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Can't find a PCB designer to hire for cool position. Is PCB design completely ignored in schools?

JohnRog

Sep 1, 2022
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Gang,

Why is it so difficult to find PCB design skills in today's graduates? We're having the greatest position in the world, lots of freedom, cool stuff to work on etc. and can't seem to find good talent to hire. There are plenty of EE applicants but very few have PCB design experience.

Is PCB design completely overlooked by today's schools? Most EE graduates have no clue and those that do have some clue have designed a 1 layer board with 5-10 components.

Why?!?!

PS. btw. I hope this is allowed by forum rules, here's our position, in case anyone is interested: https://virtalica.com/company/#careers
 

kellys_eye

Jun 25, 2010
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I suppose every industry that requires certain specialised skillsets 'preloaded' in ex-students will want the curriculum to be designed around THEIR needs too. If you value the skills so highly maybe your best course would be to offer apprenticeships (appropriately remunerated) to interested parties?
 

JohnRog

Sep 1, 2022
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Great point but not sure how that would work. We are not in a position to offer apprenticeships since we simply don't have the expertise. We NEED PCB designers.
 

Bluejets

Oct 5, 2014
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A 10 year old can design pcb's these days given the online facilities.
One doesn't need some EE graduate whatever that is.
I'd say you are looking in the wrong places.
Someone with a passion for it might be reading here so that's a start.
Other consideration is "what are you prepared to pay for their expert services".
Many places are offering positions for experts but don't want to pay what they are worth, thinking the covid situation will go in their favour.
People with the skills are a wakeup to this, just look at the skills shortage in Australia currently.
 

Harald Kapp

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A 10 year old can design pcb's these days given the online facilities.
There's a difference between designing a PCB and designing a good PCB.
The latter requires good knowledge of high-frequency layout techniques, use of ground planes, use of vias (or when not to use them), impedance matching etc.
Why is it so difficult to find PCB design skills in today's graduates?
When I studied, there were no classes on PCB design. Most of what I know today I learned on the job by observing experienced layout designers or reading stuff on PCB design.

I think this is not limited to PCB designers: Any education tries to convey a solid general background with only limited excursions into details of specialized areas. Specialization comes on the job.
 

JohnRog

Sep 1, 2022
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Designing 9-12 layer PCBs and routing 20-40 Gbps is not trivial. I want to see the 10 year old that can do that
:)
 

hevans1944

Hop - AC8NS
Jun 21, 2012
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Gang,

Why is it so difficult to find PCB design skills in today's graduates? We're having the greatest position in the world, lots of freedom, cool stuff to work on etc. and can't seem to find good talent to hire. There are plenty of EE applicants but very few have PCB design experience.

Is PCB design completely overlooked by today's schools? Most EE graduates have no clue and those that do have some clue have designed a 1 layer board with 5-10 components.

Why?!?!

PS. btw. I hope this is allowed by forum rules, here's our position, in case anyone is interested: https://virtalica.com/company/#careers
Graduates of what? High school? Tech school? Two-year associates degree? Four-year baccalaureate degree? Some sort of PCB designer apprentice program? Maybe your company is looking in the wrong places. PCB layout is VERY specific to the type of circuitry and components the PCB supports. You learn this art from experience DOING it, not usually from some professor. There is plenty of help available online for self-directed (i.e. product oriented) learning and PCB design programs, such as Altium, offer free video tutorials. And there is, of course, old fashioned printed texts with equations and explanations on how to layout impedance-controlled high-frequency signal paths.

Perhaps you should hire a "young turk" who is willing to learn the business. Even amateur hobbyists (I include myself in that group) have access to free PCB design software. And there are still a few PCB manufacturers remaining in North America. Perhaps you can ask some of them for hiring recommendations.

I am a "retired" electrical engineer (BEE, 1978, University of Dayton), but I spent many years working as a technician in the Electronics Laboratory at the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI), starting in 1967 after a four-year enlistment tour in the U.S. Air Force. When I started my "technician career" I always had the goal of eventually becoming an electrical engineer. UDRI provided that opportunity with full-time employment and 100% paid college tuition. I did have to purchase my own text books, but I didn't need the GI Bill to finance my education, nor did I have any student debt after graduating.

Along the way, I introduced the other technicians in the lab to printed circuit board design. Up until I was hired, they made "one off" circuits using point-to-point wiring on terminal posts, manually swaged into fiberglass boards. This works for most transistors and passive components, but fails when trying to wire up complex analog and digital circuits with dozens of closely-spaced terminals.

Back then (1970s), our PCB layouts were done with "puppets" placed on velum, with connections defined by crepe tape. The only practical boards were single-sided boards with through-hole components. We made these ourselves using Bishop Graphics for artwork and Kodak A-B lithographic film, contact-exposed and developed for photosensitized board exposure. Pre-sensitized boards were contact-exposed through developed negative A-B film under a strong photoflood lamp. Exposed boards were then "developed" in trichlorethylene, which dissolved the unexposed portions, and then etched in heated ferric chloride to separate the circuit traces from the copper-laminated fiberglass board. Lastly, the board through-holes were drilled with carbide drills and components mounted.

There were four or five of us technicians and we all became self-taught in PCB layout design. As circuits we worked with became increasingly more complicated, we eventually switched to commercial PCB houses but retained the manual artwork layups because UDRI claimed they could not afford to purchase any PCB design software seats. And, no, none of the classes I took for my engineering degree offered any instruction in how to layout PCBs. The Internet wasn't yet in existence but the campus library was well-stocked.

The "smart folks" were earning six-figure incomes, designing and laying out integrated circuits using razor swivel-knives to cut out sections of rubylith film, a very slow and error-prone process. The rest is history and a LOT of EDA (Electronic Design Automation) software. These folks were of course "electrical engineers," with a few solid-state physicists thrown in for seasoning, because you cannot afford to design integrated circuits by "trial and error" and expect to sell them at a profit. Similar to real estate, it's all about yield, yield, yield instead of location, location, location. At that time, California or Texas or Arizona) were THE places to be for bleeding-edge electronics development. However, we eventually gave that all away.

So, fast forward to the 1980s... I had finally graduated after ten long years of part-time study and went to work for a military contractor who happened to be dedicated to using Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) minicomputers. Minicomputers were on the way out by then, but almost no one in management realized it. Personal computers (PCs) were on the rise, with lots of "IBM clones" available everywhere from Asian sources. Software applications (apps) for PCs were everywhere, some available as shareware and others outright stolen, even if "protected" by various means that were eventually "hacked" by some kid living in his mother's basement. Never underestimate a ten-year old with a limited budget but loads of time on their hands.

I tried to "push" the practicality and cost advantages of the early PCs and was told to (basically) shut up and use DEC minicomputers. Embedded PCs were a relatively new concept in the 1980s, but that is what I was initially hired to design... a man-portable data acquisition system that used an embedded Intel 8085 to record reflectance data on digital tape. This replaced a "kludge" that used a Radio Shack audio tape recorder and a 110 baud acoustic modem. Minicomputers, such as the DEC PDP-11 series, were mostly used for "scientific" applications of this type. Some were embedded and dedicated to the task, but some were not.

Throughout the 1980s until my job was terminated in 1990, it was an uphill fight with zero company support for any sort of "toy" computer. I was able to design and build or upgrade only a few systems with embedded IBM PCs (the real thing usually, not often a clone) before, eventually, the company that hired me lost their lucrative (and exclusive) classified "black" contracts with the intelligence and reconnaissance community. Sensor platforms moved away from the chemistry of film-based imagery and fully embraced hyperspectral electronic imagery.

In the end, a chemical engineer and I were the first to be "let go" as the company was bleeding cash to pay their expensive software analysts, most of who had TOP SECRET - Special Intelligence (TS-SI) security clearances. It didn't work. More lay-offs followed and eventually the company went out of business. Those with the high-level clearances just went to work for a similar company that is still successful today.

If you think it is expensive to hire a competent PCB designer, who can roll multi-layer boards with 60 GHz signal paths, try paying for the extended background checks required of that employee who needs a TS-SI clearance. The employer, not the Government, pays for this. And the clearances are immediately invalid if the employee quits to join the competition, unless the competition happens to also have government contracts that require those clearances.

Designing 9-12 layer PCBs and routing 20-40 Gbps is not trivial.
Not only is the design not trivial, this level of PCB design is virtually impossible to service in the field. So, new PCB designs must work the first time, every time. Re-work and re-design will kill off any profit or expected ROI. I have owned several desktop PCs with ASUS motherboards that eventually became obsolete. It was not even worth the effort to "salvage" the CPU and supporting chip sets because a brand new, state-of-the-art motherboard is virtually "free" compared to the silicon that populates it, or the support hardware that makes it a personal computer.

So, where do you go to find high-performance circuit board designers? Try India and the Peoples Republic of China. I hear they work cheap and today turn out excellent products, although they mostly don't care about intellectual property rights. Or hire a "hands on" technician who isn't afraid to learn new skills. Make sure you provide the tools this technician/PCB designer will need to succeed, and pay them a decent salary. That's decent, not competitive. You probably cannot afford to pay a competitive salary.
 

JohnRog

Sep 1, 2022
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Thanks, excellent points!
Re: salary -- we are quite competitive I'd think, not sure why you suggest we cannot afford to pay a competitive salary.
 

hevans1944

Hop - AC8NS
Jun 21, 2012
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@JohnRog: I, perhaps mistakenly, believe that most tech startups are under-funded and always strapped for cash, and that most will "burn through" whatever venture capital they were able to scrounge before selling a single product or service at a net profit. Having an initial core of clever people does not seem to be enough. A successful company needs a management style that anticipates, and solves, problems before they occur. Why wait so long to find out that what you need for a successful business is "unobtanium" and not available as a walk-in from ZipRecruiter? What do you consider a competitive salary? Have you ever mentioned any figures,or a range of salary, to prospective hires?

I get dozens of emails from ZipRecruiter every week, since I first approached them several years ago seeking part-time work to supplement my retirement income. My amateur radio hobby has no limits on what I could spend on it. When I retired to Venice, FL, I was looking for an independent contractor job that I could perform remotely. I have a 50MB/50MB fiber-optic Internet service provider, but all the jobs Zip Recruiter refer me to are north of here, in Tampa or Clearwater, or east of here on the Space Coast. I am too old to make the commute. Well, not too old to attend the Orlando Hamfest every February. Making it to the Dayton Hamvention would be a stretch, but wife and I plan to do just that "real soon now."

Some of those ZipRecruiter offers require a Florida Professional Engineer license, which I do not have. Government contractors, and companies supporting outer-space communications, or supporting the Space Coast and NASA, are exempt by Florida law from having to hire electrical engineers with a PE license. Maybe I should start a web page and offer "consulting services" instead of waiting for a "traditional" employer to offer me something through ZipRecruiter.

I spent my entire career working for just four contractors (UDRI, MTL Systems, MODCOMP Federal Systems, and UES, Inc.) whose main, and sometimes only, source of income was U.S. Government contracts. Not a single one of them cared if I had a PE license. Here, I cannot even claim to be an electrical engineer and seek a job with that title without a PE license. Almost everything I fell qualified to do here in Florida requires both a license and commercial liability insurance. My fault that I missed the boat on obtaining my Ohio PE license (which Florida would have recognized through reciprocity). And I have no desire to live anywhere on or near the Atlantic coast, such as Orlando or Melbourne, much less work for NASA. SpaceX, maybe, if Elon offered a job... but I know nothing about rockets, so not much chance of that happening.

You have an interesting situation, and I am sure all the members here who are following this thread would like to know how it all turns out. You may have to go international with someone who will sign and respect an NDA to find anyone who can perform to the level you seem to require. If you can find such a person, they can work remotely from anywhere there is a broadband Internet connection. Where to look? Try companies that sell high-end "gaming" computers or Bitcoin mining computers with expensive graphic computer boards. Find out where these people live and advertise in local newspapers or online chat forums. May create a question-and-answer checklist to see if candidates really know anything.

Best of luck for your success! Keep us posted, please.
 

Minder

Apr 24, 2015
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One person who not only taught Circuit design, but started developing a open source CAD program for his students..
In 1992, Jean-Pierre Charras was teaching at UIT de Grenoble when he started working out a program that is now Kicad and has been taken up by Cern no less.
Luckily for the rest of us.! ;)
 

JohnRog

Sep 1, 2022
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Thanks for all the great thoughts!
A quick note: this is a FULL TIME job. Remote work is possible (up to about 70% of the time) but in-person time is definitely needed (up to about 30% of the time).
 

crutschow

May 7, 2021
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A side note:
Describing a working position as "cool" is not likely to attract experienced designers.
 

Keonte45

Aug 29, 2022
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Honestly, I think your company should just start up an apprenticeship program. Also, you might just be looking in the wrong direction. Maybe you can also accept non-EE graduates to apply for the position. Then, you screen the applicants. Most people I know actually learnt PCB designing while doing the work and not from school.
 

kellys_eye

Jun 25, 2010
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Advertising by asking for people with advanced skills in using 'xyz PCB design software' might be somewhere to start. It can take many months to familiarise oneself with a modern PCB design package - rules pertaining to the actual boards in respect to the application (high speed data, RF etc) can be picked up relatively easily and I suspect many software packages will also forbid illegal routing anyway.
 

hevans1944

Hop - AC8NS
Jun 21, 2012
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I came across this old thread while looking for something else. It has some interesting links to books on PCB design. The thread also mentions a company that will design PCBs and manufacture them for you. I would give that company a phone call to try to find out where they obtain their PCB layout designers. Many Californians are now ready to pull up stakes and move somewhere else, maybe even to NYC for a full-time, permanent job, that pays well. Finding suitable housing is probably not much of a problem anymore since many are moving from California and New York to Florida. My perception is these are mostly older folks, with a nice retirement income, who "invested" in Florida real estate property twenty or thirty years ago. So, those particular chickens are converting from "snowbird" status to residents. That doesn't mean you couldn't hire a competent employee to live and work in NYC, the problem might be finding someone who can afford to live in NYC.
 

HANKMARS

Jul 28, 2019
435
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Gang,

Why is it so difficult to find PCB design skills in today's graduates? We're having the greatest position in the world, lots of freedom, cool stuff to work on etc. and can't seem to find good talent to hire. There are plenty of EE applicants but very few have PCB design experience.

Is PCB design completely overlooked by today's schools? Most EE graduates have no clue and those that do have some clue have designed a 1 layer board with 5-10 components.

Why?!?!

PS. btw. I hope this is allowed by forum rules, here's our position, in case anyone is interested: https://virtalica.com/company/#careers
Different art but similar. These are pre-lims.
 

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