May 29, 2009

WELL, DUH: Obama says nation needs more nerds. “Increased education efforts” are nice, but why would a rational person go into engineering and computer science unless the payoff looked better than, say, law school? Perhaps we should increase the rewards for nerddom? (Nerdhood? Nerdosity?)

UPDATE: Reader Greg Smith writes:

Your comment about the lack of rewards is accurate, but it’s worse than you think. Lower pay, lower respect, and lower job security do not add up to a compelling combination.

My father was an aerospace engineer (inspired by the moon program) and retired a few years ago after a long career. I followed in his footsteps as an electrical engineer in the networking industry. While I did start out in R&D, today I’m in marketing, both because of the higher compensation and the superior recognition. The “nerds” are largely viewed as interchangable by management and face a much higher risk risk of being outsourced overseas (esp. China and India).

While I still believe that an engineering education provides an excellent background for many careers, what I tell young people today, including my own kids, is that you either want a skilled trade like auto repair or plumbing where the work has to be done on site here in America, or a college education that can lead to a career that cannot easily be sent overseas. Computer science and many branches of engineering do not meet that requirement.

Perhaps if we had more engineers who actually understand the challenge of getting things built instead of lawyers in Congress we wouldn’t be in the mess we face today.

Our political system (and, heck, our overall culture) rewards those who divide up pies far more lavishly than those who bake them. This is probably not sustainable over the long term.