Designers’ fight for proper recognition has lasted 20 years.
The question was a familiar one. “Pete, what can we do to raise the visibility of designers and acknowledge the role they play in product development?”
A marketing guru at one of the major PCB EDA companies asked me this. It sounded familiar because it is the same question I asked 20 years ago when I first went to work for Printed Circuit Design magazine. Fresh off a design job, I had been hired as the green editor with a new cause and a head full of ideas about what the magazine could do to focus on PCB design and designers.
Not long after, I met some folks who were trying to start a global organization for designers. Within a short time, the IPC got involved, and thanks to Gary Ferrari and Dieter Bergman, among others, the IPC Designers Council was born. The excitement was palpable. Soon, local chapters were springing up all over the world. Printed Circuit Design ran ads in the magazine and did mailings to our subscriber list to encourage participation. When time allowed, I attended meetings all across North America. Even my home chapter in Atlanta had around 50 members, and 30 to 40 designers and engineers regularly attended monthly meetings.
Looking for the glue that would hold the organization together, and a feather designers could put in their caps, the organization developed the Certified Interconnect Designer program. The CID program was intended to certify a designer’s core competencies in design based on IPC standards.
Many designers signed up and took the basic certification test, and the Council directors moved to add more modules to the program based on advanced technologies and techniques. Gary and Dieter were very involved in the effort, and poured their time and energy into the Council with gusto. For a time, all was right with the world. The council grew, and before long, there were close to 50 local chapters in North America and Europe holding regular meetings.
Then slowly, but perhaps inevitably, the air went out of the balloon. Attendance fell and chapters began to go inactive. Today the IPC lists 23 local chapters. I recently sent emails to the email addresses of all 23 chapter heads, asking whether the chapter was still functioning and what activities they had planned. I received answers from nine, although I know that at least two or three more remain active. Five said they had regular meetings, and the other four described their chapters as active, but in their words, “on life support.” (Funny how all four used the same words.)
What happened to the excitement? What about all the hard work the local folks put into building the organization and the dreams of an active, global organization for PCB designers? Apathy, workload and lack of leadership are the comments I hear most. Many local chapter officers served several consecutive terms and grew tired of handling the load. Some said that they had trouble finding speakers for the meetings, or felt there was no compelling message or reason for attending.
On the positive side, several chapters are very active. North Carolina holds a conference and trade show every year and has been very successful. The Austin (Texas) chapter holds a Vendor Night every August. But, even if all 23 chapters were active, it would not be a ground swell.
Getting back to the original question, I’m not sure what we can do. Let’s estimate an average 50 members for each chapter. With 23 chapters, that’s 1,150 members. No one has hard numbers on the size of the PCB designer community. At one time we estimated there were 100,000 designers and engineers involved in PCB design in North America alone. Even if the number were half that today (it’s probably more), then Designer Council membership would be 2% of the audience. Maybe that is a good number, but it does not sound that good to me.