To attract and cultivate new talent across the microelectronics industry, virtual SEMICON West 2020 offered wide-ranging career insights for engineering students seeking that vital first job and young employees embarking on their careers. They learned about overcoming challenges at work and gained a competitive edge by connecting with industry leaders for insider knowledge. These are just some examples of how the SEMI Foundation and the SEMI Workforce Development and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives serve as a springboard to careers in the industry and help close its talent gap.
Following are experiences of aspiring engineers at SEMICON West and career lessons presented to help them shape the future of our semiconductor industry.
Jump-Starting Careers at SEMICON West 2020
More than 600 students from over 50 colleges and universities across the Unites States joined SEMICON West 2020 to jump-start their careers in the semiconductor industry. With free access to SEMI’s first virtual expo, they connected with recruiters and companies in the exhibit hall, and sponged up insights from speakers about digital internships, job opportunities, and key trends shaping the digital future.
“It was almost overwhelming,” said Jason Wong, 20, a junior at San Jose State University working toward an advanced degree in mechanical engineering. “It was kind of like an engineering student’s dream for contacts and knowledge all on one platform.”
Wong visited about 15 booths in the online exhibit hall to speak with company representatives about his field of interest – microelectromechanical systems (MEMS).
“MEMS is a pretty niche area, so it was really surprising how many companies were there in this category alone,” Wong said.
Through the expo’s chat tool, Wong made some solid contacts and has followed up with several engineers via email, LinkedIn and Zoom meetings, cultivating what he believes will be “some long-lasting and valuable connections.”
“I’m not really looking for a job at the moment, but I hope to get an internship at some point,” Wong said. “With the current (COVID-19) outbreak, a lot of events with opportunities to interact are no longer available, so this was an enlightening and useful experience for me I plan to attend again.”
On the other side of the country in Virginia, Devayani Pawar, 23, found it easy to network at SEMICON West. She especially appreciated the free pass for students and practical sessions in the Smart Workforce Pavilion tailored to help early-career job seekers find opportunities, build contacts, and polish resumes.
She was drawn to the Smart Manufacturing Pavilion because of her skills and interests in toolmaking and wafers.
“I understand manufacturing and it’s a hot field right now,” said Pawar, who recently earned her master’s degree in data science from George Mason University. “It’s interesting to me how such tiny components can do so much powerful work.”
“A lot of people my age aren’t very aware of the microchip industry – they’re mostly focused on information technology and companies like Google, Amazon, or Facebook,” Pawar said.
After landing an internship at Micron Technology analyzing wafers and working in clean rooms, she was wowed by the potential of nanotechnology. Pawar learned about the strong demand for data scientists in semiconductor manufacturing. After making connections at SEMICON West and absorbing information, she now has a better handle on career opportunities.
“The recruiters and other contacts I made have been so responsive, and now I have a better understanding of use cases and what companies are seeking,” she said.
A Day in the Life of an Engineer
Right after college in 2017, Erika Gabrielle Hansen joined Applied Materials as an engineer. She told management she wanted to travel, learn about the “big picture” behind the company’s products, and work with customers.
In her presentation A Day in the Life of an Engineer at the SEMICON West Smart Workforce Pavilion, she recalled a whirlwind of unforeseen opportunities, soul-searching challenges, and the rewards of personal, professional, and community growth. She also candidly shared lessons learned about pride, collaboration, and resilience.
Her journey began when she had the opportunity to share her aspirations for her at career at Applied and landed a dual role as a process engineer and customer account technologist.
In her job as a process engineer, Hansen puts her materials engineering degree from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo to good use analyzing data, solving technical problems, developing new processes to meet customer requirements, and working with cutting-edge technologies. At one moment she might be in a clean-room laboratory wearing a bunny suit doing hands-on work with tools. In another, she could be videoconferencing with hardware, software, and systems engineers worldwide, or preparing a report for upper management.
“I was very nervous at first as a process engineer,” Hansen said. “I was the only person in my group who didn’t have a Ph.D. and tried to compensate for that by doing things on my own and not asking for help.”
After making a few mistakes, she began to turn to her team for their expertise and sharing the results of her work – both good and bad – with them.
“Having humility to ask for help and not let pride get in the way was a huge learning point for me,” she said.
As a customer account technologist, she has made a dozen trips to customer sites in four countries to implement new processes or resolve technical issues. By seeing tools in action, she now has what she calls a “whole picture” perspective on their effectiveness, while enjoying the camaraderie of colleagues and sampling local cuisines, sites, and scenes around the world.
At one point, she was assigned to lead an international team to resolve an issue with a major customer – her greatest challenge yet and her first time in such a role. She struggled to overcome language barriers and eventually told her boss she might not be the best person to lead the project. He promised to provide more support, and her team went on to resolve the customer’s problem.
“I picked myself up, reached out to people with international experience, and changed my communication style,” Hansen said. “I learned it’s okay to be uncomfortable, to flex my leadership style, and be resilient, which is a learned skill.”
Building a Better Network: Crucial Connections
Andrew Carnegie, one of history’s richest industrialists and most generous philanthropists, said 85 percent of a person’s success is based on “interpersonal relationships” and “abilities to be a human being.” Professional skills account for just 15 percent of success.
While advancing to her current role as Chief Marketing Officer for FormFactor, Amy Leong found this advice critical to her career trajectory. Just like the challenge of raising a strong family, building a successful career “takes a village… you can’t do it alone,” she said in her Smart Workforce Pavilion presentation Building a Better Network: Crucial Connections.
Outperforming expectations might be essential early in one’s career to get promotions, raises, and the attention, but that mindset goes only so far.
“As seniority levels increase, people already know you’re a phenomenal performer and expect nothing less,” Leong said. “So, the higher you go the more vital it is to spend almost a disproportionate amount of effort on building relationships.”
Building your network isn’t about the quantity of one’s business cards or LinkedIn connections; it’s about building quality relationships with mutual benefits over the long run.
“We need to be smart about return on investment when building our professional network,” she said. “You help me, and I help you. It’s win-win horse trading.”
And the most important factor in career success? For Leong, a strong family foundation has mattered most.
“Family comes first,” said Leong, who has twin teenagers. “Take care of the ones you love. Check in with your family whenever you can. Family relationships are bound by blood. Thanks to my retired parents and a helpful husband, we tough it through.”
She reemphasized the importance of mutually beneficial relationships, noting “A rising tide will lift all boats.”
Fostering Talent for the Industry’s Future
Developing young talent and future leaders in microelectronics stands as a persistent and growing need – and a critical challenge to realizing expected growth. Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and augmented/virtual reality are expected to impact a huge range of markets, leading to projections that the semiconductor industry will double in size in the next 10 to 15 years.
The opportunities for growth and technologies that promise to improve the quality of human life worldwide are breathtaking. The industry’s talent pool will need to scale accordingly, magnifying the importance of expanding industry-wide programs such as the Workforce Development and DEI initiatives that the SEMI Foundation are building. Learn more about how you and your company can get involved with these initiatives on the SEMI Foundation website.
Shari Liss is executive director of the SEMI Foundation. She oversees SEMI Workforce Development programs from K-12 through re-skilling for veterans.