Semiconductor IP News and Trends Blog
Semiconductor Engineers Need Strong Technical and Emotional IQs
IEEE-USA Today’s Engineer article focuses on a career in the “boom and bust industry” known as the semiconductor market.
The latest IEEE-USA Today’s Engineer e-letter includes my comments in a career-focused piece about the semiconductor industry. The author, John Platt, is a frequent contributor to the IEEE, Scientific American, and other well-known publications. Platt wrote a balanced article about a market that Paul Kostek, former president of the IEEE-USA, calls a boom and bust industry. “Over the past 30 years, I don’t think there’s one other industry, not even aerospace, which has had ups and downs as spectacular as the semiconductor industry,” explained Kostek. (Career focus: Semiconductors)
I had much more to say about the semiconductor industry than Platt could cover in his article. What follows are my comments in full. — JB
How can potential employees make themselves attractive to hiring managers?
Today’s engineer must possess an above-average mental and emotional IQ. He/she must be technically competent in his or her field AND be skilled in social interactions because most of today’s designs rely on global teams. Traditional engineers may shy away from social interactions with non-engineers as well as social-media web-based applications. But tomorrow’s engineer will need proficiencies in both areas. (It’s an odd thing that the creators of social-media technology should feel so uncomfortable in its usage. See “Engineers And Social Media – The Untold Story.”)
In essence, the engineer of the future will need to be a renaissance professional – technically competent and socially skilled.
What’s it like to work in the semiconductor field?
The creation and building of semiconductor system-on-a-chip (SoC) devices is a fascinating field. Where else can you work with deterministic and statistical systems to design transistors that are roughly the size of an atom while bending the laws of physics (literally) to fabricate billions of such transistors into a tiny chip? Even if you’re not working on leading-edge chip technology, the consumer-market mantra of “faster, smaller, and cheaper” – combined with the complex planetary need for sustainability – means that an engineer’s life in the semiconductor space is seldom dull.
What opportunities or risks may the field face over the next few years?
As the world accelerates toward a truly connected community, the demand for semiconductor professionals will continue to be high – in the digital, analog, RF-wireless, software, and system domains. Opportunities abound to meet the eternal challenges of ever-lower power, higher performance, smaller size, and decreasing cost of chips and electronics. Technical challenges include integrating both analog/RF and digital functionality onto a single chip; making sure the hardware and software work together; designing three-dimensional stack dies tightly connected into a single chip (think of the thermal, mechanical, and electronic problems!); and integrating chip, package, and board designs into a comprehensive system or product that works properly in the least amount of time possible.
The biggest risk may come from the need for engineers to understand user-based design approaches. Engineers need to be well grounded in their disciplines. But they must also understand how to design systems that are ever-changing, as in consumer electronics. It isn’t easy to design a complex electronic SoC, package, or board that works while meeting the ever-changing demands of the consumer marketplace. All integrated device manufacturers (IDMs) – like Intel, Samsung, and others – are struggling with this very problem. (See “IP That Senses and Cares.”)
What types of employees may be in demand?
A surprising number of disciplines are needed to create complex chips – from electronic, mechanical, and chemical to software, applied physics, and system engineers. These disciplines must work together to meet time-to-market, cost, and quality demands in vertical spaces like consumer, communications, automotive, medical, space – any area that relies on semiconductor and embedded electronics.
You must have at least a BS degree to design integrated circuits. A master’s degree will afford you more opportunities. A PhD is needed to do basic research in industry or academia.
There is a large demand for AS-degree technicians in semiconductor fabrication and the printed-circuit-board (PCB) markets.
As analog/RF and digital technologies have merged, semiconductor engineers have had to gain better expertise in system modeling – often using statistical techniques to maximize product yield.