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As Bob Dylan once sang, “The times they are a-changin'.” We’ve all seen it: A new generation of young PCB designers is (very) slowly entering the industry, and the designers we’ve known for years are retiring, or at least talking about retiring.
These millennials are going to be the future of our industry. What does this mean for the PCB design community? How do we attract more of these smart young people to the world of PCB design?
I asked Paul Musto, director of marketing for Mentor’s Board Systems Division, a Siemens business, to explain the company’s initiatives aimed at drawing more students into PCB design. We also discussed the recent movement of electrical engineers into PCB layout, the need for a clearly defined path for students seeking to become PCB designers, and some of the ways that young people are already beginning to revolutionize this mature industry.
Paul Musto: Traditionally, as we all know, most companies had functional specialists; PCB designers, electrical, mechanical, software and signal integrity engineers. Many of these companies, if they didn't have that level of skill sets, would go to service bureaus or outside contractors and would contract for those kinds of services.
I'm an EE. I graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. I was hired into Data General, a minicomputer company in Massachusetts, as one of a new team of electrical engineers to layout printed circuit boards. At that point in time, they were transitioning from a traditional PCB layout process (hand and tape) to a new CAD-based flow and wanted to have electrical engineers working on their PCB layouts. They believed that, due to the complexity and high-speed nature of their boards, EEs would have a better understanding of the fundamental electrical performance of what we're designing.
Being a recent EE, I quickly realized that I didn’t want to do PCB design as a full-time profession and only lasted about two years before moving on to a PCB design software company—which I found fascinating. At this time, EDA software was a booming industry and many exciting developments were being made. I have now spent nearly 30 years in the EDA industry, but haven't designed boards since that point. There's always been this discussion that PCB design is going to shift to the EE, because the engineer has more inherent knowledge about the electrical aspects of the design, but we haven't really seen that take place.
Well, I believe this trend is changing due to market and technology dynamics that are changing things up. One is, as we all recognize, the PCB design specialist community is aging and many are retiring, leaving a shortage. Many long-established companies you visit will have PCB designers who you've known for 25 years and are now in their late 50s and 60s.
PCB design is not a skill set that has been developed and nurtured through the years. Twenty years ago, trade schools and community-based schools offered PCB design classes, and many of them referred to it as drafting, and the person a draftsman. There would be all kinds of opportunities in the industry where people could go and learn PCB design, but many of those outlets no longer exist. It's just not a trade or a skill set that's as sought after as it was back then when you had draftsmen, electronics technicians, and mechanical designers moving into the electronics space.
To read this entire interview, which appeared in the July 2018 issue of Design007 Magazine, click here.