US vs Asia, education, Gordon Moore (the vandal years), and the vision of Star Trek
Michael Santarini - August 22, 2007
You can take an editor out of newsroom but you can’t take the newsroom out of the editor. That seems to be the case with my old mentor and buddy, Brian Fuller. He recently left my alma mater EE Times and took a public relations spot at some firm I’ve never worked with. Even though my old buddy is in the process of growing horns on his head and a long pointy tail, jk pr folks, he was asked to moderate a panel for an FSA luncheon and evidently still has nose for the news.
At any rate, in his latest blog post on his personal blog Greeley’s Ghost, he relates an interesting exchange that took place after the event between Jack Harding and an editor, in which the editor allegedly berates Harding, Fuller and evidently any and all Silly Valley folks, whom work in the technology sector, for not pushing their kids towards BS-type (Bachelor of Science, not the other BS) technical degrees (Math, science and engineering). Fuller’s write up of the exchange is amusing but it raises some interesting questions and thoughts as I raise my three kids here in Silicon Valley (where I’ve lived my entire life).
Should I be pushing my kids into math and science even though they are doing fairly well in all subjects and are free thinking individuals? Should I be putting my kids into after school tutoring so they are ahead of the curve in math and science (or in this area so they simply keep up with other kids who are doing school overtime? Do they even know they want to be engineers or technical yet? Is there a litmus test? Can you tell if a child has potential as an engineer if they tear stuff up and try to rebuild it? I once covered a fascinating talk between Gordon Moore and Carver Mead, in which Moore recounted how he came to semiconductors via chemistry via an early fascination with blowing stuff up using explosives his father confiscated while working for the Redwood City Sheriff’s department. (Does that mean the drive-way-too-fast, tattooed teenagers down the street are the next captains of industry?)
Anyway as I read Fuller’s account of the FSA “afterparty” (Party people say “WHAT, WHAT?”) I was reminded of the first time I had a meeting with National Semi CEO and Chairman Brian Halla. It was a meeting between all the Reed Business editors (EDN, Electronic News and Electronic Business) and the folks at National Semi. The charismatic Halla addressed many topics but the one that stuck with me was his speech on Apollo 2007 or something to that effect in which he claimed that to keep the US competitive on the technology front, with the emergence of technology powers in Asia, that the US government needed to fund/sponsor/mandate education in the sciences from a young age (Halla called it something like Mercury or Apollo 2006). At any rate, after the talk I raised my hand and asked “shouldn’t you be trying to build a big, fast boat, instead of trying to keep your finger in a dike and hold back the flood waters (the rise of mainland China and India as engineering powers)?”
I personally don’t believe that the emergence of Asia as a technical super power is a bad thing or that change is a bad thing (the one thing I’ve learned over the years is that change is inevitable). I’m an optimist, idealist, and perhaps a bit naïve but I think more engineers working on the world’s problems, challenges and mysteries is a good thing…a step closer to the cool world of Star Trek (which oddly seems to be a roadmap of applications in science much in the same way Moore’s law has been a roadmap for semis).
We already have the wireless communicators as well as sensors of many kinds. But I’m waiting for the Star Trek cure-all diseases device and teleportation device. I’m hoping that with millions of more engineers on the case (coming out of China, India and hopefully the US), these penultimate technologies will have a better chance of coming to fruition in my lifetime. I also notice that while Star Trek was conceived at a time when segregation was still endemic (though perhaps not legal) in the US, even the creators of Star Trek had the insight that the futuristic world of Star Trek was not simply a world run solely by Caucasian men (granted captain Kirk and later Jean-Luc Picard were), it was a collaboration of many different races, genders and even species… a world where the heroes are not just scientists and engineers but are well rounded individuals as well versed in history, literature, and social awareness, as they are in science and engineering…I can certainly guide and help my children become better, more well–rounded people but I have to respect at the end of 18 years, it will be up to each of them to decide where their interests, influenced by circumstance, will take them…best of luck Brian (I know where you can buy refills for that fountain pen if you ever want to hang up the shiny new pitchfork!).
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