bit of experience with digital circuit design and a lot of software experience, and very little practical experience with analog circuits... I love analogue stuff but it's very hard to make it pay its way.)

Re:Analog : Digital :: Embedded : Software Eng. (2)

kegdepot (1849914) | about 2 months ago | (#47229313)

you clearly don't do product development. or, if you do, you are stuck in a box and work just on your little piece, not thinking of how the whole system must be put together for things to work well. I'd even guess PCB layout isn't something you think affects a design.

Re:Analog : Digital :: Embedded : Software Eng. (1)

fractoid (1076465) | about 2 months ago | (#47229367)

Not sure what you mean here. If anything I'm on the other end, I currently do industrial automation which is 90% just product integration with COTS modules. I'm actively working to get back to lower level electronics and PCB design because I want to be able to optimise things at that level.

I'm definitely not saying there's no place for analog designs, I just mean that an increasing proportion of things are done digitally out of convenience where before they'd have been built with opamps and... stuff. Yeah I don't claim to be an analog wizard, doesn't mean I don't respect and somewhat envy them.

Re:Analog : Digital :: Embedded : Software Eng. (1)

kegdepot (1849914) | about 2 months ago | (#47229429)

if you're coming from that type of background, I understand your comments. When you get to designing systems on PCBs, you will find that the "less need for analog circuit wizards" comment may not hold the same truths as you originally thought. even digital systems require understanding of transmission lines, terminations, etc. these are things that, if improperly implemented, make any IC simply useless.

Re:Analog : Digital :: Embedded : Software Eng. (1)

CaptnZilog (33073) | about 2 months ago | (#47229803)

Yup... and even more so at today's GHz speeds. Back in the days of 8-bit cpu's (6502, Z80, 8080) you could get away with less knowledge, but if you don't get transmission lines, reflection, termination, crosstalk, etc, you're going to have a lot of problems with modern day GHz speed processors.

Re:Analog : Digital :: Embedded : Software Eng. (3, Insightful)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 2 months ago | (#47229585)

I think part of the problem is that analog has shifted of the mainstream for hobbyists. Let's face it, a lot of best engineers start as kids and kids today are not getting into HAM radio all that much but instead are working with Arduinos. It is sad.

Re:Analog : Digital :: Embedded : Software Eng. (5, Informative)

nerdbert (71656) | about 2 months ago | (#47229589)

No. And I say that as an analog designer. I've been doing this now for 25 years and I can tell you that analog circuits are typically limited to 8-bit accuracy without fancy digital techniques behind them.

And that statement alone should tell you why mixed signal is really where the action is for accuracy. Take the example of delta-sigma ADCs. You need the best comparator/DAC you can design, but you follow that by massive oversampling to get your 15+ ENOB accuracy by putting the noise out of band. Similarly, all the fast electronics in your o-scope these days uses massively parallel oversampled designs.

So no, analog circuits aren't going to be faster and more accurate per area of silicon. A good design that uses an appropriate mixture of both analog and digital is really where the best (smallest/lowest cost) solution is. There are times when you pretty much have to go pure analog (LDOs after your switched regulator in a phone, for example), but in general the best solution for nearly all problems these days is a mixture of analog and digital.

Yes, analog circuit design is "wizardry" to some people, but I personally put it as a deeply specialized niche that's extremely difficult to master and as such it's no different than the equivalent specialization in other fields. When we get a new MS grad in here in our chip shop try to start analog design I tell them flat-out that what they learned in school is less than 5% of the knowledge they really need to make a product and not to take it personally when they are closely supervised for 5 years as they learn what's really needed. You thought circuits were hard in school? You ain't seen nothin' until you've actually tried to make a mixed signal chip in a deep submicron technology (although strangely enough, the latest FinFET processes are relatively more analog friendly than the planar stuff we were dealing with before).

To me the real issue is what's happening in the chip industry. SoCs have huge economies that are driving their use in things like phones. But an SoC takes a huge company to make since you have to supply an incredible amount of IP and by far the bulk of that IP is digital. The problem that creates is cultural. Analog guys have hugely different needs that get ignored by digitally-oriented SoC companies, and without enough analog guys they tend to wave off what the analog guys need to do their jobs as too hard and too specialized for their support teams to bother with. That leaves the analog guys in those big companies generally supplying inferior solutions, which means that analog guys don't want to work for those big companies, which means the big guys don't get the best analog guys, etc. until you have a death spiral. So what you're seeing in the chip industry these days are big digital IP companies and smaller, specialized analog companies and that increasing segregation is roiling the traditionally very secure and stable analog design positions and making it appear analog design is going downhill.

Re:Analog : Digital :: Embedded : Software Eng. (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 months ago | (#47229841)

Analog circuits are always going to be faster, more accurate per area of silicon, and less deterministic than digital circuits.

Faster? I can buy that. More accurate, less deterministic? Not buying that. The digital boils down to an on or an off, that's about as deterministic as you can get. If some component is starting to degrade, the analog can give you wildly wrong answers which still seem correct.

With that said, until and unless we get to a point where we're delivering individual electrons (or photons, perhaps) it's all analog in the end. It's not on or off, it's did you get enough electrons to receive an on signal. Until proven otherwise, I'll assume we're living in an analog world. It seems to work that way most of the time, at least.

What I see happening is system complexity rising to the point that there's less custom development, and more re-use of others' completed modules. Everyone wants to do digital internally, because now it's cheap. The draw of custom analog used to be avoiding microcontrollers or microprocessors (or before that, the fact they didn't exist) but now they are cheap and readily available. So you just buy someone else's A-D or D-A and do all your work in the digital. If you can buy a whole interface and not just a chip for implementing it, why won't you if you're not doing a massive run? And technology changes so fast, why would you ever do that unless you had a truly massive corporation to build stuff with? There's lots of niche players.

Re: (1)

markwalvington (3693329) | about 2 months ago | (#47228787)

I think it is not over, it's form is changing with time. As we know it will never end just it will adapt or change with it.

I beg to differ (3, Insightful)

Mathieu Stephan (2892907) | about 2 months ago | (#47228793)

Even if you're doing digital design all day you _need_ an analog background to do a good job. Most of the time analog signals aren't directly input to your microcontroller / DSP... as you need to add protection to your input stage, filter for parasites etc... >1Mhz digital signals can't simply be laid out on a board without thinking of the problems that may arise due to the nearby signals / layout of your transmission lines. Everything on your board is analog and I'm not even mentioning what you should take care of when you'll have to do EMC testing. On a side note I'm very skeptical of the article's quality...

Re:I beg to differ (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47228857)

I think the headline reefers to people who specializes in analog circuits. Not the skills needed by the average electronics designer.
Even people who only designs digital circuits still has a pretty good knowledge on how to properly terminate signals and avoid EMC issues.
And really, until you hit the RF-range it isn't that hard. (Although some people seem to have a problem with almost everything.)

Re:I beg to differ (1)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | about 2 months ago | (#47229527)

Even if you're doing digital design all day you _need_ an analog background to do a good job.

THIS! We've seen far too many examples of bad digital design. Those digital signals get mighty analog-y, especially as the frequency goes up.

I always pull out the example of Broadband over Power Line when I want to talk about how bad "good" digital engineering can get.

A "last mile" delivery system. Bringing in your Data at DSL speeds. But the signal cannot survive going through the power transformer on your pole - that's okay, they'll put a coupler from the HV line to your 120 volt line. Oh, but wait, the signal interferes with licensed services. That's okay, we'll just notch out thos frequencies. Oops how did those signals get on the line. What's this intermodulation you are talking about? Oh, but wait, you mean every time someone transmits a low power signal in the area, it wipes out the digital signal for minutes. No one's ever hear of induction or unshielded wires acting as antennas. No one's ever heard of RF propagation, which will at times allow extremely weak signals to propagate worldwide at these frequencies.

Finally, the promoters trying to change the rules to allow the unlicensed services to interfere with the licensed ones, and the licensed services to not interfere --as in not operate in areas with BPL.

Then there is the case of the folks wanting to run data plans right next door to GPS location frequencies. ANY analog engineer, and most analog technicians would determine in about a second that it simply would not ever work. But the DIgital engineers knew better. After all those smartphone users need their porn and Kim Kardashian twitter updates. But nasty real world analog effects proved otherwise.

Despite our best efforts, the world is analog, Slashdot pedants notwithstanding.

Never enough five legged sheep ... (1)

Pinky's Brain (1158667) | about 2 months ago | (#47228817)

If they let the position go unfilled I guess there wasn't really enough need, ie. not enough profit in it to hire the expertise which is on the market (and there are still plenty of the old guard doing consulting, not cheap obviously) or train someone.

Quick, we need more H-1Bs to suppress wages.

Digital is only digital if analog is right (5, Insightful)

Big_Breaker (190457) | about 2 months ago | (#47228833)

Part of "Digital", the lowest level of digital, is a contract concerning how signalling between transistors occurs. This includes timing, rise and hold times, voltage thresholds and current. I'll include avoidance of race conditions, clock distribution, refresh cycles on DRAM and temperature effects as a side car. These are all design constraints that make sure the 1s and 0s working properly. It's only when you have a 99.99999999% solid digital contract that you can begin the digital side of the design.

All of this digital design is solidly analog and will NEVER go away.

I could make another whole post about the absurdity of traditional "analog" going away. All these mobile devices have some amazing RF design going on from the antenna down to the mixed signal SoC. Analog is everywhere and at the core of every electronic gadget.

Re:Digital is only digital if analog is right (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47228945)

But it only needs to be done once. This "contract" is called "design rules". How many engineers can you need world-wide for that?

How many are pumped out every year by universities?

Given how little consideration is given to engineers in society, how can you justify telling a kid to go into EE in the West?

It's suicide.

Re:Digital is only digital if analog is right (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47228973)

This is by far the best response I've read so far. If you don't understand "analog", then you will never get something like DDR2/3/4 memory working at full speed. The faster circuits become, the more important it is that engineers understand how signals propagate as waves with varying velocity due to dielectrics, reflections due to imperfect transmission lines, etc. You cannot remove the "analog" from high speed digital.

Re:Digital is only digital if analog is right (1)

Big_Breaker (190457) | about 2 months ago | (#47229529)

For brevity I didn't mention your follow on but it is especially true. If you aren't worried about analog you aren't pushing your digital design hard enough. And a lot of design happens at the bleeding edge of engineering where you have to push hard.

Re:Digital is only digital if analog is right (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229019)

Let's say you are doing hardware design inside a FPGA. All your analog concerns go away, everything you said can be done by a Digital engineer using the vendor tools.

Re:Digital is only digital if analog is right (1)

Big_Breaker (190457) | about 2 months ago | (#47229581)

Totally true. A for effort!

But I'll say FPGAs are a niche technology. Many products have no FPGAs and effectively none have only an FPGA and no supporting circuits. Commonly FPGAs are used for ultra high bandwidth applications where a traditional microprocessor can't hang. All those high bandwidth buses and external I/O interfaces press right up against analog. Maybe you are using a stock dev board and programming the FPGA over USB. So congratulations - your analog issues have been abstracted away but someone made the dev board, and when your design doesn't work you'll be pulling out a o-scope that costs more than a car to debug. And I some point I promise you'll be analog scoping waveforms.

Re:Digital is only digital if analog is right (1)

aprdm (2451390) | about 2 months ago | (#47229705)

I am the AC, forgot to login. Well while I do know where you are coming from, I've shipped some products using FPGA and never had the need for this O-Scope. We usually just use the ref design from the vendor to do the PCB and all my analog problems are gone.

Re:Digital is only digital if analog is right (1)

kegdepot (1849914) | about 2 months ago | (#47229327)

where is the LOVE button for this response. fantastic!

Re:Digital is only digital if analog is right (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229371)

It's only when you have a 99.99999999% solid digital contract that you can begin the digital side of the design.

99.99999999% means one bit error per lane every 10th second on a 1GHz system. Your memory bus will fail several times per second.
It isn't impossible to design a system that works under those circumstances but it is generally easier to fix the analog part.

Re:Digital is only digital if analog is right (1)

Big_Breaker (190457) | about 2 months ago | (#47229593)

I wasn't sure how many nines but as you point out, you need a lot! Calculating those 9s ahead of time at various temperatures certainly dips into analog.

Yes, of course it is (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47228847)

And so are the glory days of being an electrical engineer in the West. Or a technician.

Get over it.

Everything analog that had to so with consumer information processing is now digital.

Record player, cassette deck, reel to reel audio, VHS, radio, equalizer, etc.. hell even the power amplifiers can now be switching. All information can be stored as a bit on super cheap supports.

Parts have become commodities, all the hard engineering lifting has been done decades ago.

Automation in the East assures a steady supply of cheap parts. That means no one is willing to pay anyone a reasonable amount to fart around with this stuff professionally.

Sure, you'll always need a core of analog engineers for where the rubber hits the road, but since engineers have piss-poor professional protection, this can all go to the lowest bidder across the world.

Contrast this to let's say a lawyer. Every country has a different legal system. You can't outsource any of this stuff.

And all the people who think you "need" an analog background to design 1MHz microcontroller stuff, that's what the app note is for. "Do this like that".

It just needed to be solved once, then everyone copies it.

You know it's true. I've spoken with EEs with decades of experience who don't even know what a common mode voltage is anymore because they just apply the same recipe over and over.

What's the point of churning out so many EEs these days? I mean except as a way to channel government loan money into university coffers via student debt.

Re:Yes, of course it is (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 2 months ago | (#47229009)

even the power amplifiers can now be switching

Switching circuits are analog circuits.

And all the people who think you "need" an analog background to design 1MHz microcontroller stuff

1MHz? That's out of the audio range, right?

I've spoken with EEs with decades of experience who don't even know what a common mode voltage is anymore because they just apply the same recipe over and over.

Then they're not very good engineers. Even digital stuff sometimes goes differential, like LVDS.

What's the point of churning out so many EEs these days?

In America? There isn't. But that's what comes from having well bribed(1) politicians making policies that screw most Americans.

(1) Oops, I forgot that our illustrious Supreme Court says that money is speech, so bribery is now protected by the 1st Amendment.

I mean except as a way to channel government loan money into university coffers via student debt.

Universities are some of the biggest proponents of things like the H-1B, which universities think is great as long as universities stay on the gravy train.

Re:Yes, of course it is (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229039)

That's so true. All the vendors give you an app note and reference design for using their parts. Just follow it and you are done.

Self defense (2)

jbmartin6 (1232050) | about 2 months ago | (#47228863)

We will need all the analog guys when the machines become sentient and we need to keep them out of our networks

Re:Self defense (2)

ray-auch (454705) | about 2 months ago | (#47229091)

"Hi, I am Eugene Goostman, 13yr old boy from Ukraine. I haz some networks, can I help ?"

Analog engineers build the interface (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47228881)

There's very little need for complicated analog designs anymore, but analog circuits are still and will always be the interface to the real world. ESD hardening, electromagnetic compatibility, antenna design, and very high frequency interfaces are all analog domains. Besides, who's going to milk the audiophiles if there aren't enough analog engineers?

Re:Analog engineers build the interface (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 2 months ago | (#47229021)

There's very little need for complicated analog designs anymore,

Yes, because analog/RF chips just design themselves.

Re:Analog engineers build the interface (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229135)

no, but they are different from what they used to be. You won't see a whole lot of complicated analog control loops for example, It'll be mostly amplification and converting to/from digital

Re:Analog engineers build the interface (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229457)

Besides, who's going to milk the audiophiles if there aren't enough analog engineers?

The people who milk hypochondriacs are quacks, not medical doctors.
The people who milk audiophiles are generally not very good engineers. Often they are just hobbyists that have been bullshitting for so long that they have found a way to make easy money form it.

It's also a management problem... (1)

rfengr (910026) | about 2 months ago | (#47228895)

in that every PHB wants the instant gratification of software, along with it's low startup costs (no test equipment), instant duplication and distribution, uniformity etc. They don't understand that some things require multiple revisions to dial in the response, along with applying engineering principles rather than "hacking". In short, everyone wants instant gratification with little investment in time and money. Now let me get back to my vector network analyzer.

Re:It's also a management problem... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229205)

Never heard of Network Analyzer [wikipedia.org] before. The first model shown in the wikipedia, second hand costs lots of money. I guess out of the reach of the most people, so you must be a privileged one.

Also found this interesting reading [151.100.120.244] related to this topic.

Thanks for your illustrative comment.

The Sciences will need them (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47228901)

In the experimental sciences we make heavy use of analog circuits. We need to be able to take signals scale them, filter them, integrate them, buffer them, all in analog before it reaches our DAC systems. Otherwise a voltage spike will fry your digital portions.

Missing new replacement technology: GPU (1)

michaelmalak (91262) | about 2 months ago | (#47228923)

There's another technology that reduces the need for analog engineers: GPU. Three years ago, I demonstrated real-time band-pass filtering on incoming digitized sensor input that previously required a custom $20k signal conditioning unit. Except in the GPU rolloffs could be steeper, and cutoffs could be adjusted through the GUI instead of calling up one of the retired original designers to compute new resistor & cap values.

Re:Missing new replacement technology: GPU (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229007)

....and for some reason you think that GPU board you are using is all digital engineering?

Re:Missing new replacement technology: GPU (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229071)

At which frequency? I use RF cavity bandpass filters from ~1GHz to 30GHz and higher. Besides that, you always need an analog anti-aliasing filter before the digitizer. And yes, I use very high frequency ADCs, running at gigasamples/second.

Re:Missing new replacement technology: GPU (1)

michaelmalak (91262) | about 2 months ago | (#47229153)

5-2000 KHz -- we called it "supersonic", less than "ultrasound". On the other hand, in a job long ago c. 2000 dealing with satellite signals (GHz), we used a heterodyne so that we could then do real-time digital processsing with FPGAs (no powerful GPUs back then).

Re:Missing new replacement technology: GPU (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229583)

Well, downconverting with heterodyne is easy when the instantaneous bandwidth you want to process is narrow, and I suspect the satellite signal was a narrow band around a carrier. But when you do spectroscopy in the mm wave and that the instantaneous bandwidth is between 8 and 30GHz, handling the signal becomes harder. We use analog (mostly cavity, interdigital or combline) filters to split in slices, mixers to downconvert and a final layer of antialiasing filters before digitizing. The cost of the digital part often pales in comparison of the analog.

Re:Missing new replacement technology: GPU (1)

kegdepot (1849914) | about 2 months ago | (#47229359)

let's see how your system works with an on air interferer in your pass band at say..... 0 dBm. since you don't need analog guys, I'm sure the ADC magically performs some AGC? or perhaps you have a 200 dB dynamic range? do any of these terms even make sense to you?

Some engineers even unable to retire? (5, Insightful)

zennling (950572) | about 2 months ago | (#47228959)

Just because there is no suitable replacement should not be grounds for an engineer to work forever! Which companies are saying that you arent allowed to retire because of no suitable replacements? Name and shame them!

It really doesn't matter which ones it is... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229237)

What happens is that they keep raising the salary of the engineers in question until they decide not to retire.

It really doesn't matter which ones it is... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229277)

What happens is that you get a happy Engineer, and whats wrong with working abit longer, my dad was working until 74 before he started to take it slower.

Re:Some engineers even unable to retire? (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 2 months ago | (#47229501)

Name and shame the idiots who allow themselves to be "unable" to retire. Tell the companies to go fuck themselves.

My assumption... (1)

Junta (36770) | about 2 months ago | (#47229565)

I assumed that was the sentiment of the engineers themselves.

I don't have a lot of contact with people in *this* field, but in other similarly niche fields with very concrete, yet limited demand (e.g. not aligned with the buzzwords deep in the muck where things *must* happen but 99.99% of the ecosystem take it for granted and doesn't want to actually touch it). In those fields, it was once upon a time not a 'given' and thus young blood was actively pushed in. Now it's a 'given' (despite requiring continuous evolution to keep things up), so the only people in the field are mostly retirement eligible people who have not retired. Overwhelmingly, the impression I get is that they are so *passionate* about the work that they can't bear to see it go untended.

Of course, some of those would declare that, but then even after a fluke young person interested in the work does come along, they still can't bring themselves to retire since the work is really simply enjoyable to them.

Personally, the moment I realistically could retire, I'm out. I love my work and all, but I love not working even more.

Re:Some engineers even unable to retire? (1)

nerdbert (71656) | about 2 months ago | (#47229625)

Let's just say that I personally find analog engineering a ton of fun and you'll have to pry the mouse from my cold, dead fingers.

Nobody's forcing those engineers not to retire. They're just putting golden handcuffs on them to prevent them from leaving. It's not unusual in an analog chip company to get a fraction of the revenue of a chip of yours that's been in the field for a few years as long as you're employed, so if you've had a lot of successful, long lived products in the market retiring will cost you a ton of income.

Re:Some engineers even unable to retire? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229851)

Just don't turn up for work.
What are they going to do? Fire you?

High speed digital (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47228967)

As an analog enginner our group splits its time between true analog work and high speed custom digital design.

Yes its true that the availability of IP blocks from tsmc and the likes have made it very easy to purchase analog blocks with silicon proven designs that have very low risk and are fairly "cheap" such as PLL's.

However theres always a need for custom tailor made analog blocks that can't be found on the market. This is especially true if you want to be on the cutting edge and can't wait 2 years for the IP vendors to catch up.

The other half of our group simply does high speed digital. We custom lay out logic devices by hand so we can optimize speed/power/area more effectively than the digital folks. Yes its time consuming and expensive (per transistor, its an extremely expensive for the amount of time spent), but when you need speed on critical nets, that's not something verilog RTL can give you effectively.

Hybrid silicon processes (1)

JazzHarper (745403) | about 2 months ago | (#47229061)

In the past, the manufacturing processes for analog and digital circuits were so different that they could not be combined on the same chip on a large scale. There were big companies that made digital chips and a host of smaller companies that made analog chips. That changed about ten years ago and analog circuits are now included on SOC designs. That has caused a shift in the industry, as the large SOC manufacturers have absorbed most of the new analog circuit designers who used to go to smaller companies that specialized in analog. The smaller companies are faced with competition for designers and a shrinking niche for their specialized products.

Texas Instruments has $12B in sales and analog is a large (and growing) chunk of that.

someone's got to say it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229083)

Higgs bosons

I'll just leave the rest up to all you fine people

Thank you for outsourcing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229097)

I would just like to say a big fat "thank you" to all the corporations who outsourced all our design and manufacturing. It is becoming quite obvious while observing this thread that this was necessary due to the lack of intelligent engineers left in north america.

Econ 101 (1)

Rob Riggs (6418) | about 2 months ago | (#47229255)

It is a simple economic problem. How well does it pay?

First, "Glory Days" definition needed. (1)

CaptainStumpy (1132145) | about 2 months ago | (#47229307)

Welcome to the future! If you mean what I think you mean, then I agree. The "glory days" are gone. There are less analog designs being done, and they are replaced with more complex digital systems. Some of these are better, but none are as elegant as pure analog. I also think the "glory days" of the WWW are also gone. There are simply less (none) HTML only sites being created, and they are getting replaced with..well everything they can cram into your face. Welcome to the future!

As Bob Widlar used to say... (3, Funny)

fatboy (6851) | about 2 months ago | (#47229319)

"Every idiot can count to one"

http://www.theamphour.com/wp-c... [theamphour.com]

Probably. (2)

thevirtualcat (1071504) | about 2 months ago | (#47229335)

Are the glory days for analog design over? Yes.
Are the days where analog design is necessary over? Nope, nor will they ever be.

That said, I know a good number of who studied electrical and computer engineering who went into software and test engineering after school and never looked back. EE doesn't pay a lot and there's a good deal of demand for people who can knock a simple circuit together AND have a good working knowledge of software that can talk to it.

Re:Probably. (3, Interesting)

nerdbert (71656) | about 2 months ago | (#47229747)

The real world is analog, so interfacing to that will never go away. And there are times when the "digital" level of abstraction just doesn't hold, even inside a "digital circuit."

True story: I joined a huge company as an analog chip engineer. But on day one they loaned me out to a digital team that couldn't figure out why their circuits were failing because I actually knew how to drive analog tools and I was the least valuable analog guy being "the new one." I found the problem, learned enough VHDL to fix the circuit the idiot compiler generated and rather than being returned to my analog group I got caught up in figuring out why their clock distribution network wasn't working. It took a couple of years to escape doing "analog" tasks for a digital group and I had to quit the company to get back to doing what I wanted to do and not what the company wanted me to do. (And yes, I turned down some pretty hefty raises and awards the company offered to get me to stay, but while what I was doing was considered analog by digital guys, it wasn't real analog design and I wasn't happy doing what I was doing. If I'd been in the group I had originally been hired for I would have been happy, but the digital group had more influence up the chain of command and wouldn't let me switch.)

The Definition of Skills Shortage (4, Funny)

Baldrson (78598) | about 2 months ago | (#47229383)

Skills Shortage: The situation in which employers find themselves victimized by price gouging by employees with said skill in the form of demands for higher than minimum wage for temporary employment.

Re:The Definition of Skills Shortage (1)

thevirtualcat (1071504) | about 2 months ago | (#47229419)

Raise your hand if you haven't had this conversation before...

"We have a great 6-month contract opportunity in Nowhereville that we think you'd be a perfect fit for. The rate is $25/hr on 1099 with no benefits..."

Re:The Definition of Skills Shortage (1)

swb (14022) | about 2 months ago | (#47229515)

They always write "skills shortage" when the fully phrased version is "skilled and experienced workers we can hire without benefits for below market rates."

there is enough glory in any field (1)

umghhh (965931) | about 2 months ago | (#47229467)

if you are good enough.

This said I think every prospective engineer should consider carefully the reasons to become one. It is advised to do something on top too - like applied business practice or Business Economics as they call it. Seems to be a common practice in Germany these days and I find the idea appealing. Then again I am not sure whether any engineering title will guarantee you a job in the future. I saw today the stats for education in Germany and the number of people finishing off the courses at universities has increased over the years. What has not increased is number of people going secondary paths of education and ending up in industry 'lower' positions. Gosh when I look around in my settlement - there are only few houses where owners are engineers. There is one where there is a civil servant and another one university teacher and 4 households with engineers including mine. The rest of the settlement is owned by technicians doing intelligent work for others sometimes even supervising the floor in small industrial companies. Quite frankly I find them more worthy than those engineers with a title that I have to work with but that is another story.

So if one takes property ownership as a proxy for well done career choices then being an engineer does not mean much. But hell it makes fun if you can assemble things and see them work. There is certain great positivist joy in doing that! The question is: do you need to become an engineer to do these things today? I wonder if that is really true.

Original question was about digital and analogue being put as opposites - tell me then whether doing this stuff [economist.com] is analogue or digital? Surely lots of silicon is being used and a little processed into an actual product. As surely as a lots of digital processing used to control completly automated factory producing those things.

The statistics I meantioned briefly before makes me also think about history. There were times where engineer was a sign of high intelligence and skill. The I got a degree..... And then all these people I work got degrees too..... Now it seems to me the value the engineers before had in society is now attributed to scientists but not even them are at the level an engineer like this [wikipedia.org] was before. This guy had an impact on societies he lived in. Do YOU think that your input is anywhere around this level? Why do we talk about glory then?

Analog is everywhere (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229547)

Just because there's more digital than a decade ago doesn't mean there's less analog.

Your smartphone contains A LOT of analog:
- RF: Low Noise Amplifiers, mixers, RF filters, RF Power Amplifier
- Baseband: filters, A/D converters, D/A converters
- Power: power management, supply scaling and power gating for digital, DC/DC converters, battery management
- Audio: Codec, Class AB amplifiers, Class D amplifiers.
- Display: high voltage generation, pixel drivers, capacitive sensing circuitry

It's a fascinating world and in my experience it's not getting smaller.
Demand for analog designers has been strong as long as I can remember.

Is it 1983 again? (1)

Arethereanyleft (442474) | about 2 months ago | (#47229555)

I swear I heard a similar speech on my first day at Tektronix in 1983.

We'll always need analog. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229643)

As a computer engineer who can't stand analog electronics, I can say with confidence that we'll always need them. Nothing would work with out them. Much of my knowledge is based on analog circuits, and I couldn't do my job without that knowledge.

I hope this article doesn't scare potential EEs away from their degree. It's misleading and poorly researched. Frankly I'm surprised EETimes would run something sensational like that.

Analog engineering got us to the Moon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229733)

You're never going to get rid of analog engineers as long as we use RF and AC.

Navel Gazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47229819)

I hear is a new hot field for analog engineering but the work is slow and steady...

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>