Mind of the Engineer 2020: Engineering disciplines continue to merge

Article By : Majeed Ahmad

Beyond how COVID-19 is reshaping the workplace, what’s most important to note is the continued merging and melding of engineering disciplines.

2020 mind of the engineer logoWhat’s on the design engineer’s mind in 2020, the year pundits claim will change the workplace forever with the option to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic? The electronic design arena is already starting to witness the change, as corroborated in the latest “Mind of the Engineer” survey carried out by AspenCore, the parent company of EDN.


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For instance, while most engineers prefer to conduct circuit design and simulation at work, European designers are happy to do circuit design and research remotely. Beyond how COVID-19 is reshaping the workplace, what’s most important to note is the continued merging and melding of engineering disciplines.

slide from the 2020 Mind of the Engineer survey on remote work

The survey found that while digital content is primarily used at the outset of any design project, videos and community forums are necessary in the latter stages. The 2020 Mind of the Engineer study also reveals how design engineers carry out design activities in different parts of the world.

How engineers consume information

An important finding of the survey is that while American and European engineers continue to depend on desktop/laptops for the bulk of their engineering work, Asian engineers use mobile devices more often for most of their design activities.

The survey discovers other cultural distinctions as well. For example, Chinese engineering teams are more apt than others to seek help for their embedded designs. At the same time, however, they are more reliant on technical support resources provided by semiconductor suppliers, reflecting lower levels of engineering expertise than engineers elsewhere.

slide from the 2020 Mind of the Engineer survey on embedded design help

Chinese engineers are particularly reliant on component recommendations and training. The survey provides a detailed view of the ways design engineers gather information in 2020 and what demographics and age groups prefer which media channels; take the case of Asian engineers that have increased their use of manufacturer-sponsored communities more than those elsewhere.

Another notable change: many tenured engineers are increasing their use of social media and community forum resources. Newer engineers are still more likely to use available social media and community resources, especially YouTube tutorials.

New design frontlines

The 2020 Mind of the Engineer survey found that sensors are on top among new and emerging technologies, followed by analog and digital signal-processing. Both of these disciplines form the major building blocks of the Internet of Things (IoT) juggernaut. Next, design tools like reference boards and software development kits (SDKs) are going through a rapid makeover.

The multi-disciplinary integration and mixing of competencies across the supply chain inevitably lead to a growing need for expertise in a wide array of technology realms. Here, merging newer engineers with more experienced engineering teams is a common training approach.

The 2020 Mind of the Engineer study also highlights the pressures that design engineers face to work faster while balancing cost and resource constraints. Outsourcing remains a common solution to design overloads, particularly for specialized skills such as software development, test certification, and mechanical design.

According to this survey, 73 percent of engineering outfits outsource while 18 percent of all design activity is outsourced. It’s important to note that tenured engineers tend to outsource less and only when resource constraints mandate it. Also, American engineers are less likely to outsource design work.

Other survey highlights include:

  • The web-based information from semiconductor suppliers is particularly useful during the detailed design phase.
  • Knowledgeable field engineers and sales reps can provide useful insights early in the process.
  • Supplier support resources are more apt to be used in the midst of detailed design.
  • Experienced engineers rely on “self-service” mode websites from suppliers and industry media along with email newsletters, while early-career engineers prefer to consult social media communities and forums.
  • Use of social media platforms—particularly WeChat and YouTube—are on the rise. However, online communities and forums are still widely used for collegial technical support and design information and recommendations.

So, what’s on design engineers’ mind in 2020? Find out the details about the design landscape by reviewing the results of the 2020 Mind of the Engineer survey.

Majeed Ahmad, Editor-in-Chief of EDN, has covered the electronics design industry for more than two decades.

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