If you aspire to design the next wonder chip, it is worthwhile for you to know about very-large-scale integration (VLSI)—a stream of electronics engineering which involves putting millions and billions of transis-tors together logically on a tiny chip.

“This field involves packing more and more logic devices into smaller and smaller areas. Thanks to VLSI, circuits that would have taken boardful of space can now be fitted into a small space of few millimetres. This has opened av-enues to do things that were not possible before,” affirms Nidhi Kathuria, VLSI application engineer at EFY Tech Center—a provider of VLSI course training.

Factors such as increasing capabil-ity of an integrated circuit (IC) over the years in terms of computation power, utilisation of available area and yield have opened up new frontiers for the VLSI industry to grow. Since VLSI is aniche industry, skillsets in this industry are short in supply and therefore in great demand. Hence there is tremen-dous scope and growth for those who choose VLSI design as a career.

Explore Circuits and Projects Explore Videos and Tutorials

Scope of VLSI

According to industry experts, the Indian VLSI industry requires anywhere be-tween 10,000 and 20,000 highly trained engineers at present. According to a joint report of India Semiconductor Association (ISA) and Ernst & Young, the semiconductor design industry in India is expected to log a compound annual growth rate of 17.3 per cent over the next three years to reach $10.6 billion in 2012.

There are a variety of career oppor-tunities in product companies, design services companies and electronic design automation (EDA) companies. Product and application domains of VLSI include mobile and consumer electronics, computing, telecommunications and networking, data processing, automotive, healthcare and industrial applications.

“In simple words, VLSI circuits are everywhere from your computer to your car, your brand new state-of-the-art digital camera, cellphones, and whatever electronics item you have,” says Kathuria.

Consumer demand for electronic products constitutes about 60 per cent of semiconductor sales today. With consumerisation comes the pressure to lower costs, retain product differ-entiation, manage volatile cycles and win the time-to-market race. “These pressures drive the demand for developing complex system-on-chip (SoC) devices, thereby creating a demand for VLSI skillsets,” affirms Vasudevan Aaghoramoorthy, vice president, semiconductor and systems, Wipro Technologies.

“Today, there is a huge demand in the industry for VLSI designers to develop field-programmable gate array (FPGA) implementations, application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) designs and SoCs. The VLSI industry has an added attraction of being a strong domain for patents filing, invention disclosures and applied research,” he adds.

Who should opt for it?

Being a fast-changing technology area, VLSI design is an extremely challenging andC9B_2 creative sector that offers exciting opportunities and fast growth for engineers. An entry-level engineer in IC design should possess a BE or B.Tech degree in electronics and tele communications or computer science

There are a variety of career opportunities in product companies, design services companies and electronic design automation (EDA) companies. Product and application domains of VLSI include mobile and consumer electronics, computing, telecommunications and networking, data processing, automotive, healthcare and industrial applications.

“In simple words, VLSI circuits are everywhere from your computer to your car, your brand new state-of-the-art digital camera, cellphones, and whatever electronics item you have,” says Kathuria.

Consumer demand for electronic products constitutes about 60 per cent of semiconductor sales today. With consumerisation comes the pressure to lower costs, retain product differentiation, manage volatile cycles and win the time-to-market race. “These pressures drive the demand for devel-oping complex system-on-chip (SoC) devices, thereby creating a demand for VLSI skillsets,” affirms Vasude-van Aaghoramoorthy, vice president, semiconductor and systems, Wipro Technologies.

READ
Role of Soft Skills in your Engineering Career

“Today, there is a huge demand in the industry for VLSI designers to develop field-programmable gate array (FPGA) implementations, application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) designs and SoCs. The VLSI industry has an added attraction of being a strong domain for patents filing, invention disclosures and applied research,” he adds.

Who should opt for it?

Being a fast-changing technology area, VLSI design is an extremely challenging and creative sector that offers exciting opportunities and fast growth for engineers. An entry-level engineer in IC design should possess a BE or B.Tech degree in electronics and tele communications or computer science along with strong analytical and problem-solving skills, communication skills and the ability to excel in a team environment.

“Only those electronics engineers who are strong in electronics design fundamentals, and have mathematical and analytical aptitude, coupled with an interest in design and verification, can grow into good VLSI talent,” says Aaghoramoorthy.

Other than IITs, NITs, IIITs and other engineering colleges which include VLSI design in their engineering curriculum, there are technical training institutes like EFY Tech Center which impart dedicated VLSI training as per the current industry requirements.

What does the industry look for?

While recruiting, companies not only look for academic performance but also for the knowledge gained by the candidates at the end of their engineering studies.

Deepak D. Agarwal, senior marketing executive, Sandeepani School of Embedded System Design, affirms, “Everyday we see a new technology popping up in the market in response to the market demand. Due to this, the gap between the academics (which is more of exam-centric teaching) and the industry (which rides on the quality manpower to address market requirements) has widened over a period of time, as it is practically impossible to keep on changing the engineering syllabus every now and then to meet the industry requirements.”

He adds, “Finishing schools help freshers gain the much needed industry exposure and practice to make them employable. On the other hand, exam-centric teaching and preparation methodology makes the students lose their grip over the knowledge and they just study for getting good grades.” Hence many institutes these days are increasingly focusing on the development of well-structured, industrydriven academic programmes that benefit both the students as well as the electronics industry via initiatives such as establishment of incubation centres to help start-up companies.

Available career options

Some good segments include industrial and automotive microcontrollers, wireless infrastructure, consumer digital TV and handheld devices, and computing/storage infrastructure. Emerging areas include smart-energy product development, medical telemetry application, and high-end application processor development.

Freshers are initially given block-level and verification tasks. However, with experience and talent, they get to work on more challenging tasks. For example, while front-end engineers get into design and architectural engineering, back-end engineers get into automation and full-chip tasks.

Once an engineer has gained enough hands-on experience, he can either choose to grow as a team leader, then project leader and project manger, or become an individual contributor working on tasks like methodology development and R&D. You can climb the ladder through such positions as member of technical staff, senior member of technical staff, principal member of technical staff and chip architect. The various positions that you can apply for include design engineer, product engineer, test engineer, application engineer, process engineer, packaging engineer and CAD engineer as per your area of interest.

READ
Top Five Freshers Jobs of the Week (12th – 18th September)

Kathuria adds: “There are a number of areas to choose from. One such area is reconfigurable computing. It is an interesting and pretty recent development in microelectronics that involves fabricating circuits which can be reprogrammed on the fly! And no, we are not talking about microcontrollers running with EEPROM inside. Reconfigurable computing involves specially fabricated FPGAs that when programmed act just like normal electronic circuits. These are designed such that by changing or reprogramming the connections between numerous sub-modules, the FPGAs can be made to behave like any circuit you wish.”

Opportunities and desired skillset

To enter, survive and grow in this competitive industry, you must have the specialised skillset and qualification along with right aptitude and a desire to continuously learn and evolve. You should be willing to put extra efforts to keep abreast of the latest technology trends that are shaping the world.

Major recruiters in this field are Texas Instruments, PMC Sierra, Infineon, Alliance Semiconductor, Freescale Semiconductor, Analog Devices, Cadence, Synopsys, Mentor Graphics, HCL, Intel, Lucent, Micron Tech, National Semiconductor, Motorola, Philips Semiconductor, Qualcomm, Sasken, Atrenta, Conexant, Moschip, Cradle Tech, Synplicity, Wipro, TCS comand eInfochips.

While hiring a VLSI engineer, these companies look for strong fundamen-tals in basic electronics and semiconductor concepts like system design, timing and semiconductor physics. They also look for good knowledge of languages like VHDL, Verilog, Spec-man and System Verilog, as well as good programming skills and scripting abilities. In lateral hires, they look for strong domain-understanding or sec-tor-specific knowledge, as the industry is moving towards vertical offerings in chip design.

Surinder Bhagat, country HR manager, Freescale Semiconductor India, says, “We prefer an educational back-ground of BE/B.Tech, ME/M.Tech or PhD with specialization in electronics, telecommunications, electrical or VLSI domain. Typically, these professionals should have hands-on experience in systems design, digital ASIC design, physical design, mixed-signal IC design, VHDL or very high-speed inte-grated circuit, VLSI design, circuit design and simulations, microcontrollers, digital PCB design and routing.”

The challenges

Going by the projections of high demand and shortage of manpower, it is the right time to enter this industry and get benefits in the future. According to Dr Subbarangaiah, director, VEDA IIT, “Even though around 250,000 engineers are graduating in electronics and other related streams every year, less than 3 per cent of them are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed for the VLSI industry.”

To add to this, the demand is constantly increasing. There is an acute shortage of skilled engineers, particularly for physical design and analogue design. With the technology advancing at a fast pace, it makes sense to undergo technical training in working with nanotechnology to become industry-ready. The training institute should have access to advanced technology libraries, designs, industry-standard sign-off EDA tools and design flows. There are not many institutes that can train the students in such niche areas in spite of their special manpower development programme.

READ
BASIC ELECTRONICS COURSES CAN BE OF HELP

Says Bhagat, “We are constantly looking to hire both fresh and experienced talent to meet demand. If academia can help the industry by introducing courses designed to help freshers become productive right from day one in the company, it can help the industry as the employer saves six to nine months, which otherwise are spent on training. It is very important that the industry and academia come together on a platform where they can exchange dialogue and design the right curriculum for the students.

”Kathuria suggests a way forward: “A person who wishes to design ASICs will require extensive training in the field of VLSI design. But we cannot possibly expect that a large number of people would wish to un-dergo such training. Also, the process of training these people will itself entail large investments in terms of time and money. This means there has to be a system that can abstract out all the details of VLSI, and allows the user to think in simple system-level terms.”

How much remuneration to expect?

The industry offers good compensation to experienced candidates. Generally, salaries are based on the individual skillsets and qualification. According to Aaghoramoorthy, this is a market known for dynamic shifts in technology and hence engineers with experience in working with newer design and verification methodologies are in high demand.

In the long run, engineers who have built strong domain skills and possess strong fundamental knowledge of circuit, logic design or verification are valued, since they can quickly learn the electronics tool related aspects.

“An engineer starting his career with a bachelor’s degree can expect an annual package of Rs 400,000 to 700,000. Many companies give higher salaries to engineers with M.Tech or PhD based on their continual performance, knowledge and competence. One can expect a steep growth in remuneration as well as roles and responsibilities. For example, a fresher can easily move up to become a team leader or project manager in a span of seven to ten years. Typically, fresh college graduates join as a design engineer and continue to grow their skill level over next six to twelve months in design methodology, along with working on other design projects,” says Bhagat.

Agarwal classifies the pay pack-ages according to recruiters from the embedded industry: “Companies which are large in terms of revenue or client base and have already set a global landmark—for example, Intel, Tata Elxsi, Synopsys, IBM, Xilinx, Windriver and Texas Instruments—offer anywhere between Rs 400,000 and 500,000 per annum to fresh engineering graduates. Other companies having a decent revenue inflow—for example, Coreel Technologies, Moschip, Radel, PACE, eInfochips and Arada Systems—offer anywhere between Rs 250,000 and 350,000 per annum. Another category of companies comprises small set-ups or start-ups that are catching up well with the market—for example, Riversilica, Fossilshale, Saankhya, Whizchip and Accord. These offer anywhere between Rs 150,000 and 250,000 per annum, depending on the calibre of the candidate.”

Hence there is no doubt that with all the innovation and rapid development, this field offers you ample scope to grow. So if you already enjoy the brainteasers in designing and testing the chips, get set for the strong growth promised by the VLSI industry.


The author is from EFY Bureau, New Delhi

LEAVE A REPLY