By John Teel
When hiring an electrical engineer to develop your product there is a huge range in the price you can expect to pay. You may be able to find a student engineer or an engineer who just recently graduated that will work for as little as $25/hr.
You can go offshore and find more experienced engineers working for similarly low rates. There are some highly experienced engineers at your disposal in Asia, but there are some really bad ones too so you must be cautious. Language and cultural differences can also make selecting a good engineer even more challenging.
One question to ask yourself is do you have the necessary skills to tell the difference between a good engineer and a bad one?
At the other extreme, the average hourly rate for a experienced U.S. engineer is around $125/hr. According to a salary survey by Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 21% of independent electrical engineers in the U.S charge over $200 per hour.
For those with a limited development budget it’s really difficult to pass up on an engineer willing to work for only $25 an hour versus one charging $150 to $200 an hour.
However from my experience it is almost always a mistake to take product development offshore. Except in one case.
The one time it may make sense is if you or someone on your team has the necessary skills to judge the quality of their work. If you’re an engineer experienced with the same thing you wish to outsource, then it can be a safe, low-cost option for you.
But if you’re not an engineer, or have no experience doing what you plan to outsource, then stick with an engineer in your country. In general, the work you outsource offshore should only be work you already know how to do yourself. Being able to judge the quality of the work is really an issue regardless of where your engineer is located. Even if you hire an engineer locally do you really know if they’ve done a good job designing your product?
That’s why getting a second opinion from another experienced engineer is so important, especially for complex work like electronics design.
I get a lot of people contacting me to finish, or review, their product’s design after attempting to have it designed by a low-cost inexperienced and/or offshore engineer.
Unfortunately the majority of these designs have serious flaws. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying all new engineers or offshore engineers are bad designers. The problem is you may have no way to tell the good from the bad.
The worst-case scenario is that you hire a scammer. It’s a fairly common experience to outsource product development offshore and then learn later that no design work was even done. Instead the scammer you hired simply hacked up an existing product’s electronics and tried to pass it off as his own custom design.
I’ve had multiple clients who discovered that their first design was really just an existing product purchased off of Alibaba.com (a Chinese ecommerce site where you can buy almost anything). It took them a long time to figure this out. Once they did they had already paid thousands of dollars to the scammer which was forever lost.
The issue is that most people outsourcing product design don’t have the necessary skills to judge the quality of the development work. This is true whether you hire an engineer down the street, or across the globe. But it’s usually easier to ensure the quality of work from a nearby engineer than one in a different country.
Luckily there is a solution that’s easier than getting your own engineering degree (and gaining years of design experience). Instead, hire another engineer to review the work of the first engineer that’s doing your product design.
This is what all large tech companies do during new product development. As a designer at Texas Instruments we were always required to present our new designs to other engineers in a formal design review.
One of the best things about getting a second opinion (called an engineering design review) from another engineer, is that it can allow you to safely outsource most of the design work to a lower cost engineer.
For info on other benefits of getting an engineering design review see my blog – 3 Reasons to Get a Second Opinion on Product Development.
Getting a design review by the other engineer will catch mistakes, improve your product, drastically speed up development, and lower your prototyping costs.
You can hire the $25/hr offshore or new-grad engineer to do the actual design, along with all the “grunt” work that may require. Then hire a second, more experienced engineer to review their work. You get the best of both worlds while saving yourself thousands of dollars, or more likely tens of thousands.
An added benefit is that telling your primary engineer at the beginning that you have another engineer lined up to review their work will motivate them to do their best work. No engineer wants another engineer to point out their mistakes, so they’ll work harder to ensure there are no major issues.
When Teel Engineering performs an engineering design review we not only look for mistakes, but we also provide clear instructions on how to fix them, and offer detailed feedback on how to improve the overall design.
The mention of an engineering design review will also scare away scammers. No scammer is going to bother with you if they know their “work” will be reviewed by an experienced engineer before they get paid.
Hiring an another engineer to conduct a design review allows you to effectively judge the quality of the work you are outsourcing.
No matter what type of work you are outsourcing, always make sure you can judge the quality of the work you are purchasing. Ultimately, this means you stay in control of your project, not them.
This article orginally published by Teel Engineering and is reprinted here with permission