Friday, January 14, 2011

22: The case for "Electronic Systems"

The EngineeringUK 2011 Report highlighted that whilst 60% of people surveyed couldn't think of a single thing that engineers had done in the last 50yrs to effect their lives; more than 90% considered they would be instrumental in finding the cure for climate change! Clearly a significant failure of the education system ... Or is it? It has always been the case that more successful we are at our jobs, the less troublesome the raw science/technology is, and the more invisible (and undervalued) it becomes to its users. Yet we scientists are as guilty as the next of under-valuing the contribution made to our lives by the skills of others; and thank goodness it isn't necessary to know how grass grows, to grow grass.

... These people are your children, spouses, economists, teachers, politicians, bus drivers (etc); the things they buy pay our wages and set the priority for future investment; and they base their purchasing decisions around form and function, not technology. The counter-intuitive conclusion is that we need them to understand us; but they don't need to understand technology!

So if we want our activities to be recognised, valued and supported, then we have to sell them to Joe/Jane Public in a context they will want to engage with and in a manner they will understand. They need to know inside, that supporting them is the right thing to do! Nanotechnology, global warming, big-physics and bio-tech have all succeeded in creating a compelling public image, and many and varied sub-activities profit by aligning with their respective parent.

So whilst the Atomistic Modelling of transistors; Deposited oxides; Asynchronous logic; TCP-IP stacks; CMP; Moore's law; Operating systems; Compilers; Communications protocols; SoC Architectures; Components; Design & Automation Tools ... and Business Models inside the various design-cycles ... are very exciting to us (well some of us :-), but they have has no real meaning to more than 99.99% of the population. But if we link them to the things that they value: their iPhones, Digital TVs, Computers; their Food, Heating, Transport, the Economy, etc; then they will understand their context. We know that all these are dependent on underlying Electronic Systems, so it is a logical stage on which to create a compelling story and captivate that audience. It is an exciting story of how these immensely complex things are the result of an international cooperation of teams of people across many disciplines; how our 'detailed roles' are an important part of this today, and how they will be even more-so tomorrow.

The term Electronic Systems is particularly good, because it is not over-used and its intuitive public meaning is more-or-less correct (Other terms like IT, ICT, Electronics, Software, Systems, and Manufacturing are either erroneous type-cast or excessively technical). It is a broad term allowing a wide range of disciplines to feel included, as long as they contribute to the life-cycle somewhere. That's engineers, scientists and businesses working at the System-Level, but also on the technology; Hardware, Software, Systems, Sub-Systems, Components, PCB's, RF, Analogue, Electro-chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, etc.

... Electronic Systems doesn't trivialise the underlying technologies but gives them a context, so its message should resonate through all our work and work-programmes: Electronic Systems are our raison d'ĂȘtre!