Semiconductors: the market is good & jobs are looking up
"Manage challenges with passion and turn them into opportunities."
– Elvira Palmeda, Infineon Technologies
"Diversity of perspectives is critical for the generation of new ideas and solutions." – Debbie Burke, TriQuint
By Sheryl Rich-Kern
The U.S. semiconductor industry, along with many other essential components of the economy, seems to have weathered the recent downturns fairly well. The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA, Washington, DC, SIA-online.org) reported a less than 2 percent drop in employment in 2010 compared with 2009. In fact, the $298 billion global market in 2010 was up more than 30 percent over 2009, with the U.S. capturing nearly half the total.
Some companies are, in fact, quite optimistic about a post-recession boom. Steve Marsey, HR director at Linear Technology (Milpitas, CA), says, "Hiring seems to be growing steadily and we expect it will continue to grow later this year." Most of the company's postings require experienced engineers, although Marsey also notes that "We're always looking for talented students interested in the art of analog circuit design."
Technology advances in integrated circuits will continue to open doors for highly skilled engineers, particularly in R&D. In 2010 the average annual income for an engineer in the semiconductor industry was $99,622, up from $96,000 in 2009.
Ed Sweeney is SVP of worldwide HR at National Semiconductor (Santa Clara, CA). "Over the past year, National's hiring has been on par with semiconductor industry trends," he says. "We increased hiring in areas like skilled design, apps test and marketing engineering, reflecting our strategic focus."
Intel (Hillsboro, OR) recently announced it will add 4,000 new positions in the U.S. this year, most in engineering, manufacturing and related support. This represents an increase in new hiring from last year. "The most critical skills we are seeking are in software engineering," says Lori Weber, Intel's director of global staffing.
Advanced Micro Devices (AMD, Sunnyvale, CA) reports increased demand for semiconductor talent across the globe, "especially design and software skills with eight or more years of experience," says John Termotto, the company's global talent acquisition head.
International Rectifier (IR, El Segundo, CA) needs specialists in power electronics design, product development, applications engineering, GaN development technology and technical marketing, according to president and CEO Oleg Khaykin.
Complex hardware products require software, and the demand for software engineers remains strong among companies that manufacture, test and design semiconductor components and electronics.
Masooma Bhaiwala directs design engineering at AMD
Masooma Bhaiwala moved with her family from Bangladesh to Pakistan during the Bangladesh Liberation War in the 1970s. Both she and her younger brother were interested in math and physics. But they did not want to compete, so they made a pact that they wouldn't both pursue the same profession. Then the kids flipped a coin and Masooma won the toss: she would study engineering while her brother settled for medicine.
Today Bhaiwala's brother is an oncologist, and she is a director of design engineering at AMD in Boxboro, MA.
Work was definitely part of the family culture. "The day we landed in Pakistan my mother went out to look for a job as a teacher," says Bhaiwala. "She was pregnant with her third child."
Bhaiwala went to the N.E.D. University of Engineering and Technology (Karachi, Pakistan) where she earned a BS in engineering and computer systems. Later she completed an MS in computer engineering at the University of Massachusetts. She's held jobs at Sun Microsystems, Compaq, Digital Equipment Corp and now AMD, adding up to more than twenty years of industry experience.
She's been at AMD seven years. For the last four she has been responsible for the company's Fusion family of accelerated processing units (APUs), which combine graphics and microprocessor functions on a single piece of silicon. Users of mainstream notebooks and desktop PCs need these products, she explains, because they are likely to use 3D graphics, HD video and Internet surfing as much as traditional word processing and spreadsheets.
"That's why we need hardware that is capable of multitasking," says Bhaiwala. "APUs improve image quality and enhance power efficiency. They represent a game-changing shift in processing technology."
Bhaiwala is active in the AMD Women's Forum where she helps recruit and mentor women already working in the field. "I've never experienced barriers as a woman," she says. "In fact, at times my gender is an advantage because women seem able to navigate relationships and resolve conflicts in a more cohesive and collaborative way."
Deborah Nations, AMD's director of global diversity and inclusion, adds that "AMD firmly believes that the ability to innovate is enhanced when you bring together a diverse group of people who can draw on their unique perspectives to create new and differentiated products."
Infineon's Elvira Palmeda is a senior director of quality engineering
"Manage challenges with passion and turn them into opportunities!" says Elvira Palmeda, senior director of quality engineering for Infineon Technologies in North America (Milpitas, CA). "I get an adrenaline rush when I have to tackle large-scale problems," she says with a smile. "I think that's what drove me into this business."
One of the first obstacles Palmeda had to overcome was the male-dominated culture of the Philippines, where she grew up. But in elementary school her math teacher used Palmeda's fast learning style to challenge the male students to work harder. "I would finish the test and she would hold up my paper with all the right answers and ask the boys if they could do the same."
This also motivated Palmeda to work harder. "I liked the thrill of competing with the boys," she says. "In Asia, girls are seen as weaker in most ways."
Palmeda went on to the University of the City of Manila as a government-funded scholar, one of just three women in the ChE program. After she completed the program in 1979 she stayed in the Philippines for another ten years, working at Intel.
She went on to a job as Asia Pacific regional supplier development manager at Delphi Electronics in Singapore, and after three years working at that job in Asia the company promoted her to a global supplier quality manager, based at its Kokomo, IN HQ.
"I went from one end of the world to the other," says Palmeda. "When I first got the job offer, I didn't think about Kokomo; I only visualized the United States."
Now she's director of quality management at Infineon. She supports all business lines, including the sensors, microcontrollers and power semiconductors Infineon makes for the automotive, industrial, computer and security industries. It's a good time to be in the business, she says, because demand is high for cars that are safer and more energy-efficient, and the world demands new ways of computing and communicating that put less stress on the environment.
"We're hiring like crazy," she says. "I'm doing interviews almost every day."
At Intel, Dr Olufemi Oluwafemi is a senior signal integrity engineer
Olufemi Oluwafemi, PhD works at Intel (Hillsboro, OR), thousands of miles away from where he grew up in Nigeria, West Africa. For the last five years he's been a lead signal integrity engineer at Intel's data center group, which designs microprocessors, chipsets, motherboards and wired connectivity devices.
Oluwafemi says his job is all about preserving signal quality. "If someone takes a picture of a friend with a green shirt and posts the picture online, I need to ensure the color doesn't change to black or yellow."
The end products Oluwafemi designs are incorporated in servers, storage, workstations and other products that help make up the infrastructure for data center and cloud-computing environments.
"The products I design are robust," says Oluwafemi. That's very important, because the silicon packages and boards need to work efficiently whether they're used in a product for Dell, IBM or HP.
Oluwafemi graduated from the Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria in 1998 with a BS in physics. He had always wanted to study in the U.S., and selected Pittsburg State University (Pittsburg, KS). He thought he was going to Pittsburgh, PA, and looked forward to being in the Northeast where he had relatives. Fortunately, he liked the small Midwest town and its hospitality and got his MS in applied physics in 2002. He went on to finish a PhD in EE at the University of South Carolina in 2007. Part of the time he was working full time at Intel.
Oluwafemi did two engineering internships, one at Conoco Phillips and one at Intel. But before he moved into the long-term job at Intel he worked briefly at Macy's selling rugs. "It was there that I learned the art of constructive confrontation," he says with a smile. Even more important, he met his future wife at Macy's. They now live with their two young children close to the Intel office in Oregon.
"Intel makes a great effort to hire people from different parts of the world," says Oluwafemi. "Having a culturally diverse workforce helps us remain competitive."
Intel president and CEO Paul S. Otellini agrees: "Our differences are our strength," he says. The company strives to hire and retain the best talent from a global and diverse labor pool because "We believe this will result in a better understanding of our customers' needs and ultimately advance Intel's global leadership position."
Dr Hsueh-Rong Chang: power transistors and diodes at International Rectifier
Transportation accounts for more than a quarter of the world's power consumption. That's one reason Hsueh-Rong Chang, PhD is excited about her team's contribution to making cars more energy efficient.
Chang is executive director of the automotive power switches development group at International Rectifier (IR, El Segundo, CA), which specializes in power management technology. Her division is responsible for developing advanced technologies for power transistors and diodes, which make the electronics in cars more efficient and reliable at a lower cost. The solutions her company provides control almost all the electronics in a car, from the engine and lighting to the power steering and fuel injection, she explains.
Chang grew up in Taiwan, the only woman in her ChE classes at Tunghai University where she completed her BSChE. She went on to a PhD in ChE from MIT (Cambridge, MA). There she was with a few more female colleagues, but "only a handful."
When she finished her PhD she entered a job market with a high demand for semiconductor processing expertise. ChE had prepared her well because it was process oriented, and "From there I entered the fields of engineering design and application," she says.
The power semiconductor field has been male-centric with very few female exceptions, she observes, and women seem to require extraordinary accomplishments to receive recognition. "A collaborative philosophy along with a belief in yin-yang balance has helped me navigate challenging situations," Chang says.
"Diversity is important to IR," says Oleg Khaykin, president and CEO. "As part of our core values, we promote innovation and empowerment by encouraging new ideas in technology and business processes, and value diversity through mutual respect and trust."
Dr Eva Benitez is a product support director at KLA-Tencor
For the last sixteen years Eva Benitez, PhD has held increasingly responsible positions at KLA-Tencor (Milpitas, CA), which provides process control and yield management solutions for makers of semiconductors and related microelectronics. Benitez has a 1985 BSEE from the College of William and Mary (Williamsburg, VA) and a 1994 PhD in physics from the University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA). KLA-Tencor was her first employer after grad school.
Almost any electronic product, from a computer to a cell phone, is likely to contain chips that the company's tools have inspected. Inspection lets semiconductor manufacturers achieve higher and more stable die yields during the fabrication process, Benitez explains.
Benitez is currently director of product support for Surfscan-ADE products used to inspect bare silicon wafers. One of the products, she notes, helps manufacturers inspect wafers for defects and surface quality. Another measures wafer thickness, shape and flatness.
"My job helps make complex chips smaller, more energy efficient and less expensive," says Benitez. "We want to make the next generation of bare wafer inspection systems even more reliable and serviceable."
Benitez' group is working on a product that will optically scan more wafers per hour while detecting defects as tiny as twenty-five nanometers in size. The team's goal is to keep the inspection tools running around the clock, and within specs that ensure very similar measurement results from tool to tool throughout the process. "This is quite a challenge when you're working with dimensions less than one-thousandth the width of a human hair," she says.
To develop these complex tools, the product support team needs to work with engineering, manufacturing and marketing groups, and must also plan how to service the products in the field. "I enjoy the collaboration, the tech savvy of my peers and the logic-driven brainstorming," Benitez says.
Of the thirty people in her group, twenty-nine are male. "Men are more likely to view business conflict as a competitive game," she has discovered, and concludes that women should understand the rules of the game: take more risks, project confidence and spend more time networking.
KLA-Tencor is a $3 billion company that employs more than 5,400 people around the world and is committed to a diverse population that produces exceptional work, says company president and CEO Rick Wallace. "We are committed to creating an environment of innovation and providing challenging opportunities for all our employees. Their diverse experiences, backgrounds and unique skills enable us to generate superior solutions for our customers."
Yat Tam: analog circuit design at Linear Technology
Yat Tam thinks that analog design is "almost a sort of black art." It isn't really taught in textbooks: designers develop their skills working with more senior designers. Yat Tam knew she would have to learn fast to succeed at an analog circuit design company.
And she did. Now in her sixth year at Linear Technology, she's an associate design engineer with the S power product line, one of the company's two power product groups.
Tam says she's asked to push the envelope on a daily basis, and she likes it. "I'm lucky to be working with talented analog engineers who encourage me to be innovative and creative," she says. "It's like working with rock stars. It's an honor to get to meet them."
Originally from Hong Kong, Tam went to high school in Sacramento, CA and graduated from California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo in 2005 with a BS and MS in EE.
She is pleased to be helping the environment by working on high-performance integrated circuits for the automotive industry. Linear provides LED drivers to power console backlighting for cars and the latest LED headlights. The company's battery-stack monitors provide precision voltage monitoring, making possible the use of lithium/ion batteries for the next generation of hybrid and electric vehicles.
The analog industry is a $45 billion market. Linear serves about one third of that market, and its areas of emphasis are projected to be the fastest growing.
"Linear's hiring trends are on a par with the industry," says company HR director Steve Marsey. "We're always looking for talented analog design engineers, and we feel that our diverse workforce mirrors the world we live in.
"In an innovative technology business like ours, it's vital for us to draw from people with a variety of backgrounds, opinions and beliefs."
Anita Ganti is a business director at National Semiconductor
EE Anita Ganti has been business director of the precision systems unit of National Semiconductor (Santa Clara, CA) since 2008. Her mother was a kindergarten teacher and her father a scientist, but her grandmother in Mumbai, India, she notes, spent most of her adult life "being pregnant and taking care of her seven children."
Ganti can relate to her grandmother's dedication to hard work and sacrifice. "It's not that women don't work hard today," she says. "What's changed is that we have choices. Most of the moms of my kids' friends are working engineers as well."
In fact, she notes, in Silicon Valley women make up a third of the engineers at large companies, far outnumbering the percentages found in most parts of the country.
Ganti is responsible for a business unit that produces an annual $300 million in revenues. She oversees all aspects of developing products, including design, test and product engineering. She also manages merchandising and marketing to all the industries the company serves: consumer, medical, automotive, industrial and more.
Her business unit, she explains, bridges the world of analog and digital. Its products meet a variety of sensing needs: temperature, humidity, pressure or position. Sensors, for example, let medical equipment measure blood pressure or electrical signals from the heart, and let automobiles read pressure in the tires or the connection of a seat belt. Other sensors in industrial machines can monitor speed and light.
Ganti joined National Semiconductor after seven years as business director for the signal conversion and processing business unit of Maxim Integrated Products (Sunnyvale, CA). She was responsible for creating a number of product families including sensor digitizers, communications infrastructure control and measurement, and catalog ADC and filter products.
Ganti started her career in design and applications, then moved into sales as regional sales manager for International Rectifier, and was a global account manager at Intersil, covering HP and Cisco.
Ganti was born in Mumbai and came to the U.S. for her BS and MS in EE at Virginia Tech. She finished the MSEE in 1994.
Ed Sweeney, SVP of worldwide HR at National Semiconductor, says the company is actively seeking skilled design, applications, test and marketing engineers to create products in areas like LED lighting, solar power, medical diagnostics and wireless networks.
"National reaches out to a diverse group of talented people from a broad spectrum of organizations and communities," says Sweeney. "We partner with organizations like SWE, NSBE and SHPE to inform their members about career opportunities here."
At Nvidia, Sharon Clay designs programming environments
Scientific training gives engineers "the audacity to think about things that seem unsolvable," says Sharon Clay, director of architecture for Nvidia (Santa Clara, CA). Nvidia, of course, is the company that invented the GPU in 1999. Since then it has been driving ultra-realistic gaming, 3D graphics and computing in everything from cell phones to supercomputers. The company holds more than 1,800 patents worldwide.
Clay has a 1988 BS in math and linguistics from the University of California- Berkeley and a 1992 MSCS from UC-Santa Cruz. She manages tools and infrastructure for GPU chip development.
She was already an accomplished programmer at Silicon Graphics before she joined Nvidia as manager of a performance verification team, working on the GeForce product line. She also had skills in diagnosis and debugging. She's been with the company ten years now, and for the last four has managed design and development of tools that help Nvidia build industry-leading processors used in cell phones, tablets, laptops, automobiles, high-end workstations and supercomputers.
What Clay loves about her job is "the magic behind the scenes." She notes that today the same-sized teams are designing twice as many gates for each family and producing chips that are two to four times faster, impacting many innovative applications. "It's unreal when you consider the increase in gates designed per engineer, and the massive amount of impact they have in applications when they're all running together," she says.
She notes that the company hopes to fill several hundred engineering positions this year.
Joshua Hasten, Nvidia's global staffing director, says the company "is in an exceptionally competitive industry, so we need to hire the most talented individuals, wherever they may be. Nvidia deeply values the diversity in our workforce. We believe that diversity provides a broad perspective, fosters innovation and enhances our competitive position."
Texas Instruments' Fleurette Tapado prefers the fast pace of manufacturing
While she admits it wouldn't be the best fit for every engineer in the semiconductor industry, Fleurette Tapado prefers the fast pace of manufacturing over the demands of the design process.
Tapado is a newcomer at Texas Instruments (TI) and an implant fab engineer in TI's Dallas, TX facility. The fab, she says, "takes the bare silicon wafer in the shape of a circular disk and goes through processes that give the chips the electronic properties they need." It supplies semiconductors for real-time signal processing, sensors and controls that go into products like digital wireless handsets, Internet audio players, high-resolution imaging, motor control and other digital devices.
As a teenager Tapado was a car enthusiast; in college she was a member of a team that hand built and assembled a mini Formula One racing car using sophisticated CAD/CAM technology.
"Now that I have my own cash flow," she reveals with a laugh, "I'm searching for a first-generation 1969 Camaro to switch out the engine, transform the body and make it my own."
A California native, Tapado earned her BSME at California State University-Long Beach in 2007. Her first job was in Chrysler's Institute of Engineering, a management development program that exposes employees to core business processes though several different rotations. While at Chrysler she completed an MSME at Wayne State University (Detroit, MI) in 2009. She notes that the Society of Women Engineers helped her get the Chrysler job and also opened doors for her at TI.
Cathy Lee is a process and device development manager at TriQuint
TriQuint (Hillsboro, OR) is a leader in high-performance RF components for wireless communication with more than 2,300 employees worldwide. Last year was strong for the company; its expanded manufacturing plant in Texas increased its headcount by 16 percent. "We plan to hire another 500 people globally this year," says Debbie Burke, HRVP, "and we expect to surpass $1 billion in revenue."
Cathy Lee, a process and device development manager, began working for TriQuint ten years ago. She was brought in to research and develop gallium nitride (GaN), a semiconductor material system found in microwave RF power amps for high-speed wireless data transmission and high-voltage switching devices for power grids.
"Most of the work on GaN was done on small transistors in labs," says Lee. "One of the most exciting things about my job is my involvement not just with the development, but also with transferring the technology into production."
Lee completed her 1997 BSEE and 2000 MSEE at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. That's where she began to develop her theories on the greater power-handling capabilities, strong linearity and better frequency performance of GaN. TriQuint recruited her "right out of the lab," promoting her from grad student to research engineer.
Later on, when TriQuint won a prestigious contract to develop GaN technology, Lee was appointed lead engineer, then program manager.
Over the years Lee has collaborated with groups including packaging, fab ops, device modeling and circuit design. "I've stayed with TriQuint because of the opportunities to collaborate with different functions and learn from great managers," she says.
A native of Taiwan, Lee came to the U.S. as a teenager when her family emigrated to Chicago. "I had to finish high school while making huge adjustments to the language, culture and academics," she recalls. Fortunately, it all worked out just fine.
Debbie Burke emphasizes how TriQuint values diversity in the workplace. "We have employees with tremendously different backgrounds interacting with customers and vendors all over the world," says Burke. "This diversity of perspectives is critical for the generation of new ideas and solutions."
DIVERSITY-MINDED COMPANIES IN THE SEMICONDUCTOR FIELD
See websites for current openings.
|Company and location
|Advanced Micro Devices (Sunnyvale, CA)
|Computing and graphics solutions
|Infineon (Milpitas, CA)
|Semiconductors for automotive and industrial
electronics and chip card and security applications
|Intel (Santa Clara, CA)
|Processors, chip sets and other components for
|International Rectifier (El Segundo, CA)
|Advanced power management technology
|KLA-Tencor (Milpitas, CA)
|Process control and yield management for
semiconductor and microelectronics industries
|Linear Technology Corp (Milpitas, CA)
|High-performance analog semiconductors
|National Semiconductor (Santa Clara, CA)
|Nvidia (Santa Clara, CA)
|Computing and graphics solutions
|Texas Instruments (Dallas, TX)
|Digital and analog semiconductor technology
|TriQuint Semiconductors (Hillsboro, OR)
||High-performance RF components for wireless
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