High-Tech's Hiring-Firing Paradox

Subject: High-Tech's Hiring-Firing Paradox
From: George Mena <George -dot- Mena -at- ESSTECH -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 27 Jul 1998 15:32:28 -0700

Thought I'd let everyone know about the article "High Tech's
Hiring-Firing Paradox", which appears in today's Business section of the
San Francisco Chronicle. To see the online copy, go to
http://www.sfgate.com and look it up. :D

I believe this article has some clear implications for tech writers at
least here in Silicon Valley and the US. With the ongoing hiring of
non-USA born engineers that USA-born tech writers will have to interview
as subject matter experts, the question becomes one of how to make sure
effective communication between these two types of technical
professionals continues. With the ongoing presence of cultural
differences between the two groups, I don't see this situation resolving
itself anytime soon.

Obviously, engineers from other countries have to know enough English to
be hired on in the first place in the US, but there will always be the
cultural differences that will occasionally get in the way of two people
trying to do their jobs. Commentary from other people in similar
situations in other countries is highly encouraged as feedback for this
post. :D

Some interesting excerpts from the article by Chronicle staff writer Dan
Fost follow:

"We are a prime example of what the apparent contradiction is," said
T.J. Rodgers, president and chief execuitve officer of chipmaker Cypress
Semiconductor Corp. of San Jose. Cypress has laid off 200 U.S.
manufacturing workers this year but still has about 25 open positions
for engineers. Rodgers understands the seeming paradox: "How am I
hiring and firing on the same day?" He and other industry leaders said
the answer is simple: they're hiring skilled engineers to design the
products that represent their companies' futures, while laying off
manufacturing workers, support staff, administrators and employees who
have received poor performance evaulations.

(Ed. Note 1: Support staff often includes us tech writers, folks.
Knowing how to put something in HTML or PDF format is a nice "to have"
skill, but it's worthless if there's no product to document, in my
opinion. I think we need to keep this in mind as we progress in our
careers -- but that's me. :D )

As many as half the graduates of the most-prestigious engineering
schools in the country are natives of other lands, industry officials
say. "Because the U.S. has the best science and engineering education
in the world, the people in the doctoral and master's programs aren't
just from the U.S., but they're from India, China, Europe, Russia" and
other countries, said Tom Waldrop, a spokesman for Intel. Engineers
with advanced degrees "are scarcer than hen's teeth," Waldrop said. "If
we could hire only American nationals, we would do it. It's cheaper.
There's a whole lot less red tape. It costs $12,000 per person in extra
legal work."

"Quite honestly, it's a cultural difference," said Paul Kostek,
president-elect of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics
Engineers. "In the U.S., it's 'Show me the money.' We're not impressed
by reams of degrees. Other countries look at education as important."
Bill Reed, president of the American Electronics Association, said he'd
like to see American universities accept fewer foreign students. "I
think it's a terrible waste to educate one of those people instead of
taking some of ours, whether they meet the highest standards or not, and
educating them," Reed said.

(Ed. Note 2: This could easily mean taking a tech writer and have him
or her become an engineer. There's no language barrier for
university-level tech comm program grads to overcome while trying to
master engineering subjects. This is putting the "technical" in
technical writing, folks. It's an issue that university professors in
the mass communications and English studies environments don't
understand at all and one that the professors in the engineering
colleges understand far too well, in my opinion. Hopefully, the
professors in the tech comm faculties are at least talking with the
professors in the engineering colleges. If they're not, the students
*in* the tech comm programs may well be getting educationally
shortchanged and not even realize it, IMO.)

In fact, President Clinton insists any effort to import more high-tech
workers must be accompanied by increased education and training for
American workers. Industry leaders say they're working on long-term
efforts to improve science and engineering education to increase the
pool of future workers. "We've got to find ways to beef up K-12
education," said Stan Myers, president of Semiconductor Equipment and
Materials International, the trade group for the chip equipment

Industry giant Intel Corp. is cutting 3,000 jobs, Motorola laid off
15,000, Applied Materials is seeking 1,000 employees to take buyouts,
and some companies such as Lam Research have announced several rounds of
layoffs. The companies remain optimistic, however, that semiconductors
will continue to drive the technological revolution and that
profitability will return. And they say bright, talented -- and yes,
often foreign-born -- engineers will design the products that will lead
them to that promised land.

"We believe our companies will grow and our industry will grow," said
Daryl Hatano, vice president of international trade and government
affairs for the Semiconductor Industry Association, the chip industry's
largest trade group. "To accomplish that will take better, faster
products, and it will take highly educated people to do that. It's a
specialized knowledge of the latest research in processing skills,"
Hatano said. "You don't want to let somebody go who's going to invent
the next 'killer app' that creates hundreds of factory jobs."

I tried to keep it short, folks. :D

George Mena
Technical Writing Consultant
George -dot- Mena -at- esstech -dot- com
ESS Technology, Inc.
Fremont, CA
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