Like most youngsters, Sumit is fond of cell-phones. He has changed three handsets in the past year alone. Though to him, it is not just about flaunting the gadget. His curiosity takes him beneath the screen, into the mechanics of it – into the software design. The software that finally decides what kind of functions his phone has. Someday he would like to design a phone that can club the functions of al his favorite handsets. This is one of the many jobs of embedded design. From your laptop to the gaming console to the microwave in the kitchen, nearly every piece of electronic equipment has embedded technology running it.
It’s a sunrise sector and India the hub for Embedded Design.
How do I progress faster in this profession?
One needs to be a sound electronic and communications engineer and after the industry training, what helps one is one’s own eagerness to learn more about the technology and apply it as well. An advanced VLSI (Very Large Scale Integration) certification can help.
Where am I ten years from now?
Possible to be Project manager / Team Leader wit a team of engineers working under oneself. The design of the chip produced by the team becomes your responsibility.
What’s in it for me?
Most firms have two growth ladders – one is the management ladder, the other is the technology ladder. The remuneration growth is similar until the level of the Vice-President. One usually enters the industry at Rs. 4-5 lakhs. In seven years’ time it can grow to upto 14 lakhs.
What is it?
While it all starts with a new chip and the software in it, embedded design does not end there. Rather the production of a chip is just the beginning of innovations. The same chip can be used on different circuit-bonds to produce everything from a piece of medical equipment, a highly sophisticated weapon to the very homely set-top box!
To assemble such a fundamental component of our daily lives requires fascinating and complex tools, namely, electronic design automation (EDA) tools. If slicing, analyzing and understanding technology gives you a kick, then breaking down an EDA tool or rather putting one together can be a love story by itself.
Key Drivers Of Growth
Embedded design is all about designing new software and putting together the hardware to execute it all. The field is wide and grew by 30 percent on a year-on-year basis in 2006-07 – from $4.6 billion (Rs. 240 billion) to $6 billion (Rs. 184 billion). Embedded software contributed $4.9 billion (Rs. 196 billion) and employed 106,000 engineers, accounting for 82 percent of the total embedded design services workforce, according to an industry report.
Why is it needed?
Recession has taken its toll on this industry. As the sales of home appliances dropped, so did the demand for the chips inside them. The industry believes that a recovery looks likely only by mid-2010. While there will be a fresh demand for already-existing electronic goods, there is a next generation of chips that is already on the table. Chips of the future will help us improve the efficiency of generating electricity more effectively from sunlight, water currents and any other renewable energy source. Medical equipment to mobile phone gaming, all of these will improve. And chips that might just extend the science of motion-gaming to a whole new array of products.
Earlier, and to a large extent even today, companies like Intel and Texas Instruments, two of the largest employers in the sector, would get the design for a product from Europe or the US. India would just be the ground for design execution or software development. But as the Indian market grows in size and importance, products are being designed especially for the Indian consumer.
One of the more common examples being the set-top box: What started with one state, i.e., Tamil Nadu’s experiment with the cable network, has now spread out to be an entire market in itself. Tata was the first entrant followed by Reliance, Airtel and Sun Direct. At the time of its launch, India did not have the capacity either to design or manufacture the integrated circuits (ICs) required in the set top boxes (STB). Import was the only route. But as more market players entered the fray, the demand for a home-grown product increased. Te result – the STM 5107 from ST Microelectronics, a geode processor from National Semiconductor and Broadcom’s system-on-a-chip (SoC) solution – all these chips developed right here at the Indian Design Centre and already in use by various set-top box providers. Market researcher Instant says that by 2012, India’s pay-TV market is expected to reach 90 million subscribes. It estimates upwards of $1.0 billion worth of market for STB ICs by the year 2012.
Any of the above-mentioned chip manufacturers provide their buyers months. Since I have to constantly improve my self, everyday 20-30 percent of my time is spent on learning new things. There’s never any monotony.
Sometimes, to work on specific projects, one also goes outside the country. I have already been to Korea, Spain and the U.S.
What are your three or four attributes which you think have really helped you in this career? What advice would you give based on this to people?
To job requires constant learning and hence one has to be diligent, patient, and always eager to learn.
Are there things one could do to grow faster in this profession?
There’s only one thing you can do- learn, learn and learn. There are no short cuts here. One usually starts as a project manager and then moves on to become a developer, may be in 6-7 years time a team leader and then in 10 years time you can become a project manager. One has to keep specializing in solving bottle necks in designing and the only thing that helps is learning and applying that learning. Hence, no shortcuts.
How easy is it to change careers after some time? Are there natural cross roads? What are some usual transitions people make/can make?
The career choices that you can make, one gets to make right at the beginning. As the fresher you can choose to enter any o the embedded design industries. But then the software design of most products is very specific to that product. Maybe one can jump between companies if both of them make the same type of product, say cell phones, but beyond that one does not have much flexibility. Though there are opportunities to switch to the management side of the firm you are working in. On the technology side, one switch that is possible at a later stage is the switch from the chip design industry to the EDA tool industry. Otherwise it makes sense to become a domain expert.
What future prospects do you see in this career? What are the emerging hot areas within this sector/profession?
There are constant product innovations that are required and hence there is constant scope for growth. For example, when the iPhone was launched, other companies wanted to make phones that could provide even more functions than the iPhone and yet have an equally eye-catching interface. Similarly for phones at the lower end, companies require a product differentiator and hence the growth in the sector is assured.
- Trainee – 3-4.5 lakhs
- Mid-level – 8-14 lakhs
- Project Manager – 16-20 lakhs per annum
Please note: These figures do not represent the compensation package of any one company. It is an approximate based on discussions with experts across companies.
Rahul Hakhoo is one of those rare people who has been in the semiconductor business for nearly 25 years. He started his career in 1985 as a test engineer with the then only Indian semiconductor firm Semiconductors complex (est. 1982), Chanidgarh. Today he is the designate group manager, computer communication infrastructure at ST Microelectronics, one of the leading semiconductor makers in the country. He gives you his perspective as a representative of an employer.
What kind of professionals do you have/hire in this particular areas:
– At entry level
– At middle level
We largely hire fresh graduates. It makes sense as we need professionals trained according to the needs of our industry. And hence to put them in sync with the industry we give them the initial training. No Indian institute specifically trains for semiconductors. That doesn’t mean the institutes aren’t good. Rather they train them to fit in any engineering environment. As far as we are concerned, we pick up largely electronic and communication engineers.Since the industry is so specialized, it is extremely rare that we pick up anyone from outside the industry at the mid-level.
What is a typical path(s) in your organization?
Typically one is hired as a design engineer and then the person works and learns at this level for 2-3 years; after this, one can become a senior design engineer. The distinction being in terms of responsibility and of course pay. One can reach up to the level of a team leader after about 10 years.
Are these career paths fairly representative? Are there any other major alternative pats in other kind of organizations?
The whole industry is a knowledge-intensive industry. Hence the career path is pretty much the same in the entire industry. No one moves up without learning and executing substantially. Though after 4-5 years, when someone does learn the craft of chip-making, one can switch to the EDA tool-making as they have to make very precise instruments. These instruments are in turn used to make chips. Hence it helps to have people who have made chips on-board.
How does compensation and responsibility typically grow over time?
We design chips for a number of industries, such as auto, telecom, medicine, and for each of the chips that are underway, there are various teams working on them. The design engineer is a small but significant part of several such small teams. Overtime, he gains more responsibility within such teams and in 9-10 years time he leads his own team of design engineers. At the level you have 6-7 designers under you and your salary has gone up from 4-5 lakhs at the beginning to 15-16 lakhs.
What kind of skills and aptitude do you look for / consider important to succeed in this career?
The engineer should basically understand semiconductors and should have a good understanding of physics, mathematics and electronics. The knowledge of computer languages is not really stressed. Apart from this, the professional should be willing to learn constantly, as learning and its application will be tested constantly.
How do you see the future potential for professionals in this area? What are the main drivers that determine how this sector/profession grows? Are you expecting some major shifts/changes, challenges and developments?
Currently, the industry has been hit by the recession quite badly. In my 25 years experience I have seen 8 or 9 downturns but this has been the worst. Though as things turn around, the industry will see growth once again.
There are a lot of technological bottlenecks that currently exist – bottlenecks that can be addressed through new and innovative chip designs. The two fields of research and application that are specially going to lead the boom are motion-sensing (MEMS) technologies and green technologies. While motion sensing will most likely produce better bio-medical equipments, efforts are on to produce chips that will help generate electricity more efficiently from renewable energy sources.
Are there things one could do to progress and grow faster in this profession?
That’s huge problem amongst youngsters these days. All they want to do is to grow fast. Until recently when the economy was doing well, the attrition rate was extremely high. So many people would keep jumping from one semiconductor firm to another. Money was a huge draw. Right now, every one is lying low.
In or company we have two growth ladders – one is called the technology ladder, the other the managerial ladder. Almost everyone wants to jump to the managerial ladder as they want to grow to take control. But they forget that the future in this industry lies in understanding a particular technology and then becoming a domain expert. With time, as the industry specializes, the demand for domain experts is going to increase. Hence the pay for such people would increase too. So engineers need not abandon their love for technology to earn more. One should focus in growing in the direction of expertise.
But if its is all about specialization, then how easy is it to change careers after some time? Are there natural cross-roads? What are some usual transitions people make/can make?
The only natural cross road I can think of is that of switching from the chip design industry to the EDA tool industry. Apart from that, it is an industry for those that are interested in applied research. People who are patient and diligent and want constantly to be on the cutting edge of technology. As I said earlier, they can become domain experts after spending a long time, and the industry needs such people.
Are there some institutions/ universities/ courses where you have generally found better candidates for you company?
Well, we do go to the IITs and the NITs to pick up the electronic and communication engineers. Apart from that, there are also some good private engineering colleges that give out good students.
One of the major risks in this career is the fact that it can be a little too specialized. If one wants to switch to some other industry, this can be difficult. In the first few years one can get to know if one is suited for the industry or not. That is the right time to make a jump, before specialization sets in and hence one’s skill remains suited to the particular industry.
Schools/certifications to consider
- Centre for Electronics Design and Technology Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore – 25 courses in different aspects of Embedded Design
- Visvesvaraya national Institute of Technology, Nagpur – Master of Technology (MTech), Electronic Embedded System (Two Year Course)
- Sastra University, Tirumalaisamudram, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu – M.E. Embedded Systems Technology (Two Year Course)
- Anna University, Chennai – M.E. Embedded Systems Technologies
- Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi – Certificate course on embedded systems and applications in telecom and multimedia (One-month course for engineering graduates)
- Centre for Development of Advanced Computing, Hyderabad – Full time diploma in embedded systems design (five-month course for engineering Graduates in Specific Fields)