Chip Your Way Through!

Published Date
01 - Sep - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Sep - 2006
Chip Your Way Through!
Chip designing in India began when Texas Instruments started its operations in 1985 in Bangalore. Many multinational companies have since followed, and there are quite a few Indian companies that have also begun VLSI chip designing. We now have home-grown intellectual property, including digital, analogue, mixed-signal, and RF technologies being developed to meet the demands of electronics manufacturing companies from around the globe.

Outsourcing chip design from the US was done for the advantages of lower overheads and labour costs. Also, time-to-market integrated device manufacturers and ASIC (Application-Specific Integrated Circuit) vendors utilise the expert services of integrated design houses to design their chips.

Atul Arora, President-Commercial Relations, ARM Embedded Technologies Pvt Ltd, says, "The advantage ARM has by having operations in India is the ability to tap into the talent pool of Indian engineers. That gives us the long-term investment ability to nurture and train engineers in ARM-based architecture for the development of innovative products."

About 120 semiconductor players engaged in chip designing are contributing to the Indian industry. According to a report by The ISA and Frost & Sullivan, the Indian chip design industry is expected to derive an output of more than Rs 150 crore in the financial year 2005-06. So what does it take to get into this field? What options are available? Let's have a quick look.

The Basic Requirements
The chip design industry is still in its early stages, and is set to grow. An important aspect is that in this field, demand is higher than supply-a rarity indeed. "The first and foremost requisite (to enter this field) is to have an early understanding of the industry, rather than just deciding to become a VLSI design engineer after graduation. Most of the people who enter this industry have an engineering degree with an electronics specialisation. There is a small need for people with computer science and other specialisations as well," says Raghuram Tupuri, General Manager-Microprocessor Solutions, AMD India Engineering Center.

Chip design is a highly specialised and challenging field that involves working with sophisticated design tools, chip architectures and test methods. "Aspirants are expected to have an immense interest in and passion for the field, with a good understanding of semiconductor physics. Besides this, good logical thinking capacity and the aptitude to carry on high-intensity work is expected," says Praveen Vishakantaiah, senior manager, Digital Enterprise group, Intel.

Chip design companies look for undergraduates (B. Tech.), post-graduates (M. Tech.), and/or research-level scholars with a specialisation either in electronics, microelectronics & VLSI design, electrical engineering, or computer science and instrumentation. Candidates should have opted for one Hardware Description Language-VERILOG or VHDL-in their course of study. Sound knowledge of assembly-level programming and C programming is necessary. The most preferred qualification by the industry is an M. Tech. in Microelectronics and VLSI. Graduates from different engineering domains can also undergo post-graduation training courses provided by institutes-private and government-that offer short-term courses in VLSI design.

"Engineering graduates who have strong fundamentals of electrical or electronics engineering make good VLSI chip designers"

Sanjay Bhan, General manager, HR - Shared Services, Texas Instruments India

Obviously, certifications play a major role during the recruitment screening process. Companies prefer to employ engineers with a strong electronics background and who have studied VLSI design as a subject. "An electronics engineer will definitely have an edge over a computer science major in the recruitment procedure, simply because we look for their practical skills towards designing chips. Freshers are expected to have good fundamentals of what they have studied," says Aruna Padmanabhan, HR Director - India, Freescale Semiconductor.

Here's a list of some of the top places that offer courses in VLSI Design and allied fields, as recommended by most VLSI chip design companies.

IIT Kharagpur: Dept. of Electronics and Electrical Communication Engineering:
Post-graduate course in microelectronics and VLSI design, short term course on VLSI signal processing
IIT Delhi: Dept. of Electrical Engineering: Post-graduate course in integrated electronics and circuits; an interdisciplinary M. Tech. programme. Participating departments: Dept. of Computer Science and Engg, Dept. of Electrical Engg, Centre for Applied Research in Electronics
IIT Bombay: Dept. of Electrical Engineering: Post-graduate course in microelectronics and VLSI
IIT Chennai: Dept. of Electrical Engineering: Course in microprocessors, digital and analogue systems, VLSI design
IIT Kanpur: Dept. of Electrical Engineering: Post-graduate course in VLSI system design
IIT Guwahati: Dept. of Electronics and Communication Engineering: Post-graduate course in VLSI and signal processing
IIT Madras: Dept. of Electrical Engineering: Post-graduate course in microelectronics and VLSI design
IIT Rourkee: Dept. of Electronics and Computer Engineering: Post-graduate course in semiconductor devices and VLSI
NIT Silchar: Dept. of Electronics and Telecommunication: undergraduate course in computer science and engineering
NIT Calicut: Dept. of Electronics Engineering: Post-graduate course in microelectronics and VLSI
NIT Karnataka: Dept. of Electronics and Communication Engineering: Post-graduate course in microelectronics
NIT Trichy: Dept. of Electronics and Communication Engineering: Post-graduate course in VLSI systems
BITS, Pilani: Post-graduate course in microelectronics
BIT, Mesra: Dept. of Electronics and Communication Engineering: Post-graduate course in instrumentation
and control

Other institutes that offer short-term courses in the VLSI domain:
Bitmapper (Pune): Diploma in VLSI design
CDAC Advanced Computing Training School: Diploma in VLSI
V3Logic (Bangalore): Diploma in VLSI design
Accel Ltd (Chennai): Post-graduate diploma in VLSI design
Benns Technologies (Bangalore): Part-time / Full-time course in VLSI
Calorex (Ahmedabad): Course in VLSI ASIC chip design
Vedant (Chandigarh, Lucknow): Course in front-end and back-end design including Analogue & Mixed Signal design
Sandeepani (Bangalore, Hyderabad): Post-graduate diploma in VLSI design, corporate training, workshop and seminars, and on-site customised training

To reach every Regional Engineering College campus is time consuming and costly, so semiconductor companies have joined hands to form a common platform to recruit design engineers.

"Initiatives like Si-Quest (in association with Campus-Connect by ISA) act as a common platform for semiconductor companies and universities. Through such programs, students get the leverage of internships, sponsored programmes and placements," says Raj Khare, MD India, Broadcom Corporation.

The companies have set a minimum cut-off percentage (40 per cent) for candidates from any institute, for the written tests and personal interviews. The technical test focuses on digital/analogue design fundamentals or software-usually C, algorithms and data structures-depending on the candidate's areas of interest and the positions available. Also, a typical aptitude test is taken. Besides this, interviewers check for basic electric and logic design knowledge. Good communication skills are a must, as is the ability to work in a team.

For experienced candidates, hands-on knowledge is also tested, on the basis of the candidate's area of interest and the capacity to work on highly complex designs and architectures.

What Comes Next?
Once absorbed into the field, one will have to undergo rigorous training programmes before handling complex design architectures of chips, or getting one's hands on design tools. The initial training period ranges from six weeks to a year, depending on the company and their area of operations.

Rahul Arya, Marketing Director-India and Saarc, Cadence Design Systems, says, "At Cadence, we have a well-structured assimilation programme, which includes gap analysis (a business assessment tool for comparison of actual performance with the potential performance). In addition, all freshers have a 'mentor' assigned to them, who guides the new employee through his or her first few weeks at Cadence, to make the assimilation process quick and smooth."

Training programs are undertaken at various levels. For example, specific orientation happens for freshers in terms of the RTL (Register Transfer Level) languages, RTL coding guidelines, and specific tool usage. During the technical training, designers have to work on circuit designs, circuit layouts, signal processing (analogue, digital, mixed), chip architecture, logics, etc.

"Organisations mostly focus on EDA (Electronic Design Automation) tool training to provide insights into chip design, and undertake training programmes in partnership with specialist companies like Cadence, Magma, Synopsis, Mentor and others," says Praveen Acharaya, VP, Semiconductor Solution Group, KPIT Cummins Infosystems Ltd.

"While hiring designing talents, we look for... the individual's demonstrativeness, creativity, innovativeness, and passion for designing"

Praveen Vishakantaiah, Senior Manager, Digital Enterprise Group, Intel India Development Center

Multinational companies such as Texas Instruments, Intel, AMD, Broadcom, Cadence and others send promising freshers as well as experienced employees for training or work on projects outside India. Designers thus get to enhance their skills. Companies like Intel believe that their design engineers should be exposed to corporate culture as well.

Summing It Up
Wipro has more than 1,450 chip designers, Sasken has 350, and ARM India has 200 engineers-and they're all looking for more. According to a report by The ISA and Frost & Sullivan, the semiconductor and embedded industry is projected to bloom from $3.25 billion in 2005 to $43.7 billion by 2015. There's already a dearth of highly-skilled chip design engineers, and the needs are only going to rise-which works out perfect for interested candidates. The future of Indian chip designers looks good, and we're already getting our space on the global map. Don't get left behind!

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