Semiconductors and electronic components: maturing but still strong
Some of the engineers profiled here design semiconductors and others work with electronic components, but they're all at the forefront of electronics technology
New technologies including quantum computing, topological insulators and hybrid systems may allow continued advances in semiconductors and other electronic components
By Laurel A. McKee Ranger
Senior Contributing Editor
'The semiconductor industry is in relatively good health in this country, but it is an extremely competitive industry," says Jean-Pierre Leburton.
Leburton is in a position to know. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). He's also the Gregory Stillman professor of electrical and computer engineering, and a professor of physics, at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois.
"We have a lot of competition from Asia," Leburton explains. "China is becoming the big challenge. It is mainly manufacturing at this point, but the Chinese are currently making a lot of investment in research."
Leburton says that while the hiring climate here is good for the industry right now, it is not as good as it used to be. In fact, some semiconductor companies are predicting that within the next decade we may hit the end of the road as far as miniaturization goes.
"We have been relying on scaling ICs for more than forty years, but the semiconductor industry is maturing," Leburton notes. "I think it will continue to refine its products, and innovation may come through new materials. Silicon has been the basic material of the industry, but now people are looking at materials like graphene. However, I don't think that will solve the whole problem."
He anticipates that emerging technologies like quantum information processing and computing, and the use of new materials like topological insulators and hybrid organic/inorganic systems may allow continued advances in semiconductors and electronic components. "I'm particularly interested in using biological systems to store information, merging them with nanoelectronic systems," says Leburton.
The field of quantum computing has cooled somewhat, though work continues, but graphene is a hot field right now. While the current limit to scaling with silicon technology is 5 nanometers, this could be brought down to 1 or 2 nanometers with graphene. "But whether such a change in technology would create more engineering jobs within the semiconductor and electronic components industries in this country remains to be seen," Leburton concludes.
At TriQuint Semiconductor, Alice Quesenberry is global test ops manager
TriQuint Semiconductor (Hillsboro, OR) designs, develops and manufactures advanced high-performance RF solutions with gallium arsenide, gallium nitride, surface acoustic wave and bulk acoustic wave technologies for use in wireless communications. As global test operations manager at the company, Alice Quesenberry leads a team of twenty-six, made up of test engineers and operators, three managers, a training coordinator, two software engineers and an analyst.
Quesenberry and her group are responsible for final testing before products are released to customers in electronic consumer products, defense, aerospace and more. The company's products can be found in devices ranging from smart phones and tablets to network base stations, satellites, the NASA Mars rovers and the DoD's joint strike fighter.
Some testing is still done in Oregon, but most is done in China, the Philippines, South Korea and Malaysia, Quesenberry explains. "I lead the global team and ensure that every part is tested the same way," she notes.
Part of Quesenberry's job is planning for demand, and this can be a challenge. "We're always adjusting equipment capacity to meet demand. We are spread out all over the globe; only six people on my team speak English as a first language, and that's a challenge for a leader.
"We work over the Internet with emails and conference calls. With such a diverse team you have to be very precise and clear with the English you use," Quesenberry notes.
As part of her job she travels about two weeks out of every quarter; in a recent trip to China she spent three days on the factory floor. The travel is valuable, she says, as she can personally look into situations and problems. She also serves as liaison between the team and the product engineers in Oregon.
Quesenberry leads a busy life. "On a typical day I get up early and exercise with my husband, a stay-at-home dad for our three children. Once I'm at work I start by clearing up my email. Then a lot of the rest of the day is spent in meetings. I also work on projects and write specs, agendas and notes. I usually end my day with a conference call, since the team and subcontract suppliers in Asia are just starting their day.
"Once a week I have a date lunch with my husband," she adds.
She's been working on an MS in manufacturing systems engineering from Lehigh University (Bethlehem, PA) through a distance-learning program. She studies at lunch and in the evenings and expects to finish this December.
Quesenberry grew up on an Oregon farm. She received a BS in aerospace engineering from the U.S. Military Academy (West Point, NY) in 1994 and saw three years of active duty as a Patriot air defense lieutenant, then spent five years in the reserves. She notes that the Patriot missiles she worked with carried TriQuint chips as part of their radar systems.
Quesenberry returned to Oregon in 1999, ready to use her technical degree. Jobs were scarce, but she took a slot as an administrative assistant at a high-tech company. She was quickly promoted to mechanical engineer, and in 2000 she started at TriQuint as a test ops manager. She found the job through the Service Academy Network, and it turned out the hiring manager was also a West Point grad.
After three years, the testing function was moved to Asia to be closer to the clients, so Quesenberry moved to the planning department for a year. When her twins were born, she left the company and moved closer to her parents. Tech jobs were still scarce, so she worked the night shift at Target supervising employees loading the trucks.
But she missed both her work and the company culture at TriQuint. At the company's request she came back as a manufacturing engineer, soon returning to test operations, now with a global focus.
Only 11 percent of the cadets at West Point were female when Quesenberry was there. She feels it was a wonderful challenge, and is glad she had the opportunity to serve her country. The military also gave her management experience which has been valuable.
On the job as at West Point, she's still very much a woman in a male-dominated field. "You have to realize you are going to be in some uncomfortable situations. When I'm in Asia I am often the only woman. After work I don't go to the karaoke bar. I go back to my hotel room and work," she says.
She enjoys life at TriQuint. "It still has a small-company feel even though it's getting bigger and more 'corporate.' The small-company part makes me feel that I can effect change, which is what I like best. The company was originally a spinoff of Tektronix; to this day we maintain an engineering culture. That drives our success, encouraging everyone to really dig into problems, come up with innovations, drive change through data and stay close to our core engineering strengths."
Diversity enriches at TriQuint
"Part of what makes TriQuint such a great place to work is the diversity of our employees," says Melinda McGrath, global staffing manager and acting HR services manager. "Different nationalities, backgrounds, age groups, genders and outlooks all combine to strengthen who we are and what we can accomplish.
"Our commitment to equal employment opportunity is an integral part of our overall culture. The diversity of our employee population enriches our teams and inspires creativity. We are committed to recruiting broadly among qualified women, minorities, veterans and individuals with disabilities," she says.
Chunping Song is a manager at Texas Instruments' TI Analog
Chunping Song is design manager in the analog business unit of Texas Instruments (Dallas, TX), responsible for the Simple Switcher Product Line (SSPL) of power management ICs. Until last September, she worked for National Semiconductor. National was acquired by TI and merged into TI's existing analog unit, creating the expanded TI Analog.
TI Analog designs and manufactures integrated chips, and Song is in charge of design and layout for the SSPL products. The main design group is located in Santa Clara, CA, and TI plans to establish an SSPL design group in China; Song will supervise that group too. She also plans the technical roadmap of the product line, works with technology groups to define new processes for current and future products, and collaborates with internal groups like electronic design automation (EDA) and external assembly shops to define the design infrastructure of chips.
Song has managed the design group for the product line since 2009. She has twelve direct reports, all designers, and there are twenty people total in the group she supervises.
"As a design manager I'm involved in many functions and collaborate with many groups," she says. "I work with EDA, the fabs, the assembly houses, plus the application, test and product groups. I communicate with marketing, keep my team on schedule and interact with quality control.
"Once a product is released, our group is responsible for fixing any post-release problems. As a manager it's my responsibility to make sure all the pieces come together," says Song.
Song has a 2000 BSEE from Tsinghua University in Beijing plus a 2002 MSEE from the Virginia Institute of Technology (Blacksburg, VA). At Virginia Tech she became a member of IEEE.
She interned at National Semiconductor in 2002 and officially joined the company as a designer in 2003. Song likes IC design work for its creative nature. "The technology moves so quickly that you never get bored," she says.
For Song, being a woman and a member of a minority group was never a problem. "I don't think of myself that way and I've never been treated differently," she says. "Of course as a new engineer you have to prove yourself and gain the trust of those around you. Both TI and National before it provide a lot of training, and the women's group at National gave me a lot of encouragement when I started," she says.
One of Song's biggest challenges today is ensuring that the work gets done on time. "We're in a very competitive environment, so we have to keep challenging ourselves to design products that bring more value to our customers."
Apparently they're succeeding; Song's team won National Semiconductors' design excellence award in 2007 and again in 2011.
Diversity and opportunity at Texas Instruments
"We consider diversity an underpinning of business success and a critical piece of leadership," says Steve Lyle, chief diversity officer and director of education and workforce development at Texas Instruments. The company has more than thirty employee resource groups (ERGs) as well as focused internal and external leadership and technical development opportunities.
With more than 34,000 employees, over half of whom are outside the U.S., TI is diverse by nature. The company offers many rotation programs including manufacturing management, applications engineering and product/ test engineering. "The programs help us build our future pipeline of functional, business, sales and technical leaders," says Lyle.
TI partners with universities around the world to find educational experts in topics relevant to the company's current and future business.
Lyle feels that the semiconductor industry is strong and continuing to grow. "We are a very strong player in this industry and we intend to get stronger. We are heavily recruiting top engineering students from universities around the world, and I see that continuing. We always have a hunger for great talent," he declares.
The company also seeks experienced pros in computer and software programming, IT program management, product/test engineering and engineering management.
Dr Qiongying Hu is a senior laser crystallization scientist at Cymer
Cymer, Inc (San Diego, CA) develops light sources used by chipmakers to pattern advanced semiconductor chips, and crystallization tools for the flat-panel display industry. Qiongying Hu, PhD is a senior laser crystallization scientist at the company, working in the display products group. "I work very closely with customers to provide expertise and help troubleshoot in the field," she says. "I also work internally with Cymer's display team in San Diego to develop future products and identify components and modules for those products."
The Cymer display products group combines a high-power light source and advanced optics to make an advanced flat-panel display. The team is spread out over several countries, and most of the display group's customers are in China, Taiwan, Korea and Singapore.
Although Hu travels periodically, much of the troubleshooting and collaboration is done online. Underscoring the collaborative and international nature of today's high-tech endeavors, Hu's boss is stationed in Singapore.
Hu grew up in Nanchang, a city of about two million in Jianguxi Province, China. In 2004 she completed a BS in chemical physics from the University of Science and Technology of China (Hefei, Anhui, China). She received an MS and a PhD in 2010, both in chemical physics, from Columbia University (New York, NY) under a six-year combined program. As graduation time got near, Cymer asked Hu's PhD advisor at Columbia to suggest likely candidates for its display products group and Hu was recommended.
She loves the job. "It's related to what I was doing in school, and I find it exciting to take that and apply it to real-world problems. This technology has become widely used with the advent of high-definition displays," she notes.
Although the Cymer display team is on the cutting edge of the technology, there are still challenges in translating R&D into manufacturing and educating customers as to what is available. But working at Cymer is not only stimulating to Hu professionally; it's also fascinating from a cultural perspective.
"It's exciting for me to discover how differently different people think. It was even a culture shock coming here to San Diego from New York. Southern California is very laid back," she says with a smile.
As part of her cultural journey, Hu is now learning to surf. She suspects learning the quintessential Southern California sport may lead her to a better understanding of how Californians think.
Cross-cultural teams at Cymer
"We recognize the importance of bringing global cross-cultural and cross-functional teams together," says Diana Kiriakides, director of global talent acquisition at Cymer. The idea is to give employees the chance to share ideas to achieve corporate goals and priorities.
The company reinforces its commitment to diversity through recruiting strategies, new-hire orientation, training programs, its intranet site and more. Company recruiters go to career fairs sponsored by SHPE, SWE and NSBE.
Cymer employees often work on international assignments. This gives them valuable international experience and builds perspective on technical and non-technical business topics. The company also has an education reimbursement program in relevant fields.
Hiring at Cymer is increasing. The company typically looks for engineers in mechanical design, electronics, optics, controls, integration, systems and field service. Experience in the semiconductor industry is valued.
Broadcom's Niki Pantelias: standards and systems architecture
Niki Pantelias is an associate technical director at Broadcom (Irvine, CA), a Fortune 500 company that provides semiconductor solutions for wired and wireless communications. Most of her work is in standards-related activities and systems architecture.
"I help write the standards," she explains. "The cable industry will identify a need, perhaps to deliver more bandwidth. I'm usually involved in figuring out the technical innovations to make it happen."
The standards committee includes reps from the cable industry and its clients as well as Broadcom and competitors. Details are hashed out in committee, and solutions work is done at Broadcom.
"My role is to work with customers, suppliers, the standards organization and people within Broadcom who will ultimately implement the product," she says.
For systems architecture Pantelias needs to understand how the chip will interact with the outside world. "My expertise is in the media access control layer, on the cable provider side for the most part, and that's where most of the innovation comes.
"It's complicated. On the cable provider side the chips need to be more powerful since we're dealing with possibly thousands of users. The modem, or end-user side, is more cost-sensitive."
Growing up near Orlando, FL, Pantelias was interested in the space program as a child. In high school her fascination moved to computers and communications. She arrived at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology knowing exactly what she wanted to do. But she dropped out.
"I didn't think I could be in an office all the time," she explains. "I had finished everything except my undergraduate thesis and then in 1988 I left college and became a bicycle messenger, first in Boston and then in Atlanta, GA. I loved being outside and active."
Outside and active was great, but she says she was also always poor and usually tired. In 1995 she went back to school and completed her BS in electrical science and engineering in 1996.
After graduation she worked for Healthdyne Technologies (Marietta, GA), a small company that produced noninvasive medical devices. Because of the small size of the company she had a large amount of responsibility. "It was a valuable experience. I really got to see the big picture."
In 1997 she moved to Nortel Networks (Ottawa, ON) in Alpharetta, GA, working on new technology for DSL: system analysis, modeling and improvements. "I learned a lot about DSL and building ASICs," she remembers. In 2000 she moved to Broadcom as a staff engineer and became involved in data over cable service interface (DOCSIS) standards. "The next time proposals were made, I was tapped to go write the standards," she says.
Early this year Pantelias was made associate technical director at Broadcom. She's now in a position to generate new ideas and intellectual property; she's already a named inventor on fourteen U.S. patents.
The new work keeps her busy and traveling a lot: no more fear of "being stuck in an office."
Supporting diversity and hiring the best at Broadcom
Robert Fitt, HR director, says that "diversity plays an important role at Broadcom. We've grown quickly via global acquisitions and organic growth, so hiring, retaining and inspiring the best people worldwide is critical to our success. Focusing on the best candidates and sourcing them from a variety of areas leads to a truly diverse workforce."
Fitt notes that Broadcom funds science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) projects via the Broadcom Foundation. Support goes to programs aiming to help close the STEM education gap among woman, ethnic and minority populations and encourage these groups to consider technical careers.
The company also has programs to retain and promote professionals: individual development planning, high-potential-employee development, rotational programs and technical steering committees. There's also a tuition reimbursement program, and a variety of online and in-person training courses.
Because the semiconductor industry remains highly competitive, Broadcom continues to make hiring and retaining key technical folks a top priority. The company looks for IC, software, hardware and analog designers and techies with systems skills and experience. In IT, it seeks networking and infrastructure, customer support, information security and engineering tool development.
Wendy J. Casker: electronics consumer at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab
Wendy J. Casker explains that in her work she's actually a consumer rather than a designer of electronic components. She is an electronics manufacturing engineer and acting section supervisor with seven direct reports at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL, Laurel, MD), where she works on circuit boards for space flight.
The lab is a university-affiliated research center that supports government agencies. One of its main sponsors is the Navy, but Casker works with NASA.
"We've just completed work for a satellite mission that will launch this summer. I write a lot of procedures and processes and attend a lot of electronic board design meetings. What's designed doesn't always translate well into manufacturing, although we do a pretty good job of that," Casker says with a smile.
Boards used in space flight must be extremely reliable, and each design is essentially unique. "What we do here is special, very different from building boards for commercial use," says Casker.
Her work involves the manufacturing process. "There's a lot of checking, designing tools and, creating work instructions. I do some testing of programs and help with materials planning. I love solving problems," she says.
She has a 1988 BSIE from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and worked in industry before starting at APL in 2009. She worked as an IE at Raytheon (Waltham, MA), as a process engineer with Cabletron Systems (Rochester, NH), with L. S. Starrett Advanced Technology Division (Gardner, MA) as a production manager and with other companies in jobs ranging from manufacturing engineer to site manager.
She toured APL in connection with a Maryland trade show, and when the shop she was running closed she applied successfully for a job there. "It's not like anywhere else; I just love it!" she says.
Casker says being a tech woman at APL is not an issue. Her only real challenge is her hearing impairment, but that's usually solved by being careful where she sits. "My co-workers here are very helpful," she says.
Casker is currently pursuing an MS in technical management at Johns Hopkins' Whiting School of Engineering.
Diversity means creativity at APL
"Diversity is an integral component of our business strategy," says James Parker, EEO and diversity officer at APL. "Creativity and innovation are keys to our success, and diversity increases our ability to source and exchange new ideas. Culturally and technically our diversity is our strength."
Parker reports that APL was instrumental in creating the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science (GEM) program, which provides internships for grad students in engineering and science. "And we have robust mentoring programs that pair early- and late-career staff, enhancing knowledge sharing," he adds.
The Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering holds classes on site, and APL collaborates with the university to sponsor an "engineering for professionals" program.
There are a number of active affinity groups at APL, as well as a joint affinity group, a woman and minority advisory council and a diversity working group made up of senior managers. The lab typically hires computer, electrical, software, systems, mechanical and aerospace engineers.
Nicole Rennalls works on power systems at Eaton
Nicole Rennalls is a power systems engineer in electrical services and systems at Eaton Corp (Cleveland, OH), a diversified power management company. Rennalls provides engineering consulting for customers, analyzing and helping them plan or improve their power systems. She identifies problems and determines remediation for commercial or industrial construction or expansion.
"You have to be pretty competent with electrical components and have an understanding of how the various components interact. We work with a lot of cutting-edge technology for the Smart Grid, like advanced relaying and renewable tie-in, for customers who are looking to upgrade substations," Rennalls says.
A wide variety of configurations are used, depending on the needs of the client. Currently she's working on projects for a chemical company and a middle school.
"The two projects use different components, different controls and a different scheme altogether," she explains.
She enjoys her job and hopes to get more involved in the Smart Grid. "That is the way things are going. It requires more sophisticated communications and autonomous control, as well as security." At the moment her primary responsibilities are new construction and industrial studies, quotes and follow-up.
Rennalls has a BSEE from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA) and has received technical training at Eaton since joining the company after graduation in 2009. In her junior and senior years she was part of the Intel Opportunity Research Scholars program at Georgia Tech, and in 2008 she had a research fellowship at the University of Stuttgart in Germany.
She grew up in Houston, TX. Now she works at Eaton's Houston facility and is happy to be close to her family. Her father is a civil and structural engineer, so technology and engineering were always part of the conversation at her house, but she was drawn toward electronics. "I loved the idea of lighting up whole cities," she says.
Rennalls is a member of NSBE, SWE, and Women in Electrical and Computer Engineering (WECE). She is a talent scout for Eaton at Georgia Tech, and a member of the IEEE.
Analog Devices is hiring heavily
Analog Devices, Inc (ADI, Norwood, MA) continues to invest heavily in graduate recruiting as well as look for experienced hires. The company seeks EEs for design, product, test, layout, CAD, and apps work. Because of the complexity of customer products, there's an increased need for systems-level engineers experienced in analog, digital or mixed signal design. People with knowledge of transistor-level CMOS design with experience designing building blocks are helpful. Circuit analysis, simulation, design, characterization, verification and debug skills are also of value.
ADI also looks for information systems, IT and network pros as well as manufacturing engineers with experience in process and sustaining development, test, assembly and quality.
"More than half the company's revenue is generated outside the U.S.," says Joanne Valente, director of global talent acquisition. "Our internal employee population reflects the global client footprint."
Analog Devices employees are encouraged to work across a variety of engineering disciplines to round out their technical skills and experience, and professional development courses are available through both internal and external programs.
DIVERSITY-MINDED COMPANIES IN SEMICONDUCTORS & COMPONENTS
Check websites for current openings.
|Company and location
|Analog Devices, Inc (Norwood, MA)
|Analog, mixed-signal, and digital signal
processing (DSP) integrated circuits
|Broadcom (Irvine, CA)
|Semiconductor solutions for wired and wireless communications
|Cymer (San Diego, CA)
|Light sources for patterning semiconductor chips;
crystallization tools for flat panel-display industry
|Eaton Corporation (Cleveland, OH)
|Diversified power management products
|Hewlett-Packard (Palo Alto, CA)
|Printers, personal computers; software, services and IT infrastructure
|Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (Laurel, MD) www.jhuapl.edu
|Texas Instruments (Dallas, TX)
|Digital signal processors
|TriQuint Semiconductor (Hillsboro, OR)
|High-performance RF components for wireless communications
Back to Top