Are you a student of electronics engineering? If so, perhaps you have been exposed to the preliminary levels of integrated circuits (ICs) involving small-scale integration (SSI) circuits like logic gates or medium-scale integration (MSI) circuits like multiplexers and parity encoders. There is, however, a much bigger world out there involving miniaturisation at levels so great that even a micrometre or a microsecond is consid ered a huge measure! This is the world of VLSI—very large-scale integration. Let’s figure out the opportunities in this field for professionals with subject-matter expertise in electronics.

Where is the demand?

Programmable logic devices, hardware description languages and design tools of today have changed the circuit design process to such an extent that it has become totally independent of the actual device manufacturing issues. According to India Semiconductor Association (ISA), the Indian semiconductor and embedded design industry is expected to earn revenues of $43 billion in 2015—a marked increase from the $5.9 billion it earned in 2008.

In the present scenario, VLSI circuits are designed at one or more locations across the globe and finally manufactured at a different, distant location. This outsourcing aspect of VLSI design is attracting major international players in this field to India. Companies like Intel, Texas Instruments, IBM, Philips, Motorola, SGS-Thompson, Mentor Graphics and Cirrus Logic, to name a few, have already set up their design centres in India. India has some 9500 chip designers working for 300+ companies, and their ranks are swelling by 20 per cent a year. It has a unique advantage with respect to both the talent and market opportunities it provides.

The major recruiters in this fields are Texas Instruments, PMC Sierra, Infineon, Alliance Semiconductor, Analog Devices, Cadence, Synopsys, Mentor Graphics, Celox Networks, Cisco, Control Net, Cypress, DSPG, HCL, Intel, Lucent, Micron Tech, National Semiconductor, Motorola, Philips Semiconductor, Qualcomm, Sasken, C2C, Atrenta, Conexant, Moschip, Cradle Tech, Synplicity, STM, Paxonet, Wipro, TCS, eInfochips, Ishoni Networks and CGCoreEL.

What roles are in demand?

Though there is scope for fast growth in this area, the aspirants have to be competent, hardworking and constant learners. The main job functions are engineering aspects of design, product, test, applications and process. Product engineering and test engineering functions are often combined
efficiently into one role because of the interdependency and overlap of skills and tasks.

Expert speak

C.P. Ravikumar, technical director-university relation, Texas Instruments (TI) India, spoke about the gap between industry requirements and candidate skill sets, selection criteria for fresh recruits and need of specialised knowledge training for aspirants. Excerpts

Do you feel that there is a gap between industry requirements and candidate skill sets?
We do see a gap in areas such as VLSI design and embedded systems software, which are TI India’s focus areas. In particular, getting people in analogue design is a challenge.

What skills are required?
The skill sets are quite varied. I can speak on behalf of TI India, which mainly focuses on VLSI design and embedded software. VLSI design is an area where progresses are rapid. There are two main aspects in VLSI design, namely, front-end and back-end. Front-end design includes digital design using hardware description languages, design verification through simulation and formal verification techniques, synthesis of digital designs to gates, and design for testability. Since SoC (system-on-chip) design today happens through a process of integration of existing IP blocks, the engineers must have a good knowledge of computer architecture, different IPs such as DMA controllers and USB controllers, and bus protocols such as OCP. The VLSI design engineer must have exposure to fundamental concepts as well as familiarity with tools and design flows. Universities, on the contrary, tend to provide an overview of all the aspects of VLSI design. This is one reason why managers may complain that engineers are not production-ready. Having more MS and Ph.D students should help to alleviate this problem. Further, to practice VLSI design, which is mainly orchestrated through automated flows, the engineer must know quite a bit of UNIX utilities and productivity-enhancement tools such as Perl. Analogue design is a competency which requires a deep understanding of mathematical concepts of circuit design, network analysis and control theory. Getting campus-hires for analogue design is a big challenge. Back-end design consists of CMOS library design and characterisation, physical design (floor-planning, placement and routing), design for manufacturability, packaging, test generation and fault simulation. A good understanding of power dissipation in circuits is important from the viewpoint of controlling the dynamic and static power dissipation. Issues such as on-chip variability of transistor parameters and design for manufacturability are becoming important in modern CMOS technologies.

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