After he was laid off last May, circuit design engineer Michael Hyams thought things weren't looking too bad. He was getting multiple 3-hour interviews—longer than most that had led to job offers during his 30 years in Silicon Valley. But after five of these marathon sessions with a handful of companies didn't pan out, he says, "I was getting worried. It was hard to go through the whole interview process and not get an offer."
After a lengthy job search, Michael Hyams is reaping the benefits of an improving job market for engineers.
He finally snared a job as a member of the technical staff at Magma Design Automation Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif., in July. He won't be one of the newest Magma engineers for long. The electronic design automation house plans to double its staff from 500 to around 1000 by next fall. "Today we've got more than 100 requests out there, and we've hired 150 people in the last five months," says Susan Welch, global staffing manager at Magma.
Hyams's experience reflects what many job hunters are finding: the engineering job market is coming back from the depths of the tech wreck, particularly in certain areas. "Semiconductors are coming on strong, with a lot of activity in wireless technologies," says Michael J. Buryk, recruitment business development manager at IEEE Media in New York City. Hiring is also picking up in Michael Hyams's specialty, electronic design automation, as well as in military and security technologies, and in emerging areas like nanotechnology.
Though hiring may be up, observers note that the climb starts from a low point. The U.S. jobless rates for electrical engineers and computer scientists have been higher than the national jobless rate for much of the last year. "I think we finally hit bottom after seeing declining employment levels over the last decade," says David Napier, research director at the Aerospace Industry Association in Arlington, Va. "Our forecast is for increasing employment." But even as employers add staff, they are being extra cautious, thoroughly vetting job applicants before making an offer.
Electronic Design Automation (EDA), a US $4 billion industry devoted to developing computer tools used to design electronics components, is among the hot areas for hiring right now. "We're a small company, with under 100 people, but we're adding about 20 percent this year," says Keith Neve, director of human resources at Denali Software Inc., Palo Alto, Calif., which specializes in EDA for memory chips.
The upturn in EDA hiring is closely linked to the industry that uses these development programs, namely semiconductors. "Chip design is hot in the U.S.," says Brian Baxter, staffing intelligence manager for Intel Corp.'s Global Staffing group in Santa Clara, Calif. "We're looking for chip designers with ASIC [application-specific integrated circuit], circuit design, and hardware design skills."
Chip designers are also in demand at Dallas-based Texas Instruments Inc. "We've got about 250 openings for engineers on a monthly basis," says Pam Ferrell, TI's hiring manager. "The bulk of our hiring is in broadband, especially cable modems and VoIP [voice over Internet Protocol]. The wireless group is also hiring—cellular technology represents a tremendous opportunity."