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Are the Glory Days of Analog Engineering Over? 236

An anonymous reader writes with this article about the future of the analog engineer. Some say technology advancements are obsoleting the need for analog engineers, while others say that good, experienced analog designers will always be needed and currently are in short supply. After years spent encouraging engineering students to focus on software and digital electronics, some people say the day of reckoning appears to be drawing near: Many analog mixed-signal design jobs now stay open longer or are simply going unfilled, say recruiters, with some engineers even unable to retire because they can't find a suitable replacement. On the one hand, some people blame the shift from analog to digital, which produced a generation of engineers who speak the language of code, not circuit schematics. On the other hand, others say that with the advent of systems-on-chip, the easy availability of free circuits, pioneered by companies like TSMC, and software tools to verify designs, there is simply less need for analog designers.
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Are the Glory Days of Analog Engineering Over?

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  • The world... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Friday June 13, 2014 @08:14AM (#47228763) Journal

    The world is analogue. Someone's going to have to design the analogue front end to your digital system. Even if you have a ready made analogue front end, you still have to understand the analogue world if you ever hope to design high speed digital systems. When it comes to the actual voltage levels on your PCB and signal integrity, the nice clean world of software where you can just expect the hardware to be predictable and just work with no effort goes away, you have to have a little bit of a clue about the analogue side if you want your high speed digital signals to reach their destinations intact. Another example is your (A)DSL line, it might be called "Digital subscriber line" but it required analogue design to get the signal from your modem (and it is a modem - it modulates and demodulates the signal) to the DSLAM in your phone exchange.

    You might not need as many analogue engineers as you may have (say) in the 90s, but they'll never go away because the world is analogue, and the analogue world constantly impinges on your digital signals especially once you pass single digit MHz speeds.

  • I beg to differ (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mathieu Stephan ( 2892907 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @08:19AM (#47228793)
    Even if you're doing digital design all day you _need_ an analog background to do a good job. Most of the time analog signals aren't directly input to your microcontroller / DSP... as you need to add protection to your input stage, filter for parasites etc... >1Mhz digital signals can't simply be laid out on a board without thinking of the problems that may arise due to the nearby signals / layout of your transmission lines. Everything on your board is analog and I'm not even mentioning what you should take care of when you'll have to do EMC testing. On a side note I'm very skeptical of the article's quality...
  • Re:The world... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Threni ( 635302 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @08:24AM (#47228819)

    And what are atoms made of? (They're certainly not atomic).

  • by Big_Breaker ( 190457 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @08:27AM (#47228833)

    Part of "Digital", the lowest level of digital, is a contract concerning how signalling between transistors occurs. This includes timing, rise and hold times, voltage thresholds and current. I'll include avoidance of race conditions, clock distribution, refresh cycles on DRAM and temperature effects as a side car. These are all design constraints that make sure the 1s and 0s working properly. It's only when you have a 99.99999999% solid digital contract that you can begin the digital side of the design.

    All of this digital design is solidly analog and will NEVER go away.

    I could make another whole post about the absurdity of traditional "analog" going away. All these mobile devices have some amazing RF design going on from the antenna down to the mixed signal SoC. Analog is everywhere and at the core of every electronic gadget.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13, 2014 @08:38AM (#47228901)

    In the experimental sciences we make heavy use of analog circuits. We need to be able to take signals scale them, filter them, integrate them, buffer them, all in analog before it reaches our DAC systems. Otherwise a voltage spike will fry your digital portions.

  • by zennling ( 950572 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @08:49AM (#47228959)
    Just because there is no suitable replacement should not be grounds for an engineer to work forever! Which companies are saying that you arent allowed to retire because of no suitable replacements? Name and shame them!
  • Re:The world... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by some old guy ( 674482 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @08:52AM (#47228985)

    Here's a news flash: Engineers with actual jobs couldn't care less about quanta. In our world, P.I.D. calculations and control loops are based on the actual phenomena being controlled, said phenomena being analogue in behavior.

    If you want to have a mainframe grinding out the quantum equations for a functional room thermostat in near real time, that's your business. For the rest of us in the real world, there's analogue engineering.

  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @10:13AM (#47229585) Homepage Journal

    I think part of the problem is that analog has shifted of the mainstream for hobbyists. Let's face it, a lot of best engineers start as kids and kids today are not getting into HAM radio all that much but instead are working with Arduinos. It is sad.

  • Re:The world... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CaptnZilog ( 33073 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @10:35AM (#47229731)

    They're all Asian.

    Maybe now, but Bob Pease would have argued with you on that up until his death (maybe a decade ago now?).

  • Re:The world... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @11:31AM (#47230221) Journal

    Here's a news flash: Engineers with actual jobs couldn't care less about quanta.

    Never encountered shot noise then?

  • Re:The world... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <> on Friday June 13, 2014 @12:26PM (#47230619)

    The articles headline is a bit missleading. In the body of the article you find that even they admit that analog engineering isn't dead or going anywhere. What is changing is the exact skill sets required. If you are doing traditional circuit design on purely analog equipment you are on hard times because people aren't doing as much of that. If on the other hand you have a foot in both the digital and analog world and can do analog design for digital systems there is a shortage and money is really good. So basically the people having problems are the older analog engineers who haven't kept their skills current. I think you could write that same article about just about any technical field where there has been rapid development in the technology. Some folks end up in dead end specialties that simply aren't in demand anymore. Your options there are retrain, change carriers or compete for the ever shrinking number of jobs. I'd argue that the last one is the worst choice unless you are simply close enough to retirement that the other two are simply unviable. Which actually appears to be the case with most of the guys listed in the article.

    Granted, few people do all analog designs these days (it's generally easier, faster and cheaper to use a DSP and work in software), but analog design skills are STILL in demand.

    Not because of obvious analog nature of the world, but digital electronics, in their push to be faster and lower power, are encountering analog phenomenon.

    Many digital interconnects have very strict analog components (e.g., capacitance, termination, etc). Many PCB designs may have analog design aspects (antennas, RF signals). Even a purely digital bus running between CPU and memory? Tons of analog designs trying to keep impedances the same and minimizing crosstalk, etc. etc. etc.

    An analog engineer not only can hack it in a purely digital build, but they're often required. It's true they're not building analog circuits, but all the troubles in modern digital high-speed design are all analog effects that are generally well understood by analog engineers. That signal may be taking on 0 and 1.2V at the transmitter, but that signal line is a transmission line at those frequencies, couples with the inner ground planes, bounces off sharp corners and has capacitance and inductance that has to be characterized and worked with.

    Anyone who designs analog circuits understands that because it influences their circuits and can form inadvertent filters. And back when digital logic was 0-5V, we simply ignored it because we overdrive the signal lines so we can safely ignore analog effects. But these days, no, you can't, if you want low power and high speed.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling