The semiconductor industry enjoys steady growth
“For every one worker in the semiconductor industry, there are four-plus jobs created indirectly.” – Falan Yinug, Semiconductor Industry Association
Semiconductor pros are fixers and creators who balance power and performance for high-quality, reliable products and systems
By Sue Marquette Poremba
Technical job opportunities in the semiconductor industry are expanding.
“There are nearly a quarter million people directly employed by the semiconductor industry, and a major component of those jobs is engineering,” says Falan Yinug, director of industry statistics and economic policy with the Semiconductor Industry Association.
In 2011, employment in the industry grew by almost four percent. Yinug reports that the growth trend continued through 2012, but at a slower rate, about one percent, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Perhaps just as important, he adds, is the indirect job creation that stems from the semiconductor industry. “We used government data to develop an estimate showing that for every one worker in the semiconductor industry, there are four-plus jobs created indirectly,” Yinug says. He attributes some of the growth to manufacturing jobs tied directly to the semiconductor industry, at facilities that exist solely to develop and produce semiconductor products. And, he notes, salaries in the industry are higher than many others, resulting in more expendable income. That supports other businesses, locally and nationally.
Erin Byrne directs product engineering at TE Connectivity
Erin Byrne is director of product development engineering at TE Connectivity (Berwyn, PA). When she was eight years old, Byrne asked for a chemistry set, microscope and telescope for her birthday. The gifts helped to shape her interest in science, and led her to major in chemistry in college.
“I thought I wanted to be a bench chemist, doing synthesis. Making molecules was my goal,” she says. Her thesis revolved around making molecules, and her research led to a number of patents. She received a BS in chemistry from the University of Rochester (NY), and her MS and PhD from Cornell University (Ithaca, NY).
After college, she took a job in an industrial lab where she worked to develop a process used to deposit semiconductor layers. “I used my chemical background to develop the process, but then got more interested in the devices themselves.”
Moving into management
Byrne moved through a variety of positions, including manager of a laser fabrication line, and learned new aspects of semiconductor production. In the process, she discovered an interest in systems engineering, and realized she liked to work with customers. “I started to migrate into roles that were closer to customers. I did product engineering for a while before moving over to product management. I went from making things to selling them.”
About three years ago, she had an opportunity to work with TE Connectivity, leading advanced development efforts. “They wanted someone who could help develop new technologies that could be applied to interconnects,” Byrne says. “That sounded interesting to me.”
Today she leads a global team of 100 engineers who produce fiber optic communication products. “I help organize the work. I help build the business by going to the customers to promote the products, and then I come back and develop teams to deliver the products.” She’s responsible for making sure all the projects under her watch go smoothly.
Byrne works with a global team that spans from central Pennsylvania to Sweden to Shanghai. One of her biggest challenges is to create a close environment for such a diverse group of people from different cultures and time zones.
Byrne is involved with a company-based international women’s networking group and regularly mentors coworkers. And though she has extensive experience in the semiconductor industry, she often turns to her own mentor for advice. “Another source of advice is valuable for anyone. We all continue to learn as we progress through our careers.”
Nvidia’s Genevieve Breed is a GPU architectural manager
Genevieve Breed’s original career plan was to be like her dad. Breed’s father, a mechanical engineer, was involved with early automotive airbags. She was going to be an ME, too, except for one problem: she didn’t do well in her initial ME class. But she liked her EE classes at Harvey Mudd College (Claremont, CA). So after she got her BS in general engineering, she shifted her focus and got an MSEE from Stanford University (CA) in 2005.
During her academic years, Breed helped one of her professors with a research project. The prof told her about a job possibility at Nvidia (Santa Clara, CA), a company that focuses on visual computing solutions. She’s been with the company for nine years.
Search for a mentor results in a niche
Breed began her Nvidia career as a hardware engineer. A few years ago, she began to look for a mentor, but couldn’t find a good fit in the group she was working with. “So I went to HR and asked if they could recommend someone to mentor me. My HR rep said there was a team with an opening. The team was in a different area, not one I was used to,” she remembers. Even though the move was a little scary, she accepted the challenge. She began with the architecture team, where she thrived and quickly moved up the ranks.
Her current job is graphics processing unit (GPU) architectural manager. “We’re the team that designs the architecture. We don’t build anything. We try out different designs, and then go tell the team that does the building what we think.” She manages as many as fifteen people.
Her team’s specific responsibility is the streaming multiprocessor. “It’s the brains of the GPU. It handles a lot of the computing horsepower.” Breed works primarily on performance and power. “We want it to run as fast as it can while using as little power as possible. In a cell phone, for example, you don’t want a chip using too much power because you don’t want the phone to burn your hand or your battery to die,” she explains. “In a supercomputer, one of the biggest costs is keeping the room cool because of the amount of heat generated. So anything we can do to cut down the power cuts down the cost of running these machines.”
Mentoring young minds
Breed takes time from her schedule to act as a mentor. “Nvidia offers mentoring in algebra to eighth graders through a program called We Teach Science,” she says. “Once a week you mentor an eighth grader over the Internet for an hour. I’ve been doing that for three years.”
She also tries to mentor the members of her team. For her leadership efforts, Breed was chosen as a recipient of a 2018 Emerging Leader award by the YWCA of Silicon Valley.
Tyrone Benson ensures product quality and reliability at Intel
Tyrone Benson is a quality and reliability engineering manager at Intel (Santa Clara, CA) in its Chandler, AZ location. As a teenager in Alabama, Benson had dreams of being a professional saxophone player. But he also recognized that success in the music industry is rare. He wanted a career that had more stability.
“Luckily, we had great math and science at my high school,” he says. “My guidance counselor suggested I look into engineering and that’s where I ended up.”
Benson planned to return to his hometown after receiving his 1991 BSEE from Georgia Tech (Atlanta) and find work in the textile mills. But an internship with Intel changed his mind. He finished graduate school at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) in 1996 with his PhD in EE, and began his career with Intel.
“At Michigan, my graduate work was in real-time, in-situ, light-based etch control to prevent over or under-processing,” he explains. “At Intel, I started out improving yield for one of our assembly technologies. Then I moved to an analog and radio engineering team where I modeled 1/f noise and designed oscillators. After that, I moved into a quality and reliability team and have since become a manager on that team.”
He ensures products function as expected when the customers get them, and that they last for the stated lifetime. “We do this by collecting and analyzing test data and by stressing products to ensure performance is maintained,” he explains.
His team developed the first purpose-built system on chips (SoCs) for consumer electronics devices based on the Intel architecture (IA) blueprint. “These SoCs combine leading-edge consumer electronics features for high-definition video support, home theater-quality audio and advanced 3-D graphics, with the performance, flexibility and compatibility of IA-based hardware and software. These products enrich experiences through computing and connectivity. To complete a product like this and help customers launch new products with richer features is really very exciting for me.”
Making the most of the Intel experience
In addition to his job, Benson has been involved in mentoring and recruiting activities. He has been VP of the Network of Intel African Americans (NIA) and today focuses primarily on outreach.
“NIA has an energetic community outreach team that is making a difference with kids at South Mountain High School in Phoenix. Over the past year, the community outreach team has visited the school as part of a career panel and brought kids to Intel to give them a closeup view of what we do. We helped the students with college essays and applying for scholarships,” he explains.
“All these activities help me to know more about what Intel has to offer and what skills are most valued by our company. These activities are also great opportunities to network with others at Intel and in the technology industry.”
Ngandu M. Mbiye: principal engineer at Lear
Ngandu M. Mbiye is a principal engineer in the electrical distribution division with Lear Corporation (Southfield, MI). He designs the software architecture for electronic products, develops embedded software, and reviews engineers’ source code, schematics and test reports.
Mbiye knew at a young age that he wanted to work in electronics. “I was fascinated by the components in the electronic gear I disassembled and wanted very much to know how they worked,” he says. “Also, I liked the idea of an artificial intelligence that could make life better. It was just a question of how to get into the field, so I asked any engineer I met how they acquired their knowledge.”
A global upbringing
Mbiye was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), and he spent some years in Germany and the Central African Republic. His higher education, however, took place at Michigan State University (East Lansing), where he received a BSEE, a BSCS and an MSEE
“After college, I worked at several small companies led by entrepreneurs. The jobs involved a combination of electronics and software design skills,” he explains. “Then I joined Lear. I was hired to work on a specific project, but expanded my involvement across multiple projects.”
One such project was Lear’s smart power distribution junction box (SPDJB), which involved thirty engineers in four countries and multiple electronic components. The SPDJB receives commands from other devices in an automobile and controls the application of electrical power.
“The project began with an analysis of customer requirements. Once the business section agreed to the scope of work, the hardware design and software architecture took shape. In addition to writing software, I helped troubleshoot test setups, coordinated communication between the engineers and updated designs when requirements changed.”
One of the greatest challenges of his job is the global nature of the semiconductor industry. “Engineers come from different cultures and languages, live in different time zones and have different local conditions,” he says. “For example, I can’t just pick up the phone in the morning in Southfield to talk to another engineer on the other side of the world because they’re asleep when I’m awake.”
Diversity at Lear
“Given our global footprint, diversity is a core value at Lear. We have a strategic mandate to foster diversity at all levels around the world to assure we attract the best and brightest and consider multiple perspectives when approaching an issue. We believe that even beyond providing tangible business benefits for our team and our supplier base, diversity is the right thing to do,” says Shari Burgess, vice president, treasurer and chief diversity officer at Lear.
Rekha Boeckman works in capacity planning at SAS
Rekha Boeckman had already been in the workforce for several years when she applied for a job at Samsung Austin Semiconductor (SAS, Austin, TX) in 2011. “I was looking to work in an advanced and premier technology environment where there is fast and steady growth.
“I got an interview within a few days and was hired full time in a week. I was hired for a capacity planning role, my current position.”
Her job involves building a strategic capacity plan for new products and expanding current products. “I work with forecasting models using data analysis and statistical tools,” she explains. “My job includes mitigating capacity risks.”
A recent project focused on improving equipment throughput by directing material process through its best tools.
Boeckman, born and raised in India, enjoyed science and technology and was inspired to become an engineer by her eldest brother. She has a bachelors degree in instrumentation and control engineering from the University of Madras (India), and got a masters of IE and engineering management from the Ohio State University (Columbus).
Working to keep up and move forward
One challenge she encounters is keeping up with the dynamics of the organization. “Priorities change by the minute,” she says.
Boeckman’s own priorities include building her skill sets with a goal of moving into a leadership position. She is also mentoring a coworker.
In her personal life, her focus is on her two-year-old daughter. “She keeps reminding me how little things in life can put a smile on your face.”
Emmanuel Mulenga is senior manufacturing engineer at Applied Materials
Emmanuel Mulenga was born and raised in Zambia. As a child, he and his brothers made their own toys. “We constructed wire cars, molded clay cars, drums and baskets, and created a simple radio using a transistor, diode, speaker and coil,” he says. “The creative success I had as a child led to more successes later in life and a feeling that everything is fixable and solvable.”
Bringing skills to the next level
Mulenga’s older sister was the first member of his family to go to college, and after he realized his natural skills in math, he followed his sister’s example. He came to the United States via a distinguished academic scholarship. Mulenga earned a BSEE and a BS in mining engineering with a minor in math in 2002 at the University of Arizona (Tucson), followed by an MPH in health and safety in 2004.
He began his career as a safety engineer. Today he is a senior manufacturing engineer at semiconductor equipment maker Applied Materials (Santa Clara, CA).
“I recently worked with a team on a project to improve the cycle time for engineering change orders, with a goal to ultimately improve customer response time and time to market. My role was to identify the causes of cycle-time increase,” Mulenga says.
Mulenga hopes to become a recognized leader in semiconductor manufacturing, both within his company and in the industry. He knows that creating solutions sometimes requires bringing people together who do not normally work with each other. “In these instances, understanding group dynamics and motivations becomes more important than technical engineering challenges, as I work to influence people toward a common goal,” he says.
Mulenga gives back to his community through volunteer activities. At work, he is part of the company’s green team that encourages sustainability, and he’s also on the emergency response team. Within the larger community, he helps to raise money for a local food bank and has participated in volunteer solar-panel installation projects.
Diversity shapes the future at Applied Materials
“We want Applied Materials to be a place where exceptional people work together to shape the future,” says Gary Dickerson, president and CEO of Applied Materials. “One of our greatest assets is the diversity of our global talent. Attracting and developing employees with varied backgrounds and skills is essential to fuel creativity and innovation.”
DIVERSITY-MINDED SEMICONDUCTOR COMPANIES
Check websites for information.
|Company and location
|Applied Materials (Santa Clara, CA)
|Equipment for the semiconductor, display and solar PV industries
|Intel (Santa Clara, CA)
|Semiconductor design and manufacturing
|Lear Corporation (Southfield, MI)
|Micron (Boise, ID)
|Nvidia (Santa Clara, CA)
|Visual computing solutions
|Samsung Austin Semiconductor (Austin, TX)
|TE Connectivity (Berwyn, PA)
|Texas Instruments (Dallas, TX)
|Analog ICs and embedded processors
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