Today, VLSI devices are found everywhere around us. We find advanced VLSI chips in our cars, cell phones, household appliances, cameras, medical devices and many other places. This rapidly evolving sector offers exciting opportunities in verification based jobs for those with strong fundamentals in electronic circuit design and hardware description languages, interest in VLSI design and verification and more importantly, the skill to put know-how of VLSI concepts to practice.
With the advances being made in technologies like process geometries, feature and product innovations on a daily basis, there is a constant need to design, develop and re-engineer integrated circuits (ICs). Since products like mobile phones are being released with new features in increasingly shorter cycles, there is a healthy demand for qualified very large scale integration (VLSI) engineers to work on these products. Therefore there is good scope for a career in the VLSI industry.
Opportunities in VLSI field
The VLSI field offers exciting growth opportunities for engineers who are strong in electronic design fundamentals, have an interest in VLSI design and verification and know how to apply VLSI concepts to practice. Harish Mysore, director, India operations, Global IEEE Institute for Engineers Private Limited, informs, “In the VLSI chip design and verification alone, 20,000 to 30,000 engineers are currently employed with over 200,000 engineers working in the broader semiconductor industry, including embedded systems development and board-level hardware design.”
According to Vivek Madhukar, COO, TimesJobs.com, VLSI professionals are always in high demand in the fast-changing chip designing industry. There are over 150 companies catering to this industry, including big names like Texas Instruments, Infineon, Freescale Semiconductor, Cadence, HCL, Intel, Lucent, Motorola, Philips Semiconductor, Qualcomm, Sasken, Conexant, Wipro and TCS, to name a few. He says, “A career in one of these companies is highly sought after and developing VLSI skills is a good way to make this dream a reality.”
It is not easy to get into design
On the flip side, scope for a career in the design side of VLSI industry is currently somewhat limited as compared to other areas, feels Subhajit Sen, associate professor, International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore, for three particular reasons. One, VLSI or chip design requires a deeper level of knowledge and skills than other electronics related fields. Two, VLSI chip design is expensive and requires access to high- cost, specialised electronic design automation (EDA) tools. Last, VLSI fabrication/prototyping is expensive and there is no commercial VLSI semiconductor manufacturing facility (foundry) in India.
K. Srinivasa Raju, CEO, Unistring Tech Solutions Pvt Ltd, informs that there are very few openings for jobs in analogue designing in the VLSI industry. He says, “The expectations in terms of the know-how of analogue complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) designs/issues are very high, which makes it difficult to get into analogue based VLSI companies. Most of the companies prefer to take M.Techs from only reputed institutes such as NITs/IITs.”
However, Sen believes, as India expands its electronics system design and manufacturing (ESDM) capabilities, the number of job opportunities is expected to grow in the VLSI design area.
Mostly verification based jobs in India
Jobs in this industry are broadly distributed in four areas: FPGA based embedded system design, embedded based small FPGA application development, application specific integrated circuits (ASIC) based designs and VLSI verification for FPGAs/ASICs/embedded based designs.
“Most of the jobs in the VLSI industry in India are verification based, particularly for ASIC designs,” informs Raju. To get into such companies, one must be good in SystemVerilog and unified verification methodology (UVM) or open verification methodology (OVM).” He adds, “Most of these verification based companies prefer M.Tech graduates specialised in VLSI design.”
Good opportunities for fresh graduates
There are many career opportunities in the VLSI industry today, especially at the entry-level roles targeted at fresh engineering graduates. “One needs to understand that VLSI, as seen from textbooks, is not just limited to that. Skills such as digital domain and VHDL/Verilog HDL languages can be acquired that are used in FPGA based embedded system industry and also in ASIC companies,” says Raju.
Excellent fundamentals in digital electronics, topped with knowledge in either VHDL or Verilog HDL, can easily get an engineer a job in FPGA based companies. Especially for an M.Tech graduate in VLSI, at entry level it is highly possible to get an opportunity to work at the design level in the VLSI industry.
Embedded system design companies that develop FPGA based embedded applications also have openings for fresh graduates. Raju notes, “At the entry level, as fresh undergraduates (B.Tech/B.E.), it is comparatively easier to get into FPGA based embedded system companies than ASIC-VHDL/Verilog HDL based companies.”
This field offers fresh engineering graduates opportunities in several stages of the VLSI chip design process too. “The biggest opportunities continue to be in the front-end register transfer level (RTL) design and verification with growing opportunities in logic synthesis and timing analysis, design for testability, physical design and verification, analogue and mixed signal CMOS IC design, CAD tools development, and hardware verification and validation,” according to Mysore.
Fresh graduates also have opportunities in field application engineering, technical support, and marketing and sales.
Although VLSI companies typically hire at M.Tech levels for VLSI design positions, candidates with good fundamentals in electronics, electrical or computer science engineering can find positions in areas such as testing and debugging of VLSI chips, informs Sen. He says, “Embedded software, which involves writing code for microcontrollers/processors embedded within VLSI chips, is also an active area of recruitment.”