engineering graduate school question

wrote:


This may be true for companies with large bureaucracies, but competence has always trumped credentials every place I have worked. And an MSEE typically fails to add any significant competence outside of the narrow thesis area.
We all have strengths and weaknesses in various areas, but I find that the engineers that I hire who are generalists rather than specialists are much more productive.
Mark Walsh
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Mark Walsh wrote:

I always asked about car and bicycle maintenance when I interviewed job candidates. I've rarely seen a good engineer who was a poor mechanic. When quizzing new graduates about technical competence, I asked what subjects they felt they knew best and concentrated on that. There's no good comes of sandbagging someone with a topic he's weak in, and if a person's best is poor, I'm ready to accept his word that the rest is poorer.
Jerry
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wrote:

This is an excellent approach to separating the engineers that can actually create a product that works from those who can generate the equations that show that it should have worked. I've hired engineers fresh from school at both the BSEE and MSEE level who seemed to think that they should get partial credit for getting a project mostly done to spec.
I have received some offline communications:
I sense some resentment/bias against advanced degrees in some of these posts? I'll stick by my original points: getting accepted to grad school indicates the person is a good student, they can handle advanced material, and they've done at least one major project that had a beginning, a middle, and an end.
My own MS was in applied mathematics. It has been an valuable part of my education, but rarely used in the last 20 years. I spend most of my days in the lab or the machine shop doing what I love to do. Lifelong learning in a formal classroom setting, on the job, and through independent study is an integral part of being a competent engineer. I send my engineers to classes of varying value frequently. I am currently giving full support to one of my engineers who is pursuing his masters, both through tuition payment and extensive time off.
I have no beef with credentials, but they aren't an acceptable substitute nor necessarily an indicator of competence.
Mark Walsh
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This is the same ways most companies operate today, so it's not too surprising. Indeed, it's quite standard business practice that, yeah, engineering and marketing come up with a set of specs and deadlines, and its understood that engineering will make its best effort to deliver what's agreed upon by the deadline, but that doesn't always happen. Maybe I've been working in the wrong companies, but I can think of *very few* occasions where project schedules as *originally* set were ever actually met. What usually happens is that features are dropped as deadlines approach, and if something *has* to be shipped, if the extra features were based on software, they're promised as a downloadable field upgrade.
I'm not suggesting this is necessarily how things should be, just that in the commercial world very few schedules and specs are truly set in stone and significant "partial credit" is received for getting projects "mostly" done to spec.
Look at Microsoft: a lot of what they originally promised for Windows Vista isn't there yet, since they ran out of time to implement it... but they shipped anyway.
A pragmatic approach with your engineers is to sit down and make it clear what features of a widget are absolutely necessary, which are quite desirable but can be skipped if push comes to shove, and which really are just icing on the cake. An engineering manager who suggests that all features of a widget are equally important and all are absolutely necessary is not one that most engineers will respect.
---Joel
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Mark Walsh wrote:
...

When I was am MTS at RCA Labs, the division president, when he was escorting a visitor, would stop me in the corridor and introduce me as "The only staff member we have with a steam-driven pencil sharpener." (He neglected to add that I was one of the very few staff members without an advanced degree.) I then gave the obligatory explanation that in order to avoid tending a boiler, I ran it off the compressed-air supply. The visitor and I would then shake hands and go on our ways.
If I decide to abandon retirement, I'll ask you for a job.
Jerry
--
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It's not even true in this case. I should know; I work in a big, big multinational with enough bureaucracy to make even a civil servant gibber in terror. We have people from the senior engineering level all the way up to the executive level who don't even have a BSEE and were promoted on a merit/achievement basis.
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In general, I completely concur with this experience. It doesn't take a BSEE (or any?) degree to get ahead in life. The two wealthiest people I know didn't even go to college! (And "No", they weren't born with it.)
I also know a Ph.D. psychiatrist who delivers newspapers for a living. (I am not making this up!) And another brilliant MIT grad from the 60's who frankly has trouble keeping up with Microsoft Word.
I can also tell you that in Electronics / Communciations, it matters not what you learned or did six months ago in school. The field changes so fast, the stuff you were working on yesterday is probably already obsolete. Those with the aptitude, ambition, and ability to "keep up" are the ones who will prevail.
But I would take a slight exception on this one point: I believe manufacturing entities are much more likely to place (undo?) emphasis on higher education. I am fairly convinced this boils down primarily to liability containment issues, etc... --which for the original poster, you're not going to get to right out of school anyway, so it's not relevant.
Is any of this helping??
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mpm wrote:

In every entity i have ever worked for, liability containment was always part of the equation. restaurants, civil service, aerospace.
--
JosephKK
Gegen dummheit kampfen die Gotter Selbst, vergebens.  
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larwe wrote:

I know you know better than to strip attributions for material you actually quote :-)
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You lost me here.
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larwe wrote:

In what way? Attributions are 'joe wrote:' initial lines. One goes with each block (depth) of quoted material. You stripped them. Look back at the message you originally wrote, and what you were replying to (if still available).
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Mark Walsh wrote:

It depends.
I found that when hiring a freshman just from school, the BSEEs are worseless. They don't know anything, they can do nothing and, what is much worse, they don't want to do anything about that. It will be years and years till they reach the level of apprentice.
The fresh MSEEs and PhDs are lot better in the general; it takes only 6 month or so to make them productive. The advanced degree is an indicator of diligence, discipline and ambition; this is good.

I consider the ability to work independently as the very important parameter. This includes setting and accomplishing the goals and the self education in the course of the project. BSEEs are not ready for that; they expect somebody to change their pants at all time.

Vladimir Vassilevsky
DSP and Mixed Signal Design Consultant
http://www.abvolt.com
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I think you're guilty of making some generalizations as well here, Vladimir. Yes, many BSEEs aren't able to "run a project" (even a very small one) on their own, but some are. Similarly, I've had MSEEs and PhDs whose practical skills were so poor I honestly think I could have done better standing in the an engineering school's student union, talked to a couple dozen students as they walked by, and returned with the best candidate.
P.S.: Since this is related to your area... we did have a guy come in to interview about doing DSP work, and I asked him how he might go about taking some digitized signal he had in the memory of a DSP and reversing its spectrum -- preferably as efficiently as possible. His answer was that he'd take the FFT, reverse it, and then perform an iFFT. :-( That's the sort of answer I might expect from someone right out of school, but not from someone who'd been in industry for many years as he had.
P.P.S.: I clicked on your web page. Shouldn't that circuit board photo you have at least be of a DSP rather than a microcontroller? :-) Or do you do a lot of "hard core" DSP in microcontrollers?
---Joel
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Joel Kolstad wrote:

This is my personal experience with hiring freshmen from school. As pointed by many, the grown up engineer is judged by his merits. One of the not so many merits of a freshman is the diligence demonstrated in obtaining the degree.

I know :) That sort of people can be good at paperwork though. Somebody has to do the boring part, too :)

That is exactly what we tried. It appeared that the percentage of the good guys with BSEEs is 1% vs somewhat 10% in MSEEs. It is just more economical to draw from MSEEs.

There is a zillion of possible methods for the spectral inversion depending on what exactly is required. Perhaps, the simplest is multiplying every second sample by -1.

For DSP, ADI BlackFin is the main workhorse. We also work with TMS 28xx and 55xx. As for the small MCUs, 68HC12 is the preference, and, indeed, we do some DSP work with it as well as with Atmel AVR.
Vladimir Vassilevsky
DSP and Mixed Signal Design Consultant
http://www.abvolt.com
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Yes, exactly -- inverting every other sample is a very good answer. "FFT, reverse, iFFT" is probably about the worst you could do and shows no "practical" experience.

I only have experience with TI 55x DSPs, but I've always been told the ADI chips are somewhat friendlier to program, if a little slower.
---Joel
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Vladimir Vassilevsky wrote:
...

You over generalize. My boss in a small development lab threw me out (well,strongly urged me to leave). I was one of two technicians there -- the other had been with the firm since before I was born! The boss said that I was already doing the work of an engineer, I might as well bet the diploma and get paid like one. (One of the engineers there had no diploma beyond high school, but he was a real genius. George Gauthrin, AKA Crazy George, was the guy who invented the 60-dB low-distortion AGC that got us the Mercury capsule audio contract.)

Some fresh Ph.D.s I worked with were inclined to ignore the importance of the curved side on a 'lytic symbol, thereby making loud noises. One inserted a wood screw with my chisel-point soldering iron, then asked me what the plug and cord were for.
...
Jerry
P.S. "Worseless"; a good word. I like it!
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larwe wrote:

I take it you aren't in the workforce! "Employed" by government or a university I presume!
Benj
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Fortune 100 multinational. If you're really in the workforce, I pity you, because your employer sucks.
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Joshua, I am assuming that you are in the United States and you are interested in jobs in the United States.
It's hard to say anything that holds in generality, but some companies nowadays don't even accept BS-level, fresh out of university, new hires. So at the very least it will open some doors to you. Whether those doors are attractive to you depends on opportunities and the values you assign to them.
That said, given your hesitation (isn't that why you posted this question), maybe the best thing to do is to go for the master's if and only if you can get yourself into a good program that makes you happy, or a project that you think will make you a better engineer. The increased potential salary is worth it only if you can get to it :-). And that is helped with a degree from a better-known school or with an improved resume.
I don't think that age has much to do here, except for the higher likelihood of having dependents. That always imposes tough constraints and challenges.
One thing that makes the scene a bit complicated is the increasing popularity of the 5-year BS/MEng combo in the United States. That murks the waters a bit. I think it's a great deal for those who stay in school for the 5 years, because it offers a chance at working on a good project before they leave school. But I don't know what that means to those who are going back from full-time employment to pursue a master's degree.
Finally, going for a PhD may not be sensible from a salary perspective, but I'm glad to have done it since I was paid to do it (albeit only student stipend and/or fellowships), I didn't have to pay tuition, and now I can work at the level that I want to within my company. Your mileage may and probably will vary.
Cheers, and good luck on your decision. Julius
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Congrats on asking yourself the hard questions before making a decision. When an undergrad informs me of such a decision, I always suggest that the student take a really close look at why they want the advanced degree.
I think as a fresh BS at age 30, you might stand out a little in an applicant pool of other BS's, with employers seeing you as a little more mature than the rest of the pool -- especially if you write the right sort of cover letter. There is also the risk that they view you as indecisive, so make sure you have a good story about why your career path is just launching now.
Whether or not the above gives you as much boost as a Masters might, or whether the practical experience you'd get as a working engineer would offset this, or whether your career clock is ticking too fast right now to justify the Masters is a lot harder to pin down, and your own personal goals will have much to do with the decision.
--
Scott
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