I've been fortunate in my career to have met and worked with talented engineers from all over the world, associated with a broad range of organizations, and involved in a wide variety of applications and technologies. Though some can trace their career paths with a straight edge, many have found twists and turns among their professional experiences that have led them along rewarding, if far less intuitive, routes.
These contrasting career paths came to mind following two recent industry events — the ISSCC (International Solid-State Circuits Conference) and APEC (the Applied Power Electronics Conference and Exposition). My overall impression resulting from many discussions I had with engineers at these two events is that the straight-as-a-rule career path has become more the anomaly in the modern era than perhaps it was in decades past. Among the reasons for this shift are three:
- Many applications that mechanical or electro-mechanical systems traditionally served are now drawing on electronic designs to reduce cost, improve reliability, add features, and increase energy efficiency. Examples include the electronification of automobiles and home appliances.
- Interdisciplinary design teams expose their members to issues, concerns, and techniques outside of the scope of individual specialties. In most sectors of our industry, the notion of the engineer as lone ranger has long since faded into history. Most significant product developments depend on teams, each member of which brings expertise that the others do not possess (or possess to such extent). The disciplines, however, do not operate in isolation. Rather, each must stretch a bit and learn to see the design from the other specialties' perspectives to ensure that product design, manufacturing and test issues that cross disciplines are resolved cleanly and robustly.
- Design challenges that were once peculiar to a particular specialty are showing up in others. For example, high-density power converters operate at frequencies sufficiently high that circuit design, layout, assembly and test practices have adopted techniques from products that operate at RF.
Though these trends are not new, they have had — and continue to have — an impact on engineering practice. What is harder to determine from casual conference discussions is if companies are adapting their career-development-planning processes to reflect the real changes we've seen in the profession.
To answer that question, ECN Magazine is turning to you. The magazine's staff have posted a brief survey on its website at www.ecnmag.com  about the effectiveness of companies' career-planning processes. Please take just a few minutes — five should do it — to respond. The staff will accumulate and compile results over the next several weeks and present its findings in a future issue.
Although, out of respect for your time, the survey is brief and, thus, far from comprehensive, its authors believe that the results will provide insight into the topic and serve as a starter for future conversations, both within your organization and within the engineering community at large. This outcome, however, depends on your participation. Please take five minutes and complete the survey today. 
Joshua Israelsohn holds an SBEE from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has more than fifteen years experience in analog design. For the past seven years he has been writing about analog and power technologies, applications, and products. Currently he is consulting for technology companies in areas of technical communication through a variety of media. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.