Semiconductors & electronic components: essential now and
in the future
“The devices we work on won’t appear in products for many years, so we’re really in the business of predicting technology and picking design points for microprocessors going forward.” – Dina McKinney, AMD
“We look at the market to see what applications need particular solutions,
and come up with a product based in silicon.” – Muthu Subramanian, Linear Technology
By Sue Marquette Poremba
As global staffing operations manager for National Semiconductor (Santa Clara, CA), Missy Norquist knows a lot about the state of the semiconductor industry. “Companies are trying to position themselves for when we come out of this recession,” she notes. The long-term concern, however, is the dwindling number of people choosing engineering as a career.
Encouraging a diverse workforce is a good way to entice people into the industry. “You are beginning to see more women come into engineering and more people of color come into engineering, and that’s exciting,” Norquist says.
When she began at National Semiconductor ten years ago her job was university recruiting. “We really worked hard with groups like SWE, NSBE and SHPE on campus to encourage students who hadn’t traditionally been thinking of engineering. Now we’re beginning to see the benefits of that,” she says.
Amber Huffman: principal engineer in Intel’s storage tech group
“I’m typically the only woman at a meeting,” says Amber Huffman, a twelve-year vet at Intel (Portland, OR) and principal engineer in the storage technologies group.
Being a woman in the semiconductor industry has a certain advantage, she feels. “The relationship skills that are more natural to women let me do a better job of consensus-building on the job. I also find that the VPs know who I am because I’m one of the few women roaming the halls.”
While Huffman was a computer engineering student at the University of Michigan she won one of two scholarships that Intel funded through the school’s Women in Science and Engineering program; it paid her final two years of college and included an internship with the company. When she graduated in 1998 Huffman moved right into a job at Intel. She earned an MSEE from Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA) in 2005, completing the degree over four years with Intel footing the bill.
Growing up on a farm in Iowa, Huffman thought she’d go into medicine, but a teacher suggested engineering instead. “I enjoyed my computer engineering classes. Then I got the scholarship and internship and found it was a good fit,” she remembers.
Huffman’s current focus is storage architecture. “I work with the industry to define the interfaces that storage devices use to connect to Intel platforms. In the past this was focused on hard drives, but now I’m working more on solid-state devices,” she says.
It’s her job to identify within the storage space what Intel needs to put into its next-gen platforms. “Intel makes the platforms but only some kinds of storage devices,” she explains. “We have to work very closely with industry partners to make sure they are building products that are interoperable with our platform.”
Right now she’s working on PCI Express solid-state drives for enterprise platforms. “It’s a challenge because there is no standard software interface to those devices,” she says. But she’s working with vendors to come up with a good balance: making sure the interface with the OS is high performance, and defining a reasonable split in complexity among software, firmware and hardware in the solution.
Amili Holmes: accomplishments at Texas Instruments
Amili Holmes grew up in the Washington, DC area. He’s glad that he was taught some West African, however, because he knows that his name means “the Accomplisher.” Based on his career path, that name has turned out to be a good fit.
After getting his BSME from North Carolina A&T in 1995, Holmes joined GE’s leadership development program, but he moved to Texas Instruments (TI, Dallas, TX) after eighteen months because his future wife was working there. His first job at TI involved manufacturing wafers. Two years later he moved into business marketing.
Holmes is now analog business marketing manager. Some fifteen people with engineering and other technical degrees work with him to support large accounts: they handle business support, contract negotiation and other business-to-business functions.
“My technical background is very important because the more you learn about the product you market, the easier it is to discuss design and pricing. It empowers you to be more effective as a negotiator,” he says.
Mentoring is also a big part of Holmes’ life. Outside work, he and his wife work with couples looking to build stronger relationships. He also does mentoring on the job through several TI employee initiatives. “We try to bring young minority engineers along in their careers,” he says.
Dina McKinney is senior director of an AMD design center
Dina McKinney didn’t have a culture of higher education in her family, so she was not prepared for the possibility of attending college. Instead, she went into the Air Force, and that turned out to be a very good career decision.
“They put me into computer training,” she says. “I discovered that I have quite a passion for computers.”
When she left the military she went to work in the semiconductor industry while getting her 1998 BSEE at the Central New England Colleges (Worcester, MA) and her 1990 MSEE from Worcester Polytechnic. She picked EE because it seemed similar in scope to computers, “and I chose a computer emphasis, which helped lead to what I’m doing today.” McKinney works in the technology group of Advanced Micro Devices (AMD, Sunnyvale, CA), where she’s senior director of the North Austin design center, involved in R&D of microprocessor cores.
“It’s our responsibility to look at the future in terms of the competitive landscape and how we’re going to be doing computing, then determine what microprocessors need to be like in the future,” McKinney explains. “The devices we work on won’t be used in products for many years, so we’re really in the business of predicting technology and picking design points for microprocessors going forward. Then we make our plans, do our engineering R&D and finally deliver microprocessor cores into AMD’s products.”
McKinney has a passion for encouraging other women. “AMD has a company-wide women’s forum started by a group of executive women,” she says. “I’m very fortunate to help with that. It’s an initiative that helps women with mentoring, advancement and networking across the company.”
She also headed a group of AMD women attending SWE’s national conference.
“There isn’t a high percentage of women in engineering yet, so it really helps to have a network among ourselves,” she says. “Engineering is made better by bringing diverse viewpoints and skills to bear on tough problems.”
Amandeep Dhillon: software support at ST Microelectronics
Amandeep Dhillon began her career at ST Microelectronics (Santa Clara, CA) as a co-op while studying at San Jose State University (San Jose, CA). “The co-op was a great experience,” she says. “It gave me more options and let me see what I really wanted to do in my career.” After she completed her BSCE in 1998 Dhillon was hired full time. She’s currently an applications staff engineer.
Dhillon, a native of India, came to California with her family as a high school student. She always loved math and computer classes, “and that led me to engineering as a major,” she says. “Going into computer engineering gave me the opportunity to do both hardware and software.”
She supports customers who build their applications on ST’s chips, working with them through all aspects of their projects. “I do some hardware support, but I’m primarily on the software side,” she explains.
Most customers have their own software apps, but when the software is being applied to the ST chips it’s Dhillon’s job to debug issues that arise. “Sometimes it requires some design or software development.
“My job is really project-based,” she says. “On a daily basis I decide the activities and priorities to satisfy customer needs.”
Chunping Song manages design engineering at National Semiconductor
Chunping Song went through college in China but came to the U.S. for grad school. “The U.S. is the best place to do technical research,” she says, “and Virginia Tech has the center for power electronics systems, ranked number one in the U.S. I wanted to be there to learn!”
Learn she did; she got her MSEE from Virginia Tech in 2003. She was particularly interested in system architecture. “I was amazed at how you could design so many functions into such tiny components,” she says. “I wanted to learn more about semiconductors.”
While in grad school Song did a co-op with National Semiconductor (Santa Clara, CA) in the national power group. The co-op led to a job offer and Song began her career as a design engineer. Last year she was promoted to design engineer manager, leading the design and layout group which implements the customer’s product idea before it’s sent on to the layout group.
Song’s responsibility is to make sure the design group delivers its projects in a timely manner and to troubleshoot problems. She also interfaces with other groups like marketing and applications engineering.
When the company launched a major new product this January, for example, Song took over the project as it was moving into a critical development path. “We needed to work with various groups to solve problems that came up: the project was very exciting!” she says.
One of the best parts of her job is turning a concept into a design that applies to many different products.
Ho Wai Wong-Lam: strategy and business development at NXP Semiconductors
“My parents wanted me to be a lawyer,” says NXP Semiconductors’ Ho Wai Wong-Lam. “They found me a place at a law firm to work for the summer, and after that I definitely knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer!”
What she did want was to follow her interest in math and go into engineering: “do a lot of math and physics,” she says.
She went to the University of Hong Kong, completed her BSEE in 1985 and moved into a job with Philips Research Labs in the Netherlands. She also completed a 1987 MSEE at the Netherlands University Foundation for International Cooperation.
Her job with Philips Semiconductors brought her to the U.S. When her project was discontinued and her job eliminated she moved to another group in the company, which has since become NXP Semiconductors (San Jose, CA).
“My group had an engineering success and I won an award,” she says. “Unfortunately, the project didn’t have a customer. The marketing group dissolved, leaving behind all these engineers including myself.”
The engineers were asked to do some of their own marketing: look for new projects to work on while a new marketing team was hired. Wong-Lam discovered that she really liked this technical marketing, and five years later she became director of strategy and business development.
It’s working very well. With her engineering background, “I know what engineers want and need. My job is to create business by preparing good product pipelines and working with key customers.”
Part of her work is to ensure that the company’s core competences are prepared strategically for the long-term success of the business. “This includes networking in the market ecosystem, knowledge of market trends, making technology choices, and investment recommendations for mid- and long term.”
Muthu Subramanian does power products design at Linear
Muthu Subramanian is a power products design engineer at Linear Technology (Milpitas, CA). “If you are an analog designer, this is the best talent pool to work with,” he says. “The company empowers its designers to be creative and work on challenging projects. We look at the market to see what applications need particular solutions, and come up with a product based in silicon. Then we create analog circuits that perform a function for the market.”
Subramanian is currently working on a power-management product, which provides power to the end application. “The project I’m working on will generate power to the next generation of microprocessors used in mobile applications,” he explains with pride.
The primary challenge of the job is to create a design based on a specification. “You are pushing the envelope on design every day,” he says. “There’s a green movement to be more efficient in power, and everything we do can have an impact on the end usage of power, so we need to be more energy efficient.”
Subramanian says it’s the dream of many engineers in India to come to the U.S. for its research and academic opportunities. He came to the University of Florida for his 1994 MSEE.
Growing up in India, “We didn’t have a lot of off-the-shelf electronics,” he explains. “My dad would build simple circuits like an alarm system or a light that would turn on automatically at night. That’s what led me to the engineering field.”
It was his graduate education that got him into semiconductors. “The masters program encouraged me to delve into the design aspect of the industry,” he says.
After graduation he headed to Southern California to work as an analog engineer.
Mentoring is important to Subramanian, both in his job and outside of work. “You don’t learn everything out of a book. When the new grads come in, we senior designers have to help them as they grow into the job.”
After hours, Subramanian and his wife meet with high school kids to promote technical careers.
Dr Kathy Chu: electrical design engineer at KLA-Tencor
Kathy Chu, PhD has a background in precision instrumentation and automatic control. After spending time as a scientist with a small R&D company in California, she moved on to KLA-Tencor (Milpitas, CA) because of the opportunity to work with its complex wafer inspection machines. “This job fits my experience well,” she says.
As a senior staff EE, Chu designs high-speed image data-acquisition systems. She works in areas like PCB board design, protocol design, FPGA firmware development and system integration.
The company brought her in to work on a brand new project, with challenges no one else in her group had faced. She jumped in eagerly, presenting ideas and proposals to her new co-workers and comfortably transitioning into a job as a woman surrounded by male peers.
She got her BSEE and MSEE from a university in China in 1987; she was drawn to EE because of automation controls. “I thought it would be cool to make things like that,” she says. After she got the MS she was involved in engineering-related research and teaching, then went on to her PhD in EE from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Chu came to the U.S. in 1999 as a post-doc research Fellow at the University of Michigan, then went on to California and KLA-Tencor. She intends to continue along the career path she truly enjoys. “We have to keep moving forward and anticipating the next big challenges,” she concludes.
Christine Lim: both technical and creative at Cymer
When Christine Lim got her 2008 BSEE from the University of California - San Diego she began looking for a job she’d like. “One of my friends had an internship at Cymer,” she says. “I asked if they were hiring any more interns, and through that I got an internship with the data analysis group.”
She spent three months as an intern and was then hired full time at Cymer (San Diego, CA), a manufacturer of advanced light sources needed to pattern integrated circuits during semiconductor manufacture. It’s a job where she can use both her technical and creative skills.
“Studying EE I wasn’t able to express the creative side of me, but the internship had to do with programming and Web design and putting data onto a Web application.”
Lim’s current job involves in-depth analysis in the reliability and failure analysis department. “I look at data to see what it means to the company,” she says. “I interact with many departments and determine the right data to analyze for meaningful results.”
She’s still involved with the website she designed as an intern; now she’s maintaining the site. It’s mostly for internal use, but other Cymer employees frequently use her pages in presentations.
The central part of the reliability and failure analysis department, Lim explains, is to make sure the products are reliable and the company’s customers are satisfied. “Cymer deals with light sources that semiconductor chip manufacturers use. My department looks at any errors the light sources may produce; we work to define the root causes of the problems and check what’s being done in the field to contain the problems and what can be done to prevent them in the future. With the right analysis we can make our product more reliable.”
Dr Connie Wang: going green at Applied Materials
When Connie Wang was in high school in her native Taiwan she found science fascinating. It got even better in her senior year, when the electronic materials industry came to Taiwan with the founding of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co in 1987.
“I thought that would be a good area for me to bridge science and engineering,” says Wang. “A materials science major relies heavily on physics and chemistry while working on engineering problems.”
She completed a BS in materials science engineering at National Tsing-Hua University in Taiwan. Some of her professors had advanced degrees from Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA), and Wang decided to go there, too.
It was quite a reality check, she says.
“Those first years are competitive and you have to work really hard. It makes you think about whether you are truly interested in research and getting a PhD.”
It turned out that she was. For her thesis work she demonstrated an approach to fabricating long-length high-temperature superconductor tape. It was licensed to industry in 2004 and she got a patent licensing award from Stanford.
When she completed her PhD in materials science in 1998 she went to work at a semiconductor company. “One thing I like about the semiconductor industry is the opportunity to work with different people in different companies,” she notes. She led technical products, and worked with a top international research consortium.
A few years ago Wang was ready for a change of pace. “Applied Materials had moved into green tech,” she explains. “It’s a pioneer in that direction.” So Wang took all she learned working in semiconductors to Applied Materials, which provides equipment, service and software for industries like semiconductor, solar photovoltaic cell, flexible electronics and energy-efficient glass.
Today she’s a senior member of tech staff in Applied Materials’ alternative energy products group. “We look at new energy products to see where there’s business potential,” she says. “We look at technology requirements and how they align with the company’s strategy and direction. Then we come up with a prototype.”
One successful project that started as a prototype is Applied’s SunFab line, a large-area thin film for use in solar panels that could bring down the cost of current solar applications significantly. Since the line was introduced, Applied’s energy and environmental solutions group has grown to $1 billion in annual net sales. “Now we’re looking for similar opportunities in other areas of energy,” Wang explains.
DIVERSITY-MINDED COMPANIES IN THE SEMICONDUCTOR FIELD
See websites for current openings.
|Company and location
|Advanced Micro Devices (Sunnyvale, CA)
|Computing and graphics solutions
|Applied Materials (Santa Clara, CA)
|Equipment, service and software for semiconductor chips, flat panel displays, solar photovoltaic cells and more
|Arrow Electronics (Melville, NY)
|Distributor of electronic components and solutions
|Cymer (San Diego, CA)
|Laser light sources for semiconductor manufacturing
|Freescale Semiconductors (Austin, TX)
|Intel (Santa Clara, CA)
|Processors, chip sets and other components for
|KLA Tencor (Milpitas, CA)
|Process control and yield management for semiconductor and related microelectronics industries
|Linear Technology Corp (Milpitas, CA)
|High-performance analog semiconductors
|Microchip Technology (Chandler, AZ)
|Microcontrollers and analog semiconductors
|National Semiconductor (Santa Clara, CA)
|NXP (San Jose, CA)
|High-performance mixed-signal and standard products in RF, analog, power management,
interface, security and digital processing
|Samsung Semiconductor (San Jose, CA)
|Semiconductors, liquid crystal displays and
|ST Microelectronics (Carrollton, TX)
|Analog semiconductor products for sensors, power management and power actuation
|Texas Instruments (Dallas, TX)
|Digital and analog semiconductor technology
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