Career Opportunities in VLSI
Over the years there has been an increased demand for skilled VLSI engineers at IC design companies. This is due to the huge advances in AI, EV, and smartphone technologies, all of which rely on smart ICs. Chip design and manufacturing are collectively called VLSI design where VLSI stands for Very-Large-Scale-Integration. The current technology in use is sub 10 nanometer. This enables designers to pack billions of transistors on a single IC. With large transistor densities, electronic gadgets can be made very compact yet powerful and rich in features.
Almost every electronic Hdevice we use today has chips with multi-million transistors in them. Mobile phones, televisions, medical electronic and monitoring devices, and all electronic equipment have these chips in them. Amplifiers, Sensors, Phase-Locked Loops, Processors, etc. are all VLSI designs. VLSI ICs can be classified as Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC), FPGA- Field-programmable Gate arrays, and custom Analog IC's. There are many job openings for trained ASIC engineers, FPGA designer engineers, and Analog designers, each of these areas needs a specialized skillset.
Who can be a VLSI Engineer?
Typically, only applicants with an engineering degree in electronics or related circuit branches may enter the semiconductor industry. Computer science/IT software developers can also pursue it if they have a strong knowledge of digital fundamentals, semiconductor physics, and software programming. VLSI engineers carve the future of automation and industry 4.0. VLSI engineers are responsible for designing the latest and greatest Graphics Processor Units (GPU) which are the backbone for advancements in AI and many other domains. It is a lucrative field that is resilient to automation. ASIC and SOCs are leading the innovation in the Automotive Electronics and Electric Vehicle sector.
VLSI design involves using special hardware description languages (HDLs) such as VHDL and Verilog. For jobs in the industry, one should be good with Verilog, System Verilog, and UVM. They should also be well versed in OOPs concepts. Scripting language skills are also helpful. In addition, a VLSI engineer needs to be a strong team player, agile, competent, hard-working, optimistic, and enthusiastic, regardless of the job/work.
Where can VLSI Knowledge be Applied?
VLSI design knowledge can be applied in the design of Large Digital ICs, Analog Mixed Signal ICs and custom Analog ICs
- ASIC or SoC or Digital ICs: Consist of Logic gates and memories as building blocks- RTL Design Engineers, SoC Verification Engineers and Physical Design Engineers work as a team to design them.
- AMS ICs: Consists of Analog and Digital blocks- Full Custom Engineers, Memory designers, RTL Design Engineers, SoC Verification Engineers and Physical Design Engineers work as a team to design them.
- Analog ICs: Consist of a few tens of transistors-Full Custom Circuit Designers, Full Custom Layout designers work as a team to design them.
- Works with senior executives to help them analytics bringing
Product companies – Intel, Qualcomm, Nvidia, Texas Instrument
IP companies – Cadence, HDL Design House, Imagination Technologies, Mixel, Rambus.
Foundries - TSMC, Globalfoundries, and UMC
Service Companies – FrenusTech, RFIC Solutions, Presto Engineering, ASIC North
EDA companies - eInfochips Ltd, Sancom Technologies, Semiconductor Complex Ltd. Agilent Technologies
Career Opportunities in the VLSI Industry
SoC verification engineer
A SoC verification engineer verifies a design's functionality; this is done using a High-Level Verification Language such as System Verilog and UVM. In order to be a good verification engineer, one must have strong knowledge of Logic Design, good knowledge of protocols, and mastery of SV/UVM programming and scripting languages. A design team will have more verification engineers compared to design and implementation engineers. SoC Verification Engineers or RTL Verification engineers work closely with RTL Design Engineers to verify and report bugs in the design. The contributions of an SoC Verification Engineer are very critical for the success of the product.
Frontend RTL Design Engineer
A career as a RTL design engineer involves creating and implementing designs using Verilog. RTL designer engineers must have a good knowledge of digital design concepts, must have the ability to read and interpret design specifications and translate them into Verilog code using RTL design and coding guidelines, they must know the complete ASIC/SoC design flow and must be good at debug.
Marketing and Sales
There are many lucrative jobs for technical sales and marketing. Unlike other run-of-the-mill sales and marketing jobs a Sales/Marketing person in VLSI needs to be technically sound, understand the design flow, be able to technically convince customers about their products by its technical superiority and uniqueness. They must be great with people skills, create and make technical presentations and must be willing to travel.
Application Engineers are responsible to work with customers and help them adopt the product after purchase. Usually AE's play a significant role before the sale of a product by demonstrating the application/use of the product in question to meet the customer needs. An application engineer should possess strong communication and people skills. An AE role is the best choice for this role if he/she is communicative, a strong presenter, good at developing relationships, and good at technology, etc. The application engineer also needs to be an expert in customer analysis to create applications that suit the customer's needs.
Designing an IC involves many steps, different software tools from various vendors are used in the design process. Each step involves using multiple input files and the design process is very iterative involving running similar software steps again and again. To make this efficient and productive CAD engineers are used to automate parts of the design flow. A CAD engineer must be very conversant with the complete design flow from spec. to tape out and have mastery over EDA tool usage, scripting and QA.
Corporate Application Engineer (CAE)
The CAEs provide technical assistance to customers, clients, and the production team. Being experts in microchip products, CAE can help customers in selecting and using the right products, based on their requirements. The Corporate Application Engineers write knowledge-based articles, user guides, and conduct webinars/seminars and training-related events. They work closely with the sales and marketing teams.
Field Application Engineer (FAE)
A career as a Field Application Engineer (FAE) requires the person to be proficient in technology. The FAE has to take full responsibility for both pre-sales activities and post-sales activities. They have to develop expertise in product functionality, instruments, and design flow and promote the adoption of these solutions. FAEs are the bridge between the customers and the R&D department. They must possess excellent debugging skills, people skills and presence of mind while interacting with customers who are every demanding.
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