Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Chip in for work in embedded design

Traditionally acknowledged for its software development capabilities, India is now exhibiting its competency in the chip design sector. Its booming semiconductor industry promises 3.5 million jobs by 2015, writes Aruna Padmanabhan

Our living environment is getting more intelligent and embedded systems are increasingly being used in our daily electronic appliances and gizmos. Mobile phones, PDAs, and digital home-security systems perform versatile functions and have shrunk in size because of embedded systems that control the functioning of these devices. The global demand for semiconductors is expected to remain robust in 2006 due to an increase in demand for consumer electronics. According to the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), the worldwide semiconductor sales set a new record of 227.5 billion in 2005. This rapid growth has opened a range of career opportunities in the embedded design industry.

Jobs aplenty

There are over 130 chip design firms present in India—the vast pool of talent and growing domestic market has helped the country emerge as an important centre for chip design. Last year, the industry witnessed major investments in the country in R&D, an indicator of India’s potential with respect to the talent available. A country traditionally acknowledged for its software development capabilities is now exhibiting its competency in the chip design industry. This booming semiconductor industry promises 3.5 million jobs by 2015, according to a report by the Indian Semiconductor Association (ISA) and global consulting company Frost & Sullivan.

Indian engineers have carved a niche for themselves by making significant contributions to the development of cutting-edge technology. India, with capabilities in very large scale integration (VLSI) design and software development, has potentially captured a larger share of the market by focusing on these markets. It is no wonder that almost all of the top 10 semiconductor vendors have established design centers in India. This has also contributed to the growth of the electronic design automation (EDA) industry in India. Leading Indian IT companies are also setting up product engineering and design services, partnering with global chip majors.

Future prospects

Today’s engineers, therefore, have immense opportunities in hardware and embedded design, developing integrated circuits (ICs); field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and systems-on-chips (SoCs), apart from typical software development opportunities. And the scenario is only getting better—the next decade will see a steady growth in the consumer demand for intelligent systems in everyday life— from cars to home appliances and consumer electronics. The chip design industry, therefore, offers exciting career opportunities for those looking to develop cutting-edge technologies that will impact our future. Young engineers once hired by R&D labs get an opportunity to work on chip design from scratch—from conceptualisation to development and testing, across myriad domains.

Chip design differs from software design. How? The process of chip design differs from software development. Software design is associated with creating codes and working with “abstracts”, i.e. encoding thoughts and processes vis-à-vis chip design, where the end result is a tangible product that can power a wide range of electronic devices, enabling functions that several years ago were considered “near impossible.” Another aspect of chip design is that knowledge acquired is in-depth as engineers focus on designing embedded systems for different sectors. Consumer electronics, mobile devices, home security systems and auto components are niche sectors.

Entering the field

Therefore, engineers can further their knowledge and expertise in specific sectors or specific aspects of design, whereas software development demands varied knowledge of software languages, that could be applied across industry verticals.

An entry-level engineer in IC design would at the very least possess a B.E or Bachelor’s of Technology in Electronics, Telecommunications or Computer Science; a Master’s in Technology in the subject would definitely give professionals an edge in the market. If one doesn’t have enough experience, one can also enroll into short-term courses. Apart from IC-related knowledge, one should also have knowledge of assembly -level programming and ‘C’ programming.

Placement positions

This being a niche field, companies are increasingly looking for professionals with hands-on experience in digital application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) design, physical design, mixed signal IC design, verilog, VHDL or VHSIC, which is Very High Speed Integrated Circuit, VLSI design, circuit design and simulations, micro-controllers, digital PCB design and routing. With an appropriate degree, one can start as a research and design engineer and move up the ladder to become a project leader or a senior design engineer.

Young , technically skilled professionals working on systems architecture can rise to the level of senior technical professionals.

Shortage of skills

Analog designers, embedded software designers, EDA managers are a few job options available in this field and the growing demand for these professionals.

Expansion plans of various MNCs and recent efforts by NASSCOM to play up India’s product development skills suggest that embedded software would be India’s next sunrise sector. However the Indian Semiconductor Association (ISA) estimates that engineering colleges are meeting only 20 per cent of the industry demand for chip design engineers. Organisations spend a year and a half shaping young graduates even as the courses in our educational institutions are outdated. Both industry and academia would benefit if institutes introduce a competent courseware and the industry gets involved in imparting professional training in institutes.

If India needs to emerge as the next semiconductor design hub, it would need to proactively address the growing demands of the sector by way of partnerships between the government, industry and academic institutes which would pave the way forward.

The writer is HR Manager, Freescale Semiconductor India Pvt Ltd