The game just changed for the aerospace engineer

I just saw something yesterday that made me realize:

Things are changing even faster than I thought.

Freelancer is a site that does just what it says on the tin: Connects people and businesses who need specific work done, with the people who can do that work, wherever in the world they are.

Nothing new. Guru, eLance and oDesk have been doing it for the last decade.

What came as a surprise to me was the kind or work being offered on Freelancer. The eLances and oDesks of the world have until now mainly been useful for copywriting, SEO, web dev, software coding, graphic design, etc. Never the “harder” technical stuff, and certainly not the engineering disciplines within aerospace. That has typically been packaged up and “thrown over the wall” to lower-cost firms,¬†often in cheaper countries.

Not until now, that is.

Take a look at this specific page. Scroll down until you come to Engineering & Sciences.

See those words Aeronautical Engineering and Aerospace Engineering?

Admittedly, nobody has posted any projects under those categories yet.

Yet.

But it is clear that Freelancer has prepared the ground for the aerospace firms of the world to toss easily-specifiable work to capable aerospace engineers anywhere. and with relentless cost pressures, the temptation to toss it to the cheapest capable engineer will be strong.

Look at some of the other categories.

Electrical Engineering, 22 projects. Mechanical Engineering, 19 projects. Matlab and Mathematica, 28 projects.

Someone’s posted a request for Finite Element Analysis of some simple machine parts, including a report, and requiring experience with Ansys. At time of writing, there have been 17 bids averaging $48.

$48?

That’s the average bid, not the lowest.

That includes the engineer’s time, and all costs associated with the software required.

I know FE engineers that currently charge more than that for just an hour of their time.

If you’re a young, eager, hungry engineer, in a low-cost country, looking to get experience, looking for your first break . . . . . this is fantastic news. It won’t be long before the aerospace firms of the world, forever looking to reduce their costs, start throwing some work your way, where you are now. You are ideally positioned. Go for it.

If, conversely, you’re an technically-oriented engineer, with a traditional aerospace company, in the developed world, in your 40’s or 50’s, but still at least a decade away from retirement . . . . . .

Don’t be very afraid. Be extremely afraid.

It’s a bit like a scene from Lord of the Rings. Gandalf, reading the last entry from a dusty diary, over the coffin of a dead dwarf, looking up, says morosely,

“They are coming.”

If you’re in the latter category, you have four viable long-term options:

  1. Be constantly watching your back, and be prepared to cut your costs (read: sell your house, kids, life partner), and reduce the hourly rate you charge yourself out at. Nope, I don’t like it either.
  2. Re-jig and re-position yourself to be someone who manages and integrates the outsourcing of the work to freelancers abroad. Not pleasant if you’re a techie at heart.
  3. Make sure you’ve got some tool or trait in your arsenal that somehow endears you to the company or government, e.g. national security clearance, or you’re married to the boss’s daughter. Viable in the short-term, but you will still need to be watching your back. With global competition, shrinking tax revenues (and increasing divorce rates :-), there will still be a constant drive to reduce costs everywhere. This option just buys you a bit more time.
  4. Re-invent yourself completely, and jump before you’re pushed. Self-publish that novel you’ve had in your head for years. Stop tinkering with electronics, and actually ¬†make something you can sell online. Keep up to date with Wired. Get up to speed with the latest in web development and start your own thing. In short: If you can’t lick ’em . . . . . lead ’em!

It’s not hard to see which option is the wisest. And, over time . . . . . more fun.

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