Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Electronics Engineer

Get the Cutting Edge With EDA
There are just a handful of industries where employee is the king, literally. Electronic design automation is surely one of those. Engineers who make a career in EDA tools design enjoy an edge over the rest in other industries

Diksha P Gupta

(Image courtesy: http://dev.fansshare.com)

“Electronic design automation (EDA) is a growing sector in India”—experts in the EDA sector convey this message loud and clear. So the demand for EDA engineers is also going up. EDA certainly doesn’t offer as many jobs as an IT company would, but it surely offers good money—in fact, higher than in any other engineering-based industry.

Sunil Pathak, director, human resources, Cadence Design Systems (I), says, “Last year the semiconductor industry grew at about 20 per cent. But things may have changed this year because of the global economic pressure. But today I assume that the industry would grow at about 10-15 per cent, which is also no less. With the growth in semiconductor and VLSI industries in India, demand for EDA engineers is increasing year after year. This is a positive sign for the engineers who want to make a career in electronics. We are reaching out to the campuses to hire the cream talent from engineering colleges for the highly paid EDA jobs.”

So if you think that a successful career is one that earns you good money, EDA is one of the best options for you.

Here begins the challenge...

There are no free lunches in this commercial world. For someone who wants to make career in designing of EDA tools, the challenge begins with getting admission in a good engineering institution.

Raghu Panicker, sales director, India, Mentor Graphics, says “People willing to make career in EDA should get into an engineering college where they can try and focus on subjects like digital electronics, analogue devices and microprocessors. Candidates should master these subjects while they are in college and also work on projects based on electronics. It could be a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) project, a front-end project or a backend project. This makes them understand the process thoroughly. A thorough knowledge of subjects like analogue design, digital design and microprocessors is a must. ”

Chandrashekhar Kypa, head of design enabling and services, Infineon Technologies India, explains, “A person who wants to develop a career in EDA domain is expected to be a graduate in electronics with a good knowledge of digital design and C, C++, HDL, VeriLog, System VeriLog, VHDL and other languages on automation side (Python, tickle, etc). An electronics or computer science graduate is what we look for but electronics graduates get a preference for sure. Having a good idea of system-level design modelling is always an advantage.”

Those from electrical domain also find a place in this industry, but electronics and computer engineers dominate.

Projects are a must
Having some practical exposure gives you a leverage in the hiring process.

Where are the jobs?
• EDA companies: Mentor Graphics, Synopsys, Cadence
• Semiconductor companies: STMicroelectronics, Infineon, NXP Semiconductors, Qualcomm, etc
• Electronics system companies (which do system design, PCB design): Freescale, STMicroelectronics, NXP Semiconductors
• Automotive companies: Samsung, LG Electronics, Hyundai
• Telecom companies: Huawei, ZTE, Samsung, LG Electronics
• Consumer electronics companies: Samsung, LG Electronics, Whirlpool, Voltas, Godrej

Panicker explains, “Those willing to make a career in this stream should undertake at least one front-end project or FPGA project while they are in engineering institutes. This will make them understand the VLSI flow.”

But, unfortunately, there is dearth of right education and VLSI labs.

Dr Pradip Dutta, corporate vice president at Synopsys Inc. and managing director of Synopsys (India), emphasises, “There is definitely dearth of good teachers in this space. The reason is that everyone who comes in the industry wants to go and work in a multinational and nobody wants to teach. They find better growth prospects in working in multinational companies rather than teaching in colleges. Also, there is lack of good VLSI labs, but the situation is improving with time.”

Thankfully, the industry is coming forward to provide assistance. Panicker shares, “The industry is providing students the right kind of tools and setting up labs so that they can have a hands-on experience of the EDA tools. For example, STMicroelectronics came up with the idea to improve the situation in the engineering colleges that we hire from. We jointly approached IIT Delhi and told them that we want to run certain programmes for the seventh-semester and eighth-semester students. We started running programmes and courses for these students, which enabled students to do projects. At this stage in the engineering courses, students are expected to do projects which are industry-worthy. This makes the students ready with minimum requirement of understanding the processes required to make them employable in companies like ours.”

Get industry-ready before getting on the job

The syllabus in your college is not enough to fetch you a job in the EDA industry. You need to have an extra bit to get selected. There are training institutes like EFY Tech Center which provide hands-on training in VLSI courses, making you industry-ready.

Dutta clarifies, “Finishing schools do have a role in the lives of EDA engineers, the reason being many of the graduates from the institutes are not ready for the industry. For those who want to specialise in a particular area like verification of circuits or work in digital implementation, there are some high-end finishing schools in the VLSI sector. They offer a six-month to one-year course, which helps the candidates become industry-ready and make a career in EDA.”

Panicker adds, “Students after finishing their courses go to these training institutes and learn the semiconductor processes. These are the likes of NIIT and Aptech that are teaching the software part of it. So even though the engineers learn computer engineering in the engineering colleges, they still undergo some training from these institutions. Similarly, in our space, there are companies like RV VLSI and Sandeepani. Most engineers undergo a diploma programme of 3-4 months after their degree, to get equipped in the VLSI and semiconductor flow. They are then ready to be hired by VLSI companies like Wipro and Qualcomm.”

Some companies too put the freshers on a learning plan. Cadence offers on-job training for three to six months.

Pathak says, “EDA is a very different segment altogether so we definitely need to acclimatise people and align them with what EDA is all about. That takes a little bit of its own time. With time, they get into the normal cycle. So that’s how we move ahead in terms of our fresher hiring. And then there is lateral hiring, where companies reach out to the market and hire people for specific skillsets and certain job levels which include mid-level and senior-level positions as well.”

The road ahead

While hiring, the EDA industry looks for brains. Pathak explains: “EDA is a very niche segment. So the hiring is very qualitative. We surely do not hire in thousands like any other IT company but we pick the crème of talent. We cannot and do not hire anyone and everyone. The candidate has to be the best in terms of his knowledge to fit into an EDA job.”

KiCad EDA software suite

Broadly, career in EDA tool design can be divided into front-end and back-end roles.

Panicker explains, “Those who want to take up a front-end career should explore a little bit of the architectural standpoint. Let’s suppose he or she wants to design a microprocessor. They should scale up a bit to understand the architecture. Those who are doing the backend need not understand the architecture. For them, the domain shifts a bit from that standpoint. Whether you handle the front-end or back-end, there are immense opportunities in India.”

You have to clear tests, sometimes several stages of tests, to reach this stage. Pathak explains: “Cadence has a three-tier process which involves written exam, analytical exam and interviews. I think the degree of complexity of problems during the examination helps us filter the right kind of people. The criteria are very rigid.”

Moving up the ladder

An EDA engineer begins his career as a software engineer and can choose between two verticals for growth: technical and managerial. In the hardcore technical space, he becomes an individual contributor and reaches up to the level of an architect. An architect is someone who conceptualises and shows directions to an organisation as to how it should think about its products and helps in drawing out a vision.

The managerial role is a combination of technical and managerial skills. Here one gets the opportunity to lead projects and people.

If you want customer interactions as well, you can go for applications engineering.

It is worth mentioning here that every company has different job titles. Cadence is a ten-level organisation. Level 1 is where the engineers start from and Level 10 is where they can head the company too.

As far as pay packages are concerned, it’s a niche industry in this respect too. EDA being all about qualitative work, pay packages ought to be high in this industry. For beginners, the package can range from Rs 600,000 to Rs 900,000. Of course, it varies from company to company, and includes both graduates and postgraduates. Obviously, a differential is maintained between plain B.Tech candidates and B.Tech with M.Tech candidates.  

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