Career Path at Big Semiconductor Companies; Samsung, Intel, AMD etc…

It’s the year 2020 and somehow I’ve amassed 15 years in the semiconductor industry and reached the level of Senior Member of Technical Staff. I could have done better (or much worse…) but I don’t want to get into comparing myself to my peers or playing what if scenarios. Senior Member of Technical Staff is mostly just a title though there is some correlation with the amount of responsibility or impact one should have. The technical ladder varies from company to company but generally goes something like the following:

  • Engineer 1
  • Engineer 2
  • Senior Engineer
  • Member of Technical Staff
  • Senior Member of Technical Staff
  • Principle Engineer

I am, with no bullshit or pulled punches, completely satisfied with my career progression.  I’d say that as one’s career progresses up the ladder three things increase linearly. They are as follows:

  • the problems you need to solve become more difficult and impactful
  • other people’s trust in your ability to deliver increases
  • you gain increased autonomy in how to approach and solve problems as well as more freedom to choose what to work on

My career path has been anything but direct as I’ve jumped around companies as well as functional roles. Looking backward, the past fifteen years looks as follows…

  • CPU post-silicon validation engineer (6 years)
  • sabbatical (seven months off and travel to S. Korea)
  • mastered out of PHD in ECE focusing on analog electronics (PLLs, DLLs, Clock Data Recovery; 2 years)
  • sabbatical (five months traveling around the US)
  • On-chip/off-chip Signal Integrity Engineer (1 year)
  • CPU Architecture Emulation Engineer (2 years)
  • sabbatical ( 11 months traveling around the world)
  • CPU/GPU Power Architect (2 years)

I never actually listed this up in this fashion and looking at this as a whole you can deduce a few things; I am incredibly indecisive OR I am an engineering generalist. The latter, of course, is how I sell myself on Linkedin and on my resume to some success.

Sitting in front of this hodgepodge collection of disparate roles I call a career, I will try to make sense of what was learned along the way.

Changing roles and changing roles often was beneficial to my career. It’s normal in this industry to get hard stuck in a particular role and spend an entire career focusing on one thing. There is nothing wrong with this. Being a specialist is incredibly useful and specialists are invaluable in solving some of the toughest problems. But the chances of coming out of school and falling into a role that you will absolutely love is very slim. Or sometimes, a move is just necessary to refresh the mind and avoid burnout. In any case, I found that I am naturally inclined to be a generalist and the ADHD of my track record shows it.

I want to add that the opposite of the specialist is the generalist and generalists are instrumental in solving problems that bridge many different disciplines. I find that my role as a generalist is perfectly suited for me because it keeps things new and exciting.

Changing roles gave me perspective on working culture. You don’t know the sweet unless you’ve tasted the sour. There is some adage like that and I extend my apologies for butchering it.

I didn’t realize how stifling and un-innovative a particular group was until I left for greener pastures. I want to add that I didn’t arrive at this conclusion moving from one company to another. It was actually an internal transfer. I haven’t done a complete tour of the big players in the semiconductor industry but I’ve got a decent sample size. It’s big enough that I can easily discern a shitty situation from a constructive one.

Taking significant time off did not negatively impact my career. I know, it’s hard to say exactly what would have happened had I just worked serially without taking any breaks but based on my peers that I started at the same time I did, I did just fine. I actually advanced a bit faster than normal but nothing too crazy. When I left my first role to go travel I thought I was pissing my good fortune into the wind. I was so bored and burned out that it pushed me over the edge and I got over whatever fear that I had. Looking back, these periods of time off don’t even register as a speed bump in my overall career journey.

My career hasn’t come to a conclusion yet and it’s still very much a work in progress. I’m still thinking of how my past experiences can help my present day self and If I think of any points I’ll try to articulate it on here.

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