I have always been a great moviebuff ! In my younger days, i used to love Amitabh Bachchan films and masala films in general. In particular, i used to love movies where the Hero used to be introduced as a dreaded dacoit and then there was a flashback to explain his original character and how he came to be known as the dreaded dacoit !
The above irony cannot explain the state of Engineering in a better way ! Unfortunately since Engineering cannot speak for itself through a flashback we need to do so ! Why is engineering so dreaded? Why does everyone consider everything other than engineering an offbeat career? In my view, if at all there is a concept of an offbeat career, it is engineering. Let us see why?
In the early 50s to late 70s when the original IITs were established, there wasnt a craze for engineering the way it is today. With majority of students graduating in arts and science, there was a small group of genuinely curious students who opted for engineering in the IITs. Since it was a period of war, and the armed forces, especially the Air Force was flying high literally, there was a genuine need for engineers. My dad, infact was a flight engineer for the IAF with an M.tech in Aeronautical Enineering from IISC, Bangalore. At that time, engineering was the offbeat career to go for, given its need in warfare/fighter planes, chemical engineering and mechanical as well.
This demand for engineers went up in the 80s as well when several multi-nationals were venturing into India for collaboration with Indian counterparts. For eg., Hewlett packard collaborated with HCL to develop peripheral deivices and several electronics and mechanical engineers were employed as a part of the HCL-HP alliance. Not to forget the need for mechanical engineers in the indigenous automotive market before liberalization. All this while, the demand for engineers had been healthy and engineering maintained its deserving stature as an offbeat career. The number of engineering institutes was well below demand.
In the late 1990s came the storm in the form of Y2K and new software companies on the block placed an emphasis on engineers. Most of the work that needed to be done never needed engineering skills, but to be on the safer side, management preferred engineers hoping they would have analytical skills. This was a turning point which created a huge demand for IT people and led to mass creation of new institutes offering engineering degrees. To address the demand of IT , there were engineers from all streams (Electronics, Mechanical, Chemical, Civil) entering IT firms. Moreover, parents , wanting their children to be part of the IT boom, wanted their kids to be engineers to get into the IT sector. This tilted the demand supply curve with a huge supply of engineering students, many of whom neither had the skills nor the interest in engineering. This is where engineering started losing its status as an offbeat career since the core focus was on IT not engineering. The outsourcing trend (BPO/KPO) was another defining point that pushed india further down the creativity and innovation ladder .
Now if you look at United States, the same is not the case. Engineering still retains its stature because there are several product companies that employ core engineering skills. Whether you have General Motors (Mechanical), Google (Computer Science Engg), Dupont (Chemical Engg) or Intel (Electronics Engg), they all have successfully built well engineered products. They keep the innovation side of things and push the dirty work to us through the lure of money.
We, on the other hand, continue to tarnish the image of engineering by building more IITs than needed. Previously IITs were known as elite institutions imparting engineering knowledge. However now there is an IIT in every city. Everyone you meet is an IITan. Just the way there can be only one MIT, there can be only 5 IITs which were the original ones!
I myself am a parent and we want the best career for our kids. We are often drawn by the easy money offered by the services sector. But remember that the high salaries are only at the fresher level. Salaries in the service sector stagnate as experience grows. However R&D and Product Development salaries grow with experience because products sell at huge premiums coming from core research and this is why the US has always been the hotbed of innovation and pays one of the highest salaries.
Isnt it ironic that we are the ones as parents who tarnished the very concept of engineering while artificially inflating demand for it. Our responsibility now is to resurrect engineering to its past glory by showing you interesting work that engineers are doing in India and worldwide in the area of electronics, mechanical , chemical or any other kind of engineering and not just computer science.
You will realize that engineering is offbeat as well !