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Firstpublishedon:152009

DESIGNYOURCAREERINVERYLARGESCALE
VLSI technology will be propelled by wireless and multimedia communications for the next ten years,
whichwillgivetheindianVLSI/ASICdesigningindustryafillip.Sosecureyourjob,positionandmoolahin
thissector
SUDESHNADAS

Are

you a student of electronics


engineering? If so, perhaps you have been
exposed to the preliminary levels of
integrated circuits (ICs) involving smallscale
integration (SSI) circuits like logic gates or
mediumscale integration (MSI) circuits like
multiplexers and parity encoders. There is,
however, a much bigger world out there
involving miniaturisation at levels so great
that even a micrometre or a microsecond is
consid ered a huge measure! This is the
world of VLSIvery largescale integration.
Lets figure out the opportunities in this field
for
professionals
with
subjectmatter
expertiseinelectronics.

Whereisthedemand?
Programmable logic devices, hardware
description languages and design tools of
todayhavechangedthecircuitdesignprocess
to such an extent that it has become totally
independent
of
the
actual
device
manufacturing issues. According to India
Semiconductor Association (ISA), the Indian
semiconductor and embedded design industry is expected to earn revenues of $43 billion in 2015a marked increase
fromthe$5.9billionitearnedin2008.
Inthepresentscenario,VLSIcircuitsaredesignedatoneormorelocationsacrosstheglobeandfinallymanufacturedat
adifferent,distantlocation.ThisoutsourcingaspectofVLSIdesignisattractingmajorinternationalplayersinthisfield
to India. Companies like Intel, Texas Instruments, IBM, Philips, Motorola, SGSThompson, Mentor Graphics and Cirrus
Logic,tonameafew,havealreadysetuptheirdesigncentresinIndia.Indiahassome9500chipdesignersworkingfor
300+companies,andtheirranksareswellingby20percentayear.Ithasauniqueadvantagewithrespecttoboththe
talentandmarketopportunitiesitprovides.
ThemajorrecruitersinthisfieldsareTexasInstruments,PMCSierra,Infineon,AllianceSemiconductor,AnalogDevices,
Cadence, Synopsys, Mentor Graphics, Celox Networks, Cisco, Control Net, Cypress, DSPG, HCL, Intel, Lucent, Micron
Tech, National Semiconductor, Motorola, Philips Semiconductor, Qualcomm, Sasken, C2C, Atrenta, Conexant, Moschip,
CradleTech,Synplicity,STM,Paxonet,Wipro,TCS,eInfochips,IshoniNetworksandCGCoreEL.

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Whatrolesareindemand?
Though there is scope for fast growth in this area, the aspirants have to be competent, hardworking and constant
learners. The main job functions are engineering aspects of design, product, test, applications and process. Product
engineeringandtestengineeringfunctionsareoftencombined
efficientlyintoonerolebecauseoftheinterdependencyandoverlapofskillsandtasks.

Expertspeak
C.P.Ravikumar,technicaldirectoruniversityrelation,TexasInstruments(TI)India,spokeaboutthegap
betweenindustryrequirementsandcandidateskillsets,selectioncriteriaforfreshrecruitsandneedof
specialisedknowledgetrainingforaspirants.Excerpts
Doyoufeelthatthereisagapbetweenindustryrequirementsandcandidateskillsets?
We do see a gap in areas such as VLSI design and embedded systems software, which are
TIIndiasfocusareas.Inparticular,gettingpeopleinanaloguedesignisachallenge.
Whatskillsarerequired?
The skill sets are quite varied. I can speak on behalf of TI India, which mainly focuses on
VLSI design and embedded software. VLSI design is an area where progresses are rapid.
There are two main aspects in VLSI design, namely, frontend and backend. Frontend
design includes digital design using hardware description languages, design verification
through simulation and formal verification techniques, synthesis of digital designs to gates,
and design for testability. Since SoC (systemonchip) design today happens through a
process of integration of existing IP blocks, the engineers must have a good knowledge of
computer architecture, different IPs such as DMA controllers and USB controllers, and bus
protocols such as OCP. The VLSI design engineer must have exposure to fundamental concepts as well as familiarity
with tools and design flows. Universities, on the contrary, tend to provide an overview of all the aspects of VLSI
design.Thisisonereasonwhymanagersmaycomplainthatengineersarenotproductionready.HavingmoreMSand
Ph.D students should help to alleviate this problem. Further, to practice VLSI design, which is mainly orchestrated
throughautomatedflows,theengineermustknowquiteabitofUNIXutilitiesandproductivityenhancementtoolssuch
as Perl. Analogue design is a competency which requires a deep understanding of mathematical concepts of circuit
design, network analysis and control theory. Getting campushires for analogue design is a big challenge. Backend
design consists of CMOS library design and characterisation, physical design (floorplanning, placement and routing),
design for manufacturability, packaging, test generation and fault simulation. A good understanding of power
dissipation in circuits is important from the viewpoint of controlling the dynamic and static power dissipation. Issues
suchasonchipvariabilityoftransistorparametersanddesignformanufacturabilityarebecomingimportantinmodern
CMOStechnologies.
Whatstheselectioncriteriaforfreshrecruits?
The subject of VLSI design is quite vast. It is not fair to expect both breadth and depth from a fresh recruit. At the
undergraduatelevel,weexpectagoodunderstandingoffundamentalconcepts.Ourcampusrecruitmentisbasedona
written test and an interview. The written test is separate for hardware and software engineers. The hardware paper
hasasectiononaptitude,asectionondigitaldesignand a section on analogue designwe ask the students to select
any one section between digital and analogue design. The software paper has two partsan aptitude section and a
sectiononsoftware.Candidateswhofarewellinthewrittentestareshortlistedforinterview.Frommyexperience,the
interviews are mostly based on problemsolving exercises and test the conceptual understanding rather than rote
learning.WedontpaytoomuchimportancetotheB.Techprojectdonebythestudent.Forpostgraduatestudents,our
process is similar, except that we may go into the M.Tech project/MS thesis/Ph.D thesis. For candidates with a Ph.D
background,wealsoaskforapresentationwhereweinviteourexperts.
Howimportantisspecialisedknowledgetrainingforaspirants?
Specialised knowledge is useful for the engineers to grow inside the company. More than the knowledge itself, the
ability to learn is a more important aspect. This learning can happen from peers, from publications, from attending
meetings and conferences, etc. Many of our engineers express their desire to take up higher studies and this is
encouraged.
Though most of the entrylevel job profiles involve code entry, verification, synthesis and systemlevel engineering
works,thepossibilityofrolediversificationmovingaheadishuge.
The roles are defined depending on the requirements of the job. Typically, a design engineer takes specifications,
defines architecture, designs circuits, runs simulations, supervises layout, tapes out the chip to the foundry and
evaluates the prototype once the chip comes back from the factory. The design role itself offers further classification.
Forexample,whenthemarketingteamtellsacompanywhatproducttodesignforthemarket,thearchitectureteamis
responsiblefordefiningthechipdesign.Youmayworkinsuchateamasachiparchitect.AsanRTLdesigner,youmay
be involved in designing the functions or modules of the chip which are required to perform the welldefined tasks
described by the architecture team. This design is written in a highlevel logic description language such as Verilog or
VHDL.
If you find interest in optimising the existing standard cell library for performance and/or power by optimising circuit
design or design/layout of custom cells like adders and shifters, synthesising the logic description into a circuit
description or producing a document referred to as a netlist, you may start as a circuit designer. As a physical
designer, on the other hand, your responsibilities will include placement and routing of digital blocks and chiplevel
integration.Youhavetotakethenetlistandperformalayoutofthechip.Thislayoutcanbeusedtoproducemasks,
whicharethenusedtomanufacturethechiponasiliconwafer.
Youmaygetinvolvedinaprojectduringthedesignphaseasaproductengineerandensuremanufacturabilitydevelop
characterisation plan, assembly guidelines, quality assurance and reliability plan and also evaluate the chip through
characterisation, reliability qualification and manufacturing yield point of view (statistical data analysis). You will be
responsible for production release as well as for customer returns, failure analysis and corrective actions including
designchangesduringthepostproductionphase.
In a test or verification engineering role, you will have to generate and run tests on the chip to ensure proper

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functionality. It involves development of behavioural models, test benches and simulation environments, module
integration, complete functional and regression test suites, functional coverage analysis and a reusable test
infrastructure.
Applications engineers define new products from a system point of view at the customers end, based on the input
received from marketing. They need to ensure that the chip works in the designed system or used by the customers,
andcomplieswithappropriatestandards(suchasEthernet,SONETandWiFi).Theywillberesponsibleforallcustomer
technical support, firmware development, evaluation boards, datasheets and other product documentation such as
applicationnotes,tradeshows,evaluationreports,softwaredrivesandsoon.
There are also some highly specialised functions like process engineering and packaging engineering. Process
engineeringinvolvesnewwaferprocessdevelopment,devicemodeling,andotherresearchanddevelopmentprojects.A
packagingengineer,ontheotherhand,developsprecisionpackagingtechnologyandnewpackagedesignsforthechips,
characterises new packages and performs modeling of the new designs. Compared to other roles discussed earlier,
therearenoquickrewardsinthesejobs!Ifyouarehighlytrainedinsemiconductordevicesandwillingtoexperiment,
anddonotmindwearingbunnysuits(thecleanroomuniformsusedinallfabs),thesejobsareforyou.
Supportive functions like CAD engineering also demands importance. A CAD engineer is responsible for acquiring,
maintaining or developing all CAD tools used by a design engineer. Most companies buy commercially available CAD
tools for schematic capture, simulation, synthesis, test vector generation, layout, parametric extraction, power
estimationandtimingclosurebutinseveralcases,thesetoolsneedsometypeofcustomisation.ACADengineerneeds
tobehighlyskilledintheuseofthesetools,towritesoftwareroutinestoautomateasmanyfunctionsaspossibleand
haveaclearunderstandingoftheentiredesignflow.

Moolahmatters
Forthoseofyouwhoarealreadyenjoyingthebrainteasersindesigningandtestingthechipswithalltheinnovationand
rapiddevelopment,thisfieldmayprovideunlimitedscopetogrow.LetscheckwhetherVLSIisrewardingnotjustfrom
theintellectualpointofviewbutalsofromthepocketpointofview.
Government or publicsector players offer a starting salary in the range of Rs 8000 to Rs 10,000 per month (excluding
allowances) for diploma holders and Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 for degree holders. The private sector is always ready to
offer more lofty figures for candidates with a suitable exposure. The ability to handle multitasking jobs may be a
definingfactor.Foratypicalfresher,thestartingsalaryisRs300,000upwardsperyeardependingonthecompany,the
need and the skill level demonstrated. Design engineers are the most sought after because of the industrys emphasis
oncontinuousnewproductdevelopment,miniaturisationandinnovationinintegration.

Typically, a masters degree holder can expect about 10 per cent higher than the one with a bachelors. As you gain
experience, this field offers one of the best growth potentials, both on the technical as well as management ladder.
Though the global recession has hugely affected the starting salaries in the private sector at present, last year the
averagepaypackagerangedbetweenRs700,000andRs1.5millionperannumforprofessionalswithfourtofiveyears
ofexperience.

Howtogettheentrypass?
Firstofall,letsmakeitclearthatforworkinginthisfielditisnotmandatorytohaveanengineeringdegreeordiploma
in electronics engineering, electrical engineering or computer science. These certainly are the obvious qualifications to
earn, but graduate or postgraduate degree in physics also qualifies one to work as an engineer. The physics of
semiconductordevicesisthefundamentalbasisofVLSI.
Asisalwaysthecase,theearlier,thebetter.Ifyouevertinkeredwithabrokenradioset,youhavealreadystarted.
Academically, the right time to acquaint yourself with various specialisations of electronics is when you are in the
second or third year of engineering. You can choose your electives so that you can concentrate more on specific
subjects. A fresh engineering graduate has several opportunities to use his engineering skills in the VLSI world. As
mentionedearlier,primarily,theworkprofilescanbeclassifiedasdesignengineers,productengineers,testengineers,
process engineers or applications engineers. Of course, there are other important people like CAD engineers too who
keepdeveloping(ormaintaining)alltheimportantCADtoolsandsystems.
Irrespective of which job function you choose, there are certain basic skills required to break into this field. A VLSI
engineer is expected to know the physics of semiconductor devices, linear systems, probability and random variables,
engineering mathematics (Fourier, Laplace and Z transforms), circuit analysis and engineering electromagnetics. In
addition to these solid Verilog/VHDL skills, familiarity with frontend design cycle, synthesis and simulation tool
knowledge,sounddigitaldesignfundamentalsandnonethelessknowledgeofmicroprocessorswouldbeanadvantagefor
anyaspiringcandidate.

Wheretostart?

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VLSI circuits are everywhereyour personal computer, your
cellphone, your brand new stateoftheart digital camera or for
that matter any electronic gadget you dream to buy. Actually, this
field involves packing of more and more logic devices into
progressively smaller areas. So the circuits that would have taken
boardfull of space can now be put into a small space few
millimetresacross!

ThebestwaytostartworkonVLSIistoknowVLSIdesigningtools.
VLSI has been around for a long time, but as a side effect of
advances in the world of computers, there has been a dramatic
proliferation of tools that can be used to design VLSI circuits. Also,
obeying Moores law, the capability of an IC has increased
exponentially over the years in terms of computing power,
utilisationofavailableareaandyield.Thecombinedeffectofthese
two factors is that designers can now put diverse functionality into
an IC, opening up new frontiers. Examples are embedded systems,
where intelligent devices are placed inside everyday objects, and
ubiquitouscomputing,wheresmallcomputingdevicesproliferateto
such an extent that even the shoes you wear may actually do
somethingusefullikemonitoringyourheartbeats!

HowtodealwithVLSIcircuits?
Keep in mind that digital VLSI circuits are predominantly CMOS
based. So the way normal blocks like latches and gates are
implemented, is different from what you have seen before. However, the behaviour remains the same. All the
miniaturisationinvolvesnewthingstoconsider.Alotofthoughthastogointoactualimplementationaswellasdesign.
Let us look at some of the external factors responsible for the functionality of the circuitlarge complicated circuits
running at very high frequencies have to tackle the delays in propagation of signals through gates and wires. This is a
big problem even for areas a few micrometres across. The operational speed is so large that as the delays add up,
thesecanactuallybecomecomparabletoclockspeeds.
Anothereffectofhighoperationfrequenciesisincreasedconsumption of power. This has twofold effect: devices drain
batteries faster, and heat dissipation increases. Coupled with the fact that surface areas decrease, heat poses a major
threattothestabilityofthecircuititself.
Laying out the circuit components is a task common to all branches of electronics. The speciality in VLSI layout is
number of possible ways available to do this there can be multiple layers of different materials on the same silicon,
therecanbedifferentarrangementsofthesmallerpartsforthesamecomponentandsoon.
Thepowerdissipationandspeedinacircuitpresentatradeoffifyoutrytooptimiseonone,theotherisaffected.The
choice between the two is determined by the way you choose to layout the circuit components. Layout can also affect
thefabricationofVLSIchips,makingiteithereasyordifficulttoimplementthecomponentsonthesilicon.

Howtoproceedwithdesigns?
Know the fundamentals of both analogue and digital design processes. You may start with a typical design flow of any
oneofthem.Forexample,adigitaldesignflowtogettheendproductis:specificationarchitectureRTLcodingRTL
verificationsynthesis backendtape out to foundry. Here the end product is a wafer with repeated number of
identicalICs.
Today, all digital designs start with a designer writing a hardware description of the IC (using hardware description
language, or HDL) in Verilog/VHDL. A Verilog or VHDL program essentially describes the hardware (logic gates, flip
flops, counters, etc), the functionality and circuit block interconnects. Various CAD tools are available to synthesise a
circuitbasedontheHDL.ThemostwidelyusedsynthesistoolscomefromtwoCADcompanies:SynposysandCadence.
Without going into details, you may consider VHDL as C of the VLSI industry. VHDL stands for VHSIC hardware
definition language, where VHSIC stands for very highspeed integrated circuit. This language is used to design the
circuits at a high level, in two ways. It can either be a behavioural description, which describes what the circuit is
supposedtodo,orastructuraldescription,whichdescribeswhatthecircuitismadeof.Thereareotherlanguagesfor
describingcircuits,suchasVerilog,whichworkinasimilarfashion.Bothformsofdescriptionarethenusedtogenerate
a very lowlevel description that actually spells out how all this is to be fabricated on the silicon chips. This results in
themanufactureoftheintendedIC.
For an analogue design, the flow may vary to some extent, like specificationsarchitecturecircuit design SPICE
simulationlayoutparametricextraction/backannotationfinaldesigntapeouttofoundry.

ThereareanumberofdirectionsyoucantakewhilechoosingacareerinVLsi,andtheyarecloselyrelated
toeachother.sobeagogetter,digallthepossibilitiestogainapracticalexposure.
Asoperationalamplifiers,filtersorpowermanagementchips.Formorecomplexanaloguechipssuchasdataconverters,
thedesignisdoneatthetransistorlevel,buildinguptothecelllevel,thentheblocklevelandfinallyintegratedatthe
chip level. Not many CAD tools are available for analogue design even today and thus analogue design remains a
difficultart.SPICEremainsthemostusefulsimulationtoolforanalogueaswellasdigitaldesign.

Wheretoapplyskills?
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Now,itstimetoaddresstherealworldneed.Knowwheretoapplyyourskillsets.Forexample,analogueWhile digital
design is highly automated now, very small portion of analogue design can be automated. There is a hardware
description language called AHDL for analogue design but it is not widely used as it does not accurately give the
behaviouralmodelofthecircuitbecauseofthecomplexityoftheanaloguebehaviourofthecircuit.Manyanaloguechips
are termed as flat or nonhierarchical designs. This is true for smalltransistorcount chips such designs are mostly
used for smalltransistorcount precision circuits such as amplifiers, data converters, filters, phaselocked loops and
sensors. In digital design, the progress in the fabrication of ICs has enabled designers to create fast and powerful
circuits in smaller and smaller devices. This also means that one can pack a lot more of functionality into the same
area. The biggest application of this ability is found in the design of applicationspecific integrated circuits (ASICs).
TheseICsarecreatedforspecificpurposeseachdeviceiscreatedtodoaparticularjob.
The most common application area for an ASIC is DSP signal filters, image compression, etc. To go to extremes,
considerthefactthatthedigitalwristwatchnormallyconsistsofasingleICdoingallthetimekeepingaswellasextra
features like games and calendar. Systemsonachip (SoCs), on the other hand, are highly complex mixedsignal
circuits (digital and analogue on the same chip). Network processor chips and wireless radio chips are examples of
SoCs.

Whatsnext?
Itispossiblethatyourawarenessaboutmostoftheaforementionedtermsisfromanotionalperspectiveonly.Butthe
industry needs something extraactual handson experience is indispensable. Remember, there are a number of
directionsyoucantakewhilechoosingacareerinVLSI,andtheyarecloselyrelatedtoeachother.Sobeagogetter,
digallthepossibilitiestogainapracticalexposure.
At the same time, be uptodate about the latest technological trends to get an edge over your competitors. For
example,reconfigurablecomputingisaveryinterestingdevelopmentinmicroelectronics.Itinvolvesfabricatingcircuits
that can be reprogrammed on the fly. Try to know how reconfigurable computing involves specially fabricated devices
calledFPGAs,thatwhenprogrammedactjustlikenormalelectroniccircuitswithoutusingamicrocontrollerrunningwith
EEPROMinside.Thisfantasticabilitytocreatemodifiablecircuitsagainopensupnewpossibilitiesinmicroelectronics.
You may even explore how ASIC designing creates miniature devices that can do a lot of diverse functions. With an
impending boom in this kind of technology, what the industry needs is a large number of people who can design these
ICs.Thisiswhereonemaycrossthethresholdbetweenachipdesignerandasystemsdesigneratahigherlevel.
Youwillrequireextensivetraininginthisfield.Ifyouhavepassionforchipdesigningandwanttolearnit,youneednot
disappoint. All IITs and other prestigious engineering institutes have included VLSI as an important part of their course
curriculum.
Sodontpanicoverthecurrentjobscenario,thetimesperfecttoresurrectyourthoughtprocess.Theresplentyoftime
athand.DevoteyourtimetobecomeanexpertinVLSI.Itwilldefinitelybringverylargeopportunitiesinthefuture.
TheauthorisaresearchanalystcumjournalistatEFY

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PostComment|1Comments

vivek 831daysago

thankyousomuchsirforthisinfo.canutellmethebestinst.indelhitodothecourseforvlsilikeverilogandsystemverilog.
andcanidosystemverilogwithoutdoingtheverilogbecauseihavethebetterknowledgeofVHDL.plzreplysoon.thankyou
vivekmorae.MSITdelhi.
Reply

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