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April 10, 2008


Essay Help

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student Mike

I agree that this documentary was made too narrowly. Not thinking about everything that is important when preparing for ones future life.

Other skills which you do not always get from studies are quite important. I think that documentary about that "other skills" would be more interesting and useful for future and present students.


There are many "other skills" -- beyond high cognitive abilities and thorough grounding in core knowledge, such as math, physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, world history, geography, English literature & grammar and Mandarin, Hindi, Farsi or Arabic -- that are necessary to financial self-sufficiency in the 21st century.

My questions, Mike, would be:

1- which ones do you see as most important?

2- in what classes at Carmel High School - or any public U.S. high school - are those additional skills taught?

3- are you certain those skills elude the educators, parents and students of India and China?

digital dissertations

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Dr. No

Dear Bob:

I enjoyed listening to your interview with Steve Sher on KUOW in Seattle on May 12, in which you advertised your recent documentary film. I teach engineering math at a local university and, just the day before, read email from other faculty lamenting the poor study habits and math skills of some American engineering students.

As an educator, I am also an advertiser for our educational services. I believe in strong science education, but I also believe that prospective students deserve the truth about their career options. As such I would like to ask a few questions, after which I will disagree with your summary dismissal of a caller's suggestion that US technology industries are dependent on foreign brainpower because they underprice their services.

Q1: Have US technology industries come to believe that domestic students are unworthy of employment? If so, then perhaps it is in our students' best interest to pursue other careers.

BC Answer 1: I can only speak for myself as a technology employer, but know I would prefer to hire an American engineer into my companies as opposed to looking overseas. For one reason, having all the team in the same facility leads to tremendous productivity and creativity increases. Neil Ahrendt, the American student in my film, is working this summer at Vontoo, my voice messaging company www.vontoo.com

As a proxy for how other high tech companies think about US students perhaps the starting salaries for engineers graduating from US colleges: they are higher than any other major, ranging from $55K-$65K to start. These salaries are typically $20K-$30K higher than non-technical degrees.

Q2: Is employers' main concern with the specific technical competence or work habits? If it is the former, then predicting the job market four years hence is of great importance. If it is the latter, then emphasis might be placed on a school environment and transportation options that promote longer, more productive days with classmates and instructors.

BC ANSWER 2: As an employer of more than 2,000 engineers in my career I look for currency of knowledge/skills, creativity, ability to work in or lead a team, communications skills, a drive to succeed and a passion for being up-to-date on new technology in their field - ideally inventing the new technology.

Q3: A posting on this blog site mentions that the key to many Indians' well-rounded academic success is cutting back on sleep. Most of academia seems to disregard research has shown that sleep deprivation is detrimental to mental retention. Following your observation that Americans place more emphasis on sports than on education, one might note that varsity athletes eat and sleep on a schedule that promotes high performance, but we do not expect our "varsity" students to do the same. I generally tell my students that they will have a lot of trouble debugging code while they are over-tired. What has your research discovered in this regard?

BC ANSWER 3: My research and my personal knowledge tells me that the post that claimed Indians sleep less is total crap. They simply made that up!! Where Indian and Chinese pick up the "extra" time over Americans is through less intensive athletics, no outside minimum wage jobs, a lot less goofing off, and a longer school day, longer week and longer year. Indians and Chinese allocate their time toward intellectual and academic achievement, Americans do not. Sleep habits do not account for the differences.

On to the second topic.

Q4 - As an expert in this field you are undoubtedly familiar with Bill Gates' testimony to Congress on March 12, 2008, and probably with the editorial by Robert J. Stevens (CEO, Lockheed-Martin) in the WSJ on April 19, 2006. Both lamented the lack of home-grown engineering talent -- Gates for Microsoft and Stevens for defense contractors.

I have heard that the WSJ published four letters rebutting Mr. Stevens' dour outlook, with the common theme that American industries could hire the workers it needs if the salaries were commensurate with the capabilities and education expected of high-tech workers. One engineer included a resume with his letter. The aforementioned caller made the same point but you claimed she was ignorant of how hard industry was looking for workers. You are probably familiar with the blog sites from engineers who say that they are guiding their children away from engineering careers. If you want to sell technology education to our youth, you might begin by convincing the existing engineers.

BC ANSWER 4: I have had lots of engineers call in to radio shows and say they have the skills to work in new technology companies. I've offered several jobs on the air, but then when I say the job is in Chicago or Indianapolis or Memphis or some other city and they say they want the job, but they won't leave Seattle or Silicon Valley or Boston or San Diego.

So, they want to work where they want to work which is their right but stop complaining that they can't find gainful employment in the US.

They want high salaries, challenging work and they will not make a move. Give me a break. Yeah, I'd like to live in San Diego and have a high paying job, but Memphis was where the opportunity was, so here I am. And although I grew up in DC and wanted to work for IBM in Boston, the job IBM offered was in Indianapolis - a city I had never been to. They made the offer on Friday, I landed Indy on Sunday and started work on Monday.

"Bloom where you are planted" is what my Mom who was a cook at the Library of Congress cafeteria always told me.

Q 5- My experience has also made me skeptical that industry is really interested in domestic talent. Companies were not interested when I was captain of my HS math team, when I applied for co-op programs at MIT, when I earned my PE license, or when I applied for jobs as an engineering post-doc. This is not to say that life has been bleak. My studies have been interesting, I have never been unemployed, and both the government/military and the university have enthusiastically welcomed my services. However, this total lack of interest from industry makes their comments seem disingenuous.

BC Answer 5: assuming you had no restrictions on location and were willing to do whatever it took to get a great job, I'm puzzled by your experience. I would say it is an aberration.

Q6 - In the near term I am searching for data to help me guide my students. In the long term I will probably encourage my children to earn a degree in physics or engineering... on their way to a J.D.

BC Answer 6: The law is a fine profession and they will be able to command a very salary as intellectual property attorneys.


Lots of well rounded students hardly make it to become doctors though their intentions are good and they perform well in high school. Yet, they haven't the rigor or discipline to adequately make it through a premed program.
Parents who place a strong emphasis on academic rigor have children who perform well academically (the children in India and China had parents that emphasised working at academics as keys to success) just as a parent who pushes their child to practice in sports will have a child who meets some reasonable athletic success. The idea that the socially well-rounded student does exceptionally well in the workplace is false depending on how one defines what doing well in the workplace is.

Dave Chase

I'll preface my comments/question with the fact that we have bought and watched your film and think you are doing a great service by surfacing these issues. I do believe that many people have their head in the sand and have personally had top engineering grads from India and China work for me while I was at Microsoft (I'm now in the venture business) and seen their prowess as well as limitations.

Having said all of that, while I believe the well-rounded argument is generally wishful thinking, I do believe that it would be worthwhile for you to comment on the notion of Emotional Intelligence (that isn't synonymous with "well roundedness" for those who aren't familiar with EI). From my experience and what I've read on Emotional Intelligence (EI), it is a better predictor or career success than pure academic intelligence. My only question is whether EI is something that can be taught in school or is primarily the domain of parents.

From my own experience, it was a mix of school/home though much of it came from home. Our local schools are just embarking on becoming an International Baccalaureate school and I'm hopeful that it will not only provide academic rigor but also a broader world view and perhaps elements of EI. In the long run, I think that balance of academic rigor with the so-called EI skills will be the critical mix vs. one or the other.

I'm curious what Bob's take is on this as I haven't seen this raised yet. Rather, there are those just talking about well-roundedness as though tailgating skills were critical (although my days playing team sports and being a leader in my college fraternity were things that led me to have great career success in the tech industry).


The third paragraph from the end is the main counter-argument: the film overly weights the future importance of math and science education.

Really? It isn't that important? That is great news. I can sleep at ease now, with the knowledge that high school students are confident that they know the future and that everything is going to be fine.

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