Q&A: Computer chip start-up CTO: Our business isn't boring — or a career dead end

As chip behemoths, such as Intel, Samsung and TSMC are moving operations back to the US — and custom chips are needed more than ever — industry execs want young talent to know there's nothing staid about chip design.

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"Young people have to hit the ground running and have an impact right away. And, that was really successful — the combination of industry veterans and young people enabled us to create over 80 different product IPs in a short time. That’s really remarkable. Usually you think of hardware development as an army of people working for years to develop one product, and each person is just playing a small role. But this is a counter example where you have a small team designing 80 different products in four, four-and-a-half years.

"I think it’s a great example of what this new age of semiconductor design looks like."

What’s the difficulty you’re running into when it comes to universities and colleges not turning out enough electrical engineers? "I think there’s a structural issue here. Young people coming into tech are drawn to the software side, and there is a ton of demand there. But the issue is universities are structurally set up so that the interest in computer software is cannibalizing electrical engineering programs.

"Universities shouldn’t be set up this way. There’s growing demand for both electrical engineers and computer engineers. So, universities have to increase capacity and not just allow computer engineering and software development programs to cannibalize electrical engineering programs.

"Then the other things that need to happen is to try to change the perception so it’s understood there’s not only a lot of opportunity for young people to hit the ground running and have an impact, but there’s also opportunity for wealth creation. Alphawave is one example of that.

"There’s a natural realignment of salary expectations happening. Semiconductor companies are increasing pay to compete. But there’s a time consequence to this too, and so that will be shaking out over the next year or two."

What do you need most right now? "We need people that are writing code that can be turned into chips. We write code that describes a chip design and then put it through compilers that get turned into silicon. We need people writing code to validate those designs; we need people writing firmware that will ultimately run on those chips. And we need a way to make sure that firmware will run on our hardware and it’s all going to work on the application before we get the hardware back from fabrication. So, we need a whole other layer of code that’s for our verification environment.

"Those are huge teams. That’s a lot of our growth [as] we move from 250 to 600 people this year."

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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