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Reader Question: Is Analog Engineering a Dying Art?

December 26, 2020 by Kate Smith

Or, is analog engineering a skill worth pursuing?

If you Google "analog engineering" right now, there's a good chance you'll see what I see: a couple of ads, career sites serving up job postings, and a notable number of interest pieces and forum posts with titles like,

  • "Are the Glory Days of Analog Engineering Over?"
  • "Analog engineering, worth it?"
  • "Analog Engineers: Too Few or Too Many?"

These posts questioning the longevity (or even the utility) of analog design span back over a decade. Evidently, the conversation about whether analog is on its way out has been going on for... a while.

 

Is Analog Engineering on the Decline? A Storied History of Unclear Market Needs

Is there an overabundance of analog engineers on the market? Or are we running out as the "silver tsunami" of retiring engineers hits, causing a shortage? It seems that it depends on who you ask. 

What's not up for debate is the fact that analog design is still super important for many applications—for example, power design, op-amp circuits, and filters.

Arguably, one of the reasons digital design has become more popular is because analog design can be quite tricky. The image below, created by noted UCLA Professor Behzad Razavi, shows the many tradeoffs that must be considered in analog design.

 

The "analog design octagon" by Behzad Rezavi. Image used courtesy of the University of California, Los Angeles

 

He compares this complexity to the relative simplicity of digital design, which he almost always weighs speed against power dissipation (forming really more of a see-saw than an imposing octagon).

In many cases, of course, it seems analog design is still a foundational need—but one that may be evolving as analog circuitry or components are used in tandem with digital counterparts.

So how about the engineers working in the field? Are they still prioritizing analog design?

 

Is There an Analog Engineer in the House?

Regardless of what we see in Google, we have information of our own to contribute in the form of our own survey data, kindly supplied by you in our community. Our data paints a picture of continued employment and interest in analog.

In a 2017 survey of All About Circuits readers, 43% of respondents reported they primarily worked on analog systems or subsystems. This stayed remarkably stable in 2018, when 42% of respondents told us they consider analog design tasks among their primary responsibilities.

Now consider that, in 2019, about 38% of respondents identified analog as an area they would like to pursue in the future. This year? 43% Interestingly, for both years, analog actually beat out digital by a narrow margin as a focus of future study. 

 

Top responses for "What areas of expertise would you like to pursue?" 2020 Engineering Survey Data from EETech Media

 

Additionally, in 2020, we learned that 75% of IC designers had significant experience in analog design—more than digital, mixed-signal, or RF.

Does it surprise anyone to learn that analog is still such a large part of the EE space? How about how interesting analog is as a future skill among your peers?

 

How Necessary Is Analog in an Increasingly Digital World?

Where does analog fit into electrical engineering today?

How many of you self-identify as analog designers? Do you consider yourself new to the field, established, or old-school?

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below and perhaps we can shed some light on this oft-debated topic. 

14 Comments
  • dylan_indie December 27, 2020

    With recent advancements around us to make system more robust and automated electronics comes into picture. These IoT, Industrial automation and rest of many applications won’t be possible without the medium which connects physical world to the electronics that’s where analog design comes into picture. Also software applications has not meaning if there is no hardware on top of which they can run which itself creates the lot of opportunities in different domains. There are other perspectives as well which keeps us motivated to keep working to achieve the target of creation of devices with as small size as possible with as many functionalities. With systems becoming more complicated it is also becoming important to keep reading the latest advancements happening this world and being up to date whether it’s related with the tool or it is with understanding of individuals. Remembering the fundamental of analog design also plays the important role here as well which setup the bed to think in terms of complex designs.

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  • programify January 01, 2021

    Strange question. I’ve always thought of digital electronics as a special case of analog electronics. They are both subject to the same laws of physics, and everything in the “analog design octagon” could be considered as trade offs for the design of digital circuits operating in extreme conditions. It’s just that under “normal” conditions (low speed and short distances), digital electronics design is a slightly easier task given that most components are functionally discrete at the application level.

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  • G
    Gorbag January 01, 2021

    So as someone who is not an analog designer, it seems that as voltages continue to decrease and clock frequencies increase as well as space between traces on PCBs, the analog elements become increasingly important. Not to mention high frequency (copper) network PHY particularly as we move beyond 10GHz… Yes, it’s nice to live in a “digital world” where physical constraints never come into play, but as we all presumably learned in Electronics 101, the real world does not look like those perfect circuits in textbooks. And whose to say that trinary or higher encodings per gate won’t be needed by digital systems in the future - again getting us into interesting analogue issues.

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