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  1. #1
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    Difficult EE career choices, or career crisis?

    Hi all,

    I am currently having some serious doubts on how to continue my career and I found that maybe useful to share this with a broader community which is in the EE field. So here is a super brief career story, which may contains opinions, but are just opinions.

    So, briefly, I have been always passionate about electronics in general. I would say passionate about design complex stuff that eventually work. I am also not naturally really good, I've always struggled a bit on math, but I have great imagination and determination. This eventually got me, almost in time and with good grades an Master EE degree in Digital Design (I was quite bad or mediocre in highschool. Not to mention that I always been that person who disassemble everything since I can remember, and ony after many years was successfully able to not break stuff and, sometimes, also actually repairing and learn from.

    Now, I've always been fascinated on bringing "that brick" to life, i.e. have a nice MCU based board in front of me, and see it doing what I want - the hard way. I started with Arduino 10 years ago, when I started the university. Then in the few times that I was able to play with it, after 5 years I realized that was just a toy and started to really study C and bare metal programming, datasheets and so on. Mainly MCU stuff I would say. For that reason I got really interested in firmware: with a bit of study and imagination, drawings ecc, you can get a very good knowledge on your design criticalities (is it real time? what are the pitfalls of the code, how is interacting with hardware, and so on). I could potentially do whatever in a cheaper and (for me at least) simpler way than only analog. Also, the bridging between the hardware and the software always fascinated me.

    At the university, of course, we did also analog courses, for which my "hyper" methodological (maybe a bit OCD) approach led me to hit the head on a wall of formulas, which I indeed eventually understood, but I cannot easily derive from scratch in an exam, i.e. I can estimate the in/out impedance of an amplifier, but to get the full verbose right math behind it I need to consult books: this approach is spread in a job environment, but not on an exam one. The real difficulties, which I like, are the tradeoff that no one tach you how to do. And are always case to case dependent.

    HDL related stuff was instead the main dish of my field of study, with VHDL, Algorithmic State Machines and their synthesis, microarchitectures and so on. This in my mind fall under the firmware world, but combined better with HW knowledge and satisfies even more that personal itch to have the pleasure to have that "brick" alive, but HDL lacks a bit on flexibility sometimes (you'll never find an FPGA w/o an MCU... I suppose). This reward to me does not apply to high level software (which I have occasionally liked to do as well), so I know that I am not a pure SW guy.

    All this, led me naturally to have a (almost bare metal programming) firmware job. At that time, the only pre-job experience was self-experimenting with MCUs (couple of them only). But enough to give credibility and good feeling in the interviews. After a really short time I realized that I was actually good, but also that starting a real job, will led you to a different way of thinking. Working more than 40h a week, showed me that if I continued I would "sink" in such specialization, without having the chance to try different work types, and feeling regret.

    Therefore, I left the job to start a PCB/ discrete schematic design one. I found it challenging, but less rewarding to me. During this time I also get fascinated in ICs, since I think is where is the most advanced core of today's circuits (whether is analog, digital, RF). I had the feeling to try this path. So, before quitting the PCB job, I tried to get into transistors and amplifiers (i.e. studying on Razavi), to see if analog design would fit. But given my background, when on spare time I was often drafting to firmware and small FPGA HDL implementations. I even started to implement I2S in FPGA rather that building/design analog audio amplifier. This is probably due to be relatively a bit more ignorant on analog, or also because I feel the FW and HDL to be more difficult, I focus more on them and only in the end focus on analog.

    This brought me to the conclusion that I am more a digital/PCB guy, who like see lights, hear buzzes, but also striving to innovate with new architectures, where often is possible in digital design. Therefore I left such PCB job to start in a semiconductor company, in a digital team. Despite this, the main job is verification. Now I find myself wondering why I changed, I don't see boards anymore, I have to learn high level software and I cannot innovate with new ideas because essentially I am no a designer. This job is still quite new too.
    The consolation come from the chance to experiment on free time with my own designs.

    Maybe is also worth to mention that I shortly sold self designed simple boards (legally, on dedicated websites). Turns out that I actually helped people and had interesting discussions on technical improvements, which, since are asked by someone willing to pay to get my design, were giving me mental fuel (motivation) to go on. The money was not the goal, it couldn't be. This passion is also difficult to be found among colleagues in regular job environments.

    Now I am facing this "little" crisis, since I cannot change again with no clear idea. Therefore I don't know if make sense to switch as application engineer, since I like to write tachnical stuff and being author of reference designs, getting the knowledge to write white papers, while helping with technical solutions, like a contractor. And seems that hw and fw capabilities may be needed as well, but you can write about really technical stuff and be in touch with the designers, filling that need to be close to the VLSI world, but not hyperspecializing. But this may vary from product to product, and from company to company. Maybe another solution is to keep going and became later a fully digital design, but here I may be feel stuck, unless it will be in some nice signal processing/difficult stuff, which I like when done in hardware (digitally speaking).

    Or, just go back as a embedded firmware/FPGA, maybe in a smaller company: this may sound good, but how this may sound to a potentially employer? How can I guarantee that I will stay and be useful to the company, as I was initially? Despite I am not wealthy, money, here, is not the first goal. It is the second or third one.

    What I learned for sure is that with the right motivation, one can achieve a lot. The problem here is to learn to honestly listen to ourself. There is no external solution to this, but I think that opinions may help a bit as well.

    If this is not the right place to post, feel free to (re)move it.

    Thanks to anyone who had the patience to read, who want to express its opinion, experience and suggestion on this.

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  2. #2
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    Re: Difficult EE career choices, or career crisis?

    From your post it's plain that you bring a number of skills to the table. This can make you versatile in your job, and increase your value to an employer (besides the fact you have your degree in Electronics).

    However being versatile also gives you several paths for you to choose from. It's tough to decide where to put your energies.

    You're in a position to look at other factors besides the job itself. These may be important too.
    Where is the future headed? It may be wise for you to jump into that field (technology, programming language, consumer markets, manufacturing demographics, etc.)
    Your commute, your health, involvement in community, family, etc.

    While you were selling your own pcb's, it gave you a sense of being in business for yourself. Some people would rather be their own boss, instead of working for an employer. However to run your own business requires energy and effort and skills that are different from electronics know-how. Many find it's easier to work at a regular 9-5 job.

    And this saying applies to many areas of life: "No matter which path you choose, there will be days you wish you'd made the other choice."

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