Where are all the engineers? By David Whale
Why are we short of engineers, when engineering is such a great profession? Why are today’s children full of huge expectations and only interested in consuming, when there is so much fulfilment and societal value to be gained from designing and creating the next killer high tech gadget?
As an industry we are possibly victims of our own success, having made computers so easy to use that we no longer need user guides; and yet we’re then surprised to discover that as a result, the younger generation are not interested in how things work and how they are created?
There is a severe shortage of supply of new engineers constraining the growth of many technology companies. Prof John Perkins advises of 22 action points for recovery and growth. But how can you as an individual get involved and protect the future of our great profession?
In 5 easy steps you can get involved and do something about inspiring the next generation of engineers.
1. FIRST CONTACT
There are a number of ways of getting involved, via your professional institution such as The IET, The BCS, IMechE, IoP, and others. Nationally, STEM Engagement with schools (Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is managed by STEMNET, who delegate to regional contract holders to manage relationships with schools, and with people like you and me called STEM Ambassadors.
2. FOLLOW THE PROCESS
There are rules and regulations as to who can work in schools and with young people. STEMNET organise your CRB check (now called DBS) allowing you to work in schools and clubs, and provide free insurance cover. The regional contract holder (e.g. in Cambridge this is STEMTeam East) provides induction training and links with schools via roughly monthly emails, but you can follow up your own leads too.
It took me roughly 5 weeks to get through the process.
After attending a Cambridge Wireless Open Source SIGS meeting at Broadcom, I chose to work with the Raspberry Pi and also the Arduino. Both are heavily supported by open source software, tons of interesting add-ons, and thriving communities.
The Raspberry Pi is a complete computer solution with a range of programming languages including Scratch, Python and C++. Many schools and curriculums are using Scratch and Python as their core teaching languages.
Both platforms are great for building that next killer internet connected gadget and work well with wireless modules for Bluetooth, WiFi, Zigbee and GSM. There’s some really interesting school projects that can be built with all of this technology.
Do something! Engage with communities such as Raspberry Jams, maker fairs or code clubs. Get comfortable understanding the younger generation and see just how busy teachers are, with no time to collate and develop resources. If you’re not comfortable working directly with children, it’s just as helpful to be a back-office person helping teachers with resources behind the scenes.
I chose to set up computer clubs, run workshops at Raspberry Jams, and help develop and test resources and initial working code sketches to kick off school projects.
5. DEVELOP AND PROTECT
Bring in your professional knowledge and experience, and do everything you can to protect the integrity of the great profession we all work in. We don’t want a generation of tinkerers and hackers, we need real engineers! There is a broad spectrum of skills and experience in the communities and in schools, and I spend quite a lot of my time making sure that people are not easily seduced by the quick fix. Explaining how things work and sharing some of the tricks of the trade is hugely satisfying.
My business benefited too: I learnt Python so I could support school teachers, but I’m now regularly using it with my customers. I learnt Arduino to support projects, and it’s now my prototyping platform of choice for my own projects.
What are you waiting for? If you care about your profession, get involved inspiring the next generation! It’s the most rewarding thing I have ever done.
About The Author
David Whale has been an embedded software engineer for the last 25 years working on a range of consumer and automotive products. He now runs Thinking Binaries Ltd, a software development consultancy specialising in embedded software. Thinking Binaries is a member of Cambridge Wireless.
David is a regular speaker and workshop presenter at Raspberry Jam meetups around the country, and is the IET Schools Liaison Officer in the Essex region. He has been a STEM Ambassador for over a year.
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Want to find out more about Cambridge Wireless? Visit http://www.cambridgewireless.co.uk/