Semiconductor industry careers: progress “beyond the imagination”
“A person who has developed microprocessor design skills is extremely valuable.” – Suzanne Plummer, AMD
“Semiconductors are revolutionizing the way we work, communicate, travel, entertain, harness energy and treat illness.” – Brian Toohey, SIA
By Laurel A. McKee Ranger
Semiconductors are at the heart of our technological world, believes Brian Toohey, president and CEO of the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA).
“Semiconductor technology has enabled increasingly sophisticated electronic devices for more than six decades, revolutionizing the way we work, communicate, travel, entertain, harness energy, treat illness and more,” says Toohey. He notes that the industry benchmarks its progress against Moore’s Law, which states that the number of transistors on a semiconductor will double every eighteen to twenty-four months. In the 1980s, advanced chips had approximately 100,000 transistors, while they now have over a billion, and industry leaders say the number could reach a trillion before long. “The next generation of semiconductors will enable applications beyond the imagination through improved functionality, performance and cost effectiveness,” he says.
Toohey notes that the greatest areas of growth for semiconductors include automobiles and medical devices, which are using increasingly complex electronics, and more semiconductors. Industry tracks end-market semiconductor use in the computer, communication, consumer, auto, industrial and government sectors. Toohey says that most of these market segments have grown over the past fifteen years, and the communication, consumer, auto and industrial segments have increased their share of the semiconductor market.
Toohey notes, however, that policy uncertainty is a real roadblock to reaching full technological potential. “Our leaders in Washington, DC must work together to reform the corporate tax code and our high-skilled immigration system, facilitate open markets, protect intellectual property, support federal funding for university research, and streamline export control regulations, among other initiatives,” Toohey says.
Gregory J. Duperon develops auto industry devices at Texas Instruments
“The auto industry is a growing market segment for us. The semiconductor content of vehicles is growing rapidly, and driverless vehicles are the future,” says Gregory J. Duperon, a test engineer in the automotive group at semiconductor designer and manufacturer Texas Instruments (Dallas, TX).
Duperon’s group of ten engineers provides catalog solutions for the auto industry, writing and developing production programs to screen devices and ensure that customers get the highest quality products. He also provides long-term support and optimization of test solutions, and works with qualification of hardware design, initial failure analysis and bench verification of devices.
Duperon grew up in Atlanta, GA, and his interest in technology began at an early age. “My fifth-grade teacher held a bridge building contest with popsicle sticks. I realized then I was interested in science and engineering, and by high school I was in a math and science magnet program,” he says.
Duperon was interested in biomedical engineering, and thought EE would be a good foundation. “But once I took hardcore electrical engineering I found I was really drawn into it. That was the place I wanted to be. Semiconductors touch everything from bioengineering to advances in electronics,” he says.
He headed to the Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA) and received a 2007 BSEE and a 2009 MS in electrical and computer engineering. He was awarded a GEM fellowship for his graduate studies.
He joined Texas Instruments as a test and product engineering co-op in 2008 in the mixed-signal automotive group, and became a permanent employee in 2009.
Overcoming hurdles and working with bright minds
Duperon was a first-generation college student in a demanding major, and he found his early college years challenging.
“African Americans are not well represented in STEM disciplines, so I didn’t have access to African American mentors or peers. I was usually the only African American in my class. But hurdles can be overcome,” he says.
Duperon’s challenges today include juggling customer requirements. “We have tough customers. We must do really solid engineering work and develop robust solutions,” he says. But he gets a tremendous amount of satisfaction working with bright minds on cutting-edge projects. “Here at TI you work with some of the best,” Duperon says.
In 2011, Duperon received the Texas Instrument founders community service award, and recently, he was named one of the Top 30 Under 30 Future Leaders 2012 by the Dallas Observer. He is a member of Tau Beta Pi and Eta Kappa Nu engineering honor societies, an active community volunteer, and a thrill seeker who sky dives and bungee jumps.
Krista Von Arx manages and mentors at Samsung Semiconductor
Senior manager Krista Von Arx manages three departments at Samsung Austin Semiconductor (Austin, TX): materials technology, clean room technology, and the gas and chemical systems group. In materials technology, Von Arx is responsible for all incoming raw materials, including chemicals and gases, used to make chips.
“My department guarantees the quality of materials. We work with suppliers to do that,” she says. The clean room technology department monitors the clean room environment. “We control for particles, temperature and humidity, and look to constantly improve the environment.” The gas and chemical systems group is responsible for the tanks and pumps that store and deliver chemicals and gases to the fab.
“I also mentor, develop and train others in the company, develop standard operating procedures, set policies, and encourage innovation to make sure we’re ready for the next thing that’s coming,” she notes.
Von Arx was planning to be an English teacher, and received a BA in English in 1995 from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington (UNCW). But she quickly changed her mind and returned to UNCW to earn a 1997 BS in chemistry.
She interned at Sematech (Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology; Austin, TX) as a photolithography engineer, then after graduation, started as a photolithography engineer in Austin with Advanced Micro Devices. In 2002 she took a position as a fabrication engineer in the wet etch department at Samsung, and became manager of that department in 2008. A year later, she became manager of materials technology and clean room technology. In 2011, the gas and chemical systems group was added to her responsibilities.
Helping people is the greatest reward
Von Arx finds management satisfying. “When I was an engineer I loved burying myself in the data. But over the last six years as a manager, my greatest reward has been watching people grow and develop, and helping them do their best,” she says.
With two elementary-age boys and the responsibilities of her job, Von Arx is busy, but still finds time to volunteer. Last year she was involved in the Autism Speaks Austin Walk through Samsung, which was a sponsor, and looks forward to doing the walk again. She also enjoys hunting, fishing and camping with her family.
Mohammad Ahmed manages EE and wireless projects at TE Connectivity
Mohammad Ahmed came to the United States in 1999 for his graduate degree. He was born in Karachi, Pakistan, but his family moved around the globe for his father’s airline job. In addition to English, he speaks Urdu, Hindi and Arabic. He has since settled with his own family, including his four children, in the Philadelphia, PA area.
Ahmed is a manager of electrical engineering and industrial technology at connectivity provider TE Connectivity (Berwyn, PA). His projects are purely electrical engineering-based. “We are working on smart and wireless connectivity products, all semiconductor-based. We’re designing a 2.5GHz product from scratch that will have built-in intelligence to enable other devices in the system to be controlled wirelessly for intelligent building control. You’ll be able to hook up cameras and sensors to this wireless grid. It’s the future of commercial building technology,” Ahmed says.
Ahmed ensures that projects progress in a timely manner, and that workers have the right tools to design their products. He provides technical guidance when it’s needed. “I have to look at the market and make sure that the semiconductor solutions we need are available at the right price and can handle the performance we are looking for,” he says. To do that, Ahmed needs a strong understanding of IC architecture and general semiconductor market know-how. “I have been involved in designing ASICs in the past, so I have that background.”
Building the background
Ahmed has a 1998 BSEE from Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology (Karachi, Pakistan), and a 2001 MSEE from the State University of New York-Stony Brook.
In 2001, Ahmed took a position as an electronic and electrical engineer with Pall Corporation (Port Washington, NY), a manufacturer of filtration, separation and purification products and solutions. In 2002, he joined ALA Scientific Instruments (Westbury, NY) as an electrical engineer. In 2005, Ahmed became an automation engineer with barcode scanner manufacturer Metrologic Instruments (Blackwood, NJ), and later a hardware engineer in the company’s new product development department. Between 2007 and 2010, he worked as a staff engineer for LCR Electronics (Norristown, PA). In 2010, he came to TE Connectivity to work as a senior development engineer on advanced LED lighting technology. The next year, he earned an innovation award.
“Working for small companies, as I did before I joined TE, gives you a diverse background. Small companies often have to make things happen fast and on time and get it right the first time. That trains you to be flexible,” he says. “That’s important at TE where we’re competing on a global scale.”
Suzanne Plummer directs a design engineering division at Advanced Micro Devices
The daughter of two science professors, Suzanne Plummer grew up in San Antonio, TX. She is director of design engineering of low-power processor cores at Advanced Micro Devices (AMD, Sunnyvale, CA).
After getting a 1989 BS in electrical and computer engineering from Rice University (Houston, TX), Plummer joined telecom company Motorola, Inc (Schaumburg, IL) in its engineering rotational program. She became a microprocessor cores applications engineer in 1990, then a PowerPC logic designer in 1992. In 1998, Plummer took a position with Alchemy Semiconductor (Austin, TX). After four years as a MIPS architect and logic designer, Plummer was appointed senior member of technical staff at AMD when the company bought Alchemy. She moved up the ladder and in 2011, she took her current position.
Plummer leads a team that designs the microprocessor part of a semiconductor chip. “I have management responsibilities and technical oversight. I make sure projects stay on time and within budget. We work with a long design time; we design for the future and keep up with what the market is doing,” Plummer says.
Members of Plummer’s team write high-level code and do verification and performance modeling. Then the physical designers translate the code into transistors and the design is sent to the fab to be built.
A fascinating, fast-paced industry
“The semiconductor industry is fast paced. What you know now may not be relevant two years from now. Process technology changes, micro-architecture changes; you have to stay on top of them and be informed on the latest advances,” she says.
“A person who has the specialized skills required for microprocessor design is extremely valuable,” she notes. “My management has been very flexible with me. I’ve been able to take extra time off after the births of my three sons, and to work part-time and from home.”
Plummer is a member of Women in Technology International and the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers. She has won awards for her work, and is the owner of a U.S. patent. She volunteers at her children’s schools and works with Girlstart, an Austin nonprofit that runs STEM programs for girls.
Making strides in diversity and development
Laura Guenther, corporate vice president of talent and organization capability at AMD, says, “We expect our leaders to foster a global mindset. That means leveraging all the available talent.”
The AMD Women’s Forum was created by successful women leaders, and is active globally, Guenther says. AMD offers mentors to high-potential women in the succession pipeline and provides onsite training as well as tuition assistance.
Jacob J. Rael directs radio frequency and wireless engineering at Broadcom
Jacob J. Rael grew up in Albuquerque, NM. “My father’s family came to New Mexico about 200 years ago and my mother’s family came even earlier – 300 years ago. But we still have strong ties to Mexico,” he says.
As director of RF/wireless engineering at Broadcom (Irvine, CA), Rael is responsible for radios used in wireless local area network (LAN), Bluetooth, cellular, global positioning system, and near field communication systems. The twenty-six engineers in his group include nine direct reports.
“I’m involved on the radio side from beginning to end. Once we provide a model to the other radio teams, we test, verify and improve the product. We provide the timing model that ensures high-speed communications can be delivered. When the radio is being fabricated, we shift gears from helping the design engineers to working with the engineers making the chip. We test the code and clean up functional and syntax errors. This helps decrease the bring-up time from days to tens of minutes,” he says.
Rael has a 1990 BSEE from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, Cambridge, MA), and a 1995 MSEE and 2007 PhD in electrical engineering from the University of California-Los Angeles. He started consulting for startups in the Los Angeles area in 1991 and continued while working on his graduate degree.
In 1998 he began working as a circuit designer, then in CAD and IT roles, at Innovent Systems (Los Angeles, CA). The small startup was acquired by Broadcom in 2000, and Rael became a project manager in wireless LAN. In 2004 he started developing models across radio groups. This work grew quickly, so he built a team to help improve the methodology. “We act like translators between the radio and chip teams. We know the whole history and provide the models to verify that things are correct.”
Sharing the engineering culture
For Rael, going from Albuquerque to MIT in the Boston area was a cultural shock. But he soon adjusted, as technology became the culture he shared with classmates. “I always wanted to build computers, and at MIT, I found everyone was just like me.”
Today, the challenges he faces include finding suitable engineers for the team. “Our work is difficult. It requires a lot of intuition and specialized tools and training,” he says.
Rael has received awards for his work and papers, and is the chair of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Solid State Circuits Society. He enjoys sharing his knowledge, mentoring middle and high school students, and building robots at home with his son and daughter.
Emmanuelle Briot at TriQuint
A native of France, Emmanuelle Briot is many things: the mother of two, a talented dressmaker, quilter and baker, and an accomplished classical pianist and organist. She is also the bulk acoustic wave (BAW) design engineering manager at TriQuint’s (Hillsboro, OR) acoustic filter design center in Florida.
Briot moved with her family from France to Florida in 2006. She and her husband both went to work at TriQuint, which designs and manufactures high-performance RF modules and components, and also offers foundry services. Briot’s team of eight direct reports designs filters for mobile devices using bulk wave technology.
“I set up the team’s priorities based on our commitments to internal and external customers. I interact with engineers and program managers, discussing the kind of technology we will use, and addressing technical challenges,” says Briot. She ensures the team is compliant with customer requirements, and helps marketing get feedback. “We also have to make trade-offs, like performance, size and cost. We talk with our customers about solving technical problems. We might need to address operating temperature in some devices or restrict the size.”
Briot received a masters degree in mechanical and electrical engineering from the Ecole Nationale Superieure de Mecanique et des Microtechniques in Besancon, France in 1995, and a PhD from the University of Franche-Comte in physics and electrical engineering in 1998. She took a position with Thales (Sophia Antipolis, France) as a product engineer of filters for communications. In 2001, she moved into marketing for three years, then returned to design engineering.
Her experience was the perfect fit for TriQuint, where she was hired as manager of acoustic filter design. In 2011, she became BAW design engineering manager for the mobile devices market.
Balancing right and left-side pursuits
“I started music at age five, and I wanted to maintain both music and science in parallel. The best school for both pursuits was in Besancon. That more or less determined my entry into the field of electrical engineering and ultimately, semiconductors,” she says.
Though women engineers in the semiconductor field are uncommon, she is proud to say that three members of her team are women and all three have PhDs. Briot has won a TriQuint Extra Mile award and has made her mark in the RF industry.
Pamela P. Carter is a program manager at Applied Materials
Pamela P. Carter, project management professional (PMP), is a program manager at Applied Materials, a glo-bal provider of manufacturing equipment for the semiconductor, flat-panel display and solar photovoltaic industries. She started in 1995 as a manufacturing technologist, and has worked her way up in three different business units.
“My career has been a series of building blocks; I always take the tools and knowledge I’ve acquired to the next job. I have a passion for process improvement and change management,” Carter says.
Carter grew up in southeast Texas. When she was in ninth grade, her parents enrolled her in the Golden Triangle Texas Alliance for Minorities, a program encouraging minorities to enter STEM careers. She also began acquiring technical skills before she attended college, working as an engineering assistant intern at ExxonMobil as a high school senior and for three years during college.
She got a BSEE at Lamar University (Beaumont, TX). Before graduation, a professor suggested she apply for a summer research job in semiconductors. “I was chosen for a position at the University of Maine in 1993 testing materials for semiconductors. It was a graduate-level research program. I found the work so fascinating that I decided to pursue a career in the industry,” she says.
Her job includes introducing new products into the supply chain. “Our operational teams collaborate early in the development phase. We’re involved from design and procurement to manufacturing implementation, across the full product lifecycle. We are a global cross-functional group. I manage serviceability and manufacturability for production,” she says.
“Some of the programs I’m working on are only three months from design to shipment. Right now I’m working on six programs. I love to see the improvements and changes in the business that make it more efficient,” she says.
She also savors the diversity at her company. “I work with people from all over the world on each of my programs. I work with exciting people who are passionate about what they do.”
Carter received recognition for her work at the company’s 2007 engineering technology conference. She also volunteers with Girlstart.
Applied Materials incorporates diversity
“One of our company’s greatest assets is the diversity of our global workforce. The breadth and variety of our employees’ backgrounds, skills and experience fuel creativity and innovation, making Applied Materials a vibrant place to work,” says Mike Splinter, chairman and CEO.
Gustavo De La Torre, director of global diversity and inclusion, says the company has a long history of valuing global diversity and weaving inclusiveness into the fabric of the company.
“We implement initiatives under the pillars of awareness, accountability and sustainability, including monthly cultural celebrations. We also support eleven employee resource groups that create an open forum for idea exchange and strengthen the link to and within diverse communities in support of Applied’s business objectives,” De La Torre says.
Director of global staffing Judy Sugiyama notes, “We have ongoing needs for engineers in mechanical, process, manufacturing and electrical fields, and in applications, customer support, product marketing, software and technical support.”
She adds that candidates should have strong analytical, problem solving and trouble-shooting skills, as well as strong written and oral communication skills.
Benefits include tuition reimbursement and much more.
Orietta Verdugo: manager at Intel
“I set the strategy for the factory, determining what we can and cannot do. I make assessments on what’s needed to execute Intel’s product roadmap,” says Orietta Verdugo, capacity manager for semiconductor chip manufacturer Intel (Santa Clara, CA) at its assembly test technology development facility in Chandler, AZ.
Verdugo’s team works on products that will come out in one to five years, and she determines what resources are needed to accomplish manufacturing goals. Her team of engineers does modeling simulations of the factory to determine what can be built, from a tactical and strategic perspective. “We have to have the right capability to meet deadlines,” she says.
Verdugo got her 2004 BS in industrial engineering from Arizona State University (ASU, Tempe, AZ). She got her MBA and masters in engineering systems in 2010 from MIT (Cambridge, MA).
In 2005 she joined General Electric Energy (Atlanta, GA) as an engineer in an operations management rotation program, then became a strategic planner in manufacturing. Through the Leaders for Global Operations program at MIT, she met a recruiter from Intel who suggested she submit her resume. She was hired as a Lean Six Sigma black belt after graduation.
Verdugo grew up in Coolidge, AZ, so working in Chandler allows her to be close to home. She enjoys working for Intel. “The visioan here is to touch everyone on Earth, enabling people to communicate. I like working for a company whose purpose is to contribute to the greater good,” she says.
Being a woman in manufacturing was difficult at first. “I just felt different. I struggled with that,” she says. One of her biggest challenges now is simply keeping pace with the evolution of manufacturing technology. “We used to change our technology every two years, but now it’s every six months.”
Embracing her heritage
Verdugo is a board member for the Aguila Youth Institute, which helps Latino high school students attend college, and she’s a member of the Kappa Delta Chi Latina sorority and an alumna advisor for its ASU chapter. She has been a member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers since college. She is also deeply involved in the Intel Latino Network.
Diversity and opportunity at Intel
“We hire at many different levels and value outstanding problem-solving ability and technical expertise,” says Adriana Quevedo, diversity talent delivery manager. “We focus on attracting, hiring and retaining diverse individuals, and providing our employees with challenging opportunities and assignments where they can develop their skills,” she adds.
Intel offers scholarship programs, grants and internships to students pursuing STEM careers. “We also have programs that target specific groups, including development opportunities and rotational programs. Our Blueprint program offers women and diverse populations a nine-month opportunity to develop skills and leadership potential,” Quevedo says. The company offers onsite learning and tuition reimbursement.
Twenty-three chartered Intel employee groups focus on women, veterans, Asians, Hispanics, African Americans, LGBT, disabled, and members of different religions.
According to former president and CEO Paul Otellini, “By doing better with each individual, we do better as a company. In the end, we will make our great company even better.”
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