Ryan Chartrand

When I came to Cal Poly after high school, I looked forward to studying at one of the top engineering colleges in the country and looked forward to getting a nice paying engineering job in the future. Just looking at the average starting salaries for graduating engineers, it seemed that picking this school and an engineering major was definitely the right choice. However, lately I’ve begun to realize that maybe engineering wasn’t the right choice, after all. No, don’t get me wrong, I love engineering, but it seems that there are these other engineers in China, India and Russia who are just as capable as I, only they are willing to work for significantly less.

When confronted by foreign competition, many students think that as Americans, or because we go to Cal Poly, that somehow we must work harder, must be more creative, or must be simply smarter than our competitors. However, none of these seem to be true. In fact, many engineering students will admit, albeit grudgingly, that foreign students are pretty smart and work pretty hard.

Nonetheless, most engineers cling to the fact that we are more creative. The standard stereotype is that most of these foreign engineers will do the busy work and calculations or “rote work,” while we, as Cal Poly graduates, will do the parts that require imagination, and thus deservingly earn the top pay. However, many, including Bill Gates, think differently. When asked this by Thomas Friedman in his national bestseller “The World is Flat,” Gates responded, “I have never met the guy who doesn’t know how to multiply who created software . Who has the most creative video games in the world? Japan . You need to understand things in order to invent beyond them.”

What worries me more is that when I talk to certain business student friends of mine, they freely admit that they see no reason to ever hire an American engineer. Could it be that we’re just lucky that we get such a high starting salary or is there a reason that an American engineer deserves more money? Many people have struggled with this question, and honestly, I don’t really know, but I have an idea.

America has the best creative environment and freest society in the world, which in turn allows American engineers to be the most productive. We’re a country with relatively low regulation and a country with a very free government. Unlike Europe, we aren’t restrained by excessive labor or environmental regulations. Likewise, we aren’t like China, where certain ideas expressed against the government land people in jail. We’re also a country that values the ideas of women and values their contribution in the engineering field.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that many of the best Chinese engineers, Russian engineers, or Indian engineers, are actually American engineers because they left their countries for a better opportunity here. In fact, the lucrative jobs that we engineers compete over, at least most of the engineering jobs in Silicon Valley, come from companies with huge immigrant populations, many of which were started by foreign engineers. For instance, Google, a dream employer for many computer scientists, was co-founded by Sergey Brin. Brin came to America with his parents, who decided to come to America because of the opportunity it presented. In an interview with Mark Malseed, author of a best-selling book “The Google Story,” Brin’s father, Michael, faced institutionalized discrimination in Russia because he was Jewish. He eventually decided to immigrate to America, because he was unable to pursue the career he wanted and because he wanted a better future for his family.

By continuing to draw the world’s best talent by maintaining a free society, American engineers continuously benefit. Whether Chinese, French, Russian or Indian, many foreign engineers work as hard, are just as creative, and will work for less money than any American engineer.

We are very lucky to live in a country that takes full advantage of our creativity and our hard work. However, this secret formula for success may not be such a secret. In the future, China may become a freer place, and already in France, a new president won on a platform which would overhaul the economy to make it look more American.

While this may mean more competition, a freer world helps everyone in the long run. American engineers should not fear engineers in other countries because in reality, these engineers are our allies, not our enemies. At the end of the day they provide the impetus for us to work harder and to be more creative. By challenging us, we are forced to create a better product. Likewise, these engineers help create great new products, which helps everyone and ultimately makes the world a better place.

Brian Eller is a materials engineering junior and Mustang Daily political columnist.

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