Where EEs Navigate A Changing World.
John Meredith, 2007 President IEEE-USA

John Meredith, 2007 President IEEE-USA

We recently asked John Meredith, 2007 President of IEEE-USA, to give us his thoughts on a number of topics impacting practicing EEs today. John graciously agreed to our interview, which follows.

Could you begin by telling our readers about your background and involvement in IEEE?

I am an ASIC engineer employed by Agilent Technologies in Colorado Springs. My career spans 42 years, mostly in the semiconductor industry. I became interested in electronics when I was 12 years old, becoming a 'ham' just before entering high school. I completed my BSEE at the University of Arkansas and served as a Navy Officer during the 1960s. Following two tours with the Navy, first on the carrier USS Intrepid and the second at Navy Electronics laboratory, I was an operations supervisor with General Electric in the Navy Nuclear program. After almost three years in the Navy Nuclear program I found an opportunity to work in the semiconductor industry as a MOS-LSI design engineer. I have worked in that field in various capacities - design, test packaging, customer support, reliability, quality, and management.  I completed a Masters degree in 1981 and taught EE courses as an Adjunct Professor at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs during the 1980s and 90s.

My IEEE activities goes back to 1961 when I joined a joint IRE/AIEE (IRE and AIEE were merged to form the IEEE in 1963) student branch during my first week of college. I wasn't involved as a leader until I had been out of college for several years. At that time I started attending IEEE Idaho Section meetings and soon became an officer. I put my IEEE volunteer activities on hold after moving to Minnesota but resumed volunteer work following relocation to Colorado in the late 1970s. After serving in various capacities in the Pikes Peak IEEE Section, I became active in IEEE Region activities. Most of my volunteer work has been in the education area. I became an ABET program evaluator and chaired IEEE's accreditation committee. I was elected to serve as Region 5 IEEE director in 2002. Following my service as Regional Director, I successfully ran for IEEE-USA President. I will serve in that capacity during 2007.  

Could you tell us a bit about IEEE-USA, its relationship to the overall IEEE, and its mission?

The IEEE-USA is one of six major boards, or organizational units, of the IEEE. The mission of the IEEE-USA is to represent the career and public policy interests of US IEEE members.  The IEEE, our parent organization, is a global organization representing the profession throughout the world.

The IEEE-USA 2006-2010 Strategic and Operational Plan (at http://www.ieeeusa.org/volunteers/strategicplan/index.html) outlines an extensive set of goals and activities for IEEE-USA. What will be YOUR highest priorities for 2007?

My greatest concern is globalization and its impact on US engineers. My highest priority is to take steps to ensure the competitiveness of US industry in our fields of interest. This is a big challenge because developing countries are now competing in jobs that are higher up in the 'food chain.' We have seen the effects of global competition in the high-tech world for a number of years. This competition was initially in manufacturing but is now moving more and more to design and development work.  Since labor rates are lower in many countries that compete with the US, we are losing high-tech jobs. Thus we must act strategically as a nation to improve the competitiveness of the US. This is necessary to preserve jobs for US engineers and to maintain the standard of living that Americans have enjoyed for the past several generations.

The IEEE-USA is addressing the competitiveness challenge through a four-pronged strategic focus. This long-term plan was initiated by 2006 IEEE-USA President Ralph Wyndrum. I will continue on this path with a goal of ensuring that the U.S. maintains its place as a global competitor in the technology sector.

Our first focus is to urge the U.S. Congress to enact comprehensive legislation that promotes U.S. innovation and competitiveness. In addition we will be launching the IEEE-USA Innovation Institute in 2007. The Institute will promote innovation through a process of training and mentoring of tomorrow's technology leaders. The IEEE-USA will also continue to promote immigration reforms that will enable the U.S. to admit technical talent as new Americans rather than as “guest workers.” Part of this thrust in immigration reform will be aimed at correcting significant flaws that exist in the guest worker program (H-1B).

A parallel thrust is to provide practicing engineers with tools and resources that support their career endeavors. We will support and enhance tools such as the IEEE Employment Navigator with its several million job listings, resume tools and other career resources. The IEEE-USA will continue to host career enhancement workshops and will encourage engineers to make use of such resources as the Consultants Network, the IEEE-USA Salary Service, and the Entrepreneurs Village. An area of particular importance is the mid-career engineer and late-career engineers. This area is often overlooked as a career enhancement opportunity. I'm hopeful that we can find innovative ways to assist those in this stage of their career.

The third focus is continuing education. The IEEE-USA is collaborating with the IEEE Education Activities Board to provide the best of IEEE's educational content through one-hour online learning modules and to access some 6,000 courses from more than a dozen providers. The IEEE-USA is also offering 29 “soft-skills” courses. Further, we are adding a one-day tutorial program to our annual IEEE-USA meeting that provides opportunities for engineers to learn about emerging technologies in a face-to-face setting. These educational resources are important for engineers at any career stage.

Finally, we are focusing on pre-university education to ensure that the U.S. will have an ample supply of the best and brightest practitioners who will follow us. . IEEE-USA will continue to work with the IEEE Educational Board in building stronger Science and Mathematics programs in pre-university programs throughout the U.S. We are also promoting many excellent programs that will inspire our youth to study science and mathematics. One such program is PBS Design Squad, a TV program that will be launched in February 2007. Design Squad is a TV program where youth compete against each other in completing design projects.

If you could push only one piece of legislation through the 2007 U.S. Congress, what would it be?

American competitiveness is one of the most important issues facing our nation today. Congress began bipartisan efforts to address this issue in 2006.  My sincere hope is that our new Congress will continue to work together in a cooperative spirit and enact appropriate and comprehensive legislation with appropriate funding that will help the U.S. compete in today's global marketplace next year. The report issued by the National Academies, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, offers a set of recommendations that address the competitiveness challenges. It is an excellent blueprint for action that has gotten the attention of a number of our government leaders. The IEEE-USA is actively encouraging action in this area and is encouraging our grass-roots network of volunteers to encourage their Legislators to act on this important issue.

We all know that globalization has had a profound effect on the engineering profession here and abroad. Looking into your crystal ball for 5 years down the road, what changes do you see in the demographics of U.S. EEs, in terms of numbers and areas of specialty?

In the U.S. and throughout the world, for that matter, we are facing some exciting challenges: globalization itself, energy, transportation, the environment, health care, homeland security, and cyber security come to mind. An aging population in some areas of the world as well as population growth and technology are driving these issues. Obviously these demands will have an impact on the engineering profession. Engineers must provide solutions to these challenges. This means that engineers must develop new skills and tools to solve these problems. Our educational institutions must also develop new programs and curriculum that prepare newly minted engineers to practice in this “New World.”

Globalization deserves special mention as a challenge. One aspect of globalization is its impact on how we work. More and more companies are working with subsidiaries, divisions, or suppliers that are located in other parts of the world. Even though engineers have worked in this environment for a number of years, the increased division of technical work and the increased partitioning of design and development tasks require engineers to use more sophisticated communication tools such as video conferencing - the telephone and fax will no longer suffice. But beyond simply understanding the technology, a global workforce will require engineers to be effective communicators - utilizing skills many engineers discounted in the past.  

As far as numbers and specific areas of specialization, I can only offer guesses. We will definitely need more engineers, many in specialty areas. We will see more specialty areas, but engineers will also need to have a broad focus. These engineers will have to have different skills than the typical EE/CpE of today. They will need business skills, they will need to be multidisciplinary, their knowledge of science must be deeper, and by all means tomorrow's engineer must be innovative.

What can practicing U.S. engineers do to prepare themselves for the changes here now and on those the horizon?

My top recommendation to aspiring engineers, students, and practitioners is to develop a habit of life-long learning. Take personal responsibility for being a competent engineer, provide maximum value to your employer by being an “owner “of your company, and support and encourage your colleagues in their endeavors. Study basic science such as Chemistry, Physics, and Biology; be innovative; learn business skills; and understand cultures of other peoples.

What is the IEEE doing, and how can our readers help?

The IEEE promotes global prosperity by solving problems in our fields of interest. The IEEE seeks to build a stronger profession for the benefit of all mankind. It behooves students and practitioners of our profession to belong to the IEEE. Most of all, we must give something back. We should work as volunteers to improve the profession for the benefit of those who will follow us and we must solve tomorrow's problems using our technology and expertise to make the world better for all citizens.

Do you have any favorite programs or resources you would like to recommend to our readers?

I like Mike Stanley's web site www.eehomepage.com. Mike has organized a wonderful resource that provides career and educational resources for many of those in our profession. I also encourage readers to check out the IEEE and IEEE-USA resources. Check out our web sites at www.ieeeusa.org and www.ieee.org. If you are not an IEEE member, I encourage you to join. I also recommend to my IEEE colleagues that they join a technical society in their field of interest. Finally, I suggest that you become an active IEEE volunteer. This affords you an opportunity to give something back to the profession.

Let's turn the tables a bit, what words of wisdom do you have for our professional colleagues in other parts of the world? How do we best work together to find a win-win scenario wherein EEs prosper both here and abroad?

Much of my advice above applies to our friends and colleagues around the globe. We are all citizens of the world. We must endeavor to understand others and we must seek opportunities to work together for the benefit of mankind. We will compete with each other with the products and services that we develop. I believe, however, that there are plenty of opportunities for those who are willing to rise to the challenge of practicing engineering in a global environment.

If you had a son or daughter just starting college and contemplating a career in engineering today, what would your advice be?

Engineering is an exciting and rewarding field. Engineers have given us the many great innovations that have made the world a better place for all. This will continue into the future. One of the great rewards in engineering work is building things that make a difference for others. What an exciting prospect!

John, thank you for talking the time to talk with us. Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share?

Thanks for the opportunity to present my thoughts and views. And thanks for the good work that you are doing with the EE HomePage web site.