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Career Story: Integrated Circuit Design Engineer

Integrated Circuit Design Engineer

Job Title: Integrated Circuit (IC) Design Engineer

Type of Company: My company designs hardware and software for fast internet technology. We usually sell this as intellectual property (IP) that is integrated into our customers products or integrated circuits.

Education: BS, Electrical Engineering, MIT •• MS, Electrical Engineering, MIT •• MBA, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Previous Experience: I started as a member of the technical staff at an aerospace company evaluating bidders on contracts for the Air Force. After a couple of years there, I moved to Polaroid designing integrated circuits for cameras, printers, and scanners. After doing this for 10 years I spent a couple of years working for a semiconductor company addressing issues such as improving design libraries for customers and creating intellectual property (IP) for customers to use in the integrated circuits that were fabricated by us. I've spent the last 11 years of my career at a communications company designing circuits for Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technology, which is used for fast internet access.

Job Tasks: I spend my day 'engineering' solutions for the tasks at hand. Most of my duties involve the architecture, design, and verification of integrated circuits. A particular algorithm can be implemented in hardware or software. The hardware solution will run faster but it is 'fixed' in silicon and is expensive to change. Because of this, the solution must be thoroughly verified via simulation to ensure it will work as desired in the field.

I usually start a design by drawing a block diagram that shows a graphical solution to the problem using building blocks or by creating a state diagram that shows the flow of decisions that have to be made to arrive at the answer. If this higher level drawing makes sense and seems to be a plausible solution to the problem, each block can then be further broken down into smaller pieces. Eventually, the pieces get small enough so they are at the basic building block level of integrated circuits: logic gates or transistors. Simulators exist to take inputs to these basic building blocks and solve the digital or analog equations to allow the engineer to see what the outputs will look like. These can be visually verified for correctness but more likely will be automatically compared by a computer to check against the desired output. Once a very thorough set of simulations has been run to confirm the desired output, the design is considered complete.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best parts of the job are the variety of work, the ability to create solutions and solve problems, and the interactions with other team members to discuss different ideas, learn new things, and create a product that works.

The worst part of the job is that sometimes you can get bogged down in the details of a very complicated project. Engineering is detail-oriented and very precise. There are times where you wish you didn't have to verify and check items over and over as you work towards the final solution.

Job Tips:
1. You should be well versed in (and like) math and science.

2. You should be extremely well-organized.

3. You need to continuously learn new ideas. Technology is always changing and you have to stay current in engineering if you want to stay employed. The older you get, the harder it is to stay current.

Additional Thoughts: You should be inquisitive and like the know why things work the way they do. You should have the ability to concentrate for a long time on difficult and/or tedious tasks. You need to be able to work as a team player in most engineering jobs but you also need to be able to work independently. If I could change one thing, I would have tried to get more exposure to different career opportunities while in college and talked more to professors to see what research they were doing and if I could help. I got a bit lucky in that a course I took my last semester resonated with me and basically led me to my career in integrated circuits.

The most important qualities are industriousness and the ability to get along with colleagues.

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