what does it take to become an asic/fpga designer? is it worth it ?

Discussion in 'Career Advising' started by JoyAm, Aug 18, 2016.

  1. JoyAm

    Thread Starter Member

    Aug 21, 2014
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    I think that the title describe it all, what do you think about this topic?
     
  2. Papabravo

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    Feb 24, 2006
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    Doing an FPGA is a nearly trivial task that many engineers can do without specialized knowledge or education. Doing a custom ASIC is a whole other proposition. I'd learn how to use and apply microcontrollers first.

    Is it worth it? That depends on your metric for worth. I graduated in 1970 with a Masters Degree in EE and no student loan debt. I made a comfortable living as an engineer for half a century (I worked while I was in school). All during that time I was too busy working to make any real money. I'm doing fine in retirement because I learned how to make my money work for me while I'm sleeping and relaxing. I wish I had started the process in my 20's.
     
  3. JoyAm

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    Aug 21, 2014
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    I will also have an electrical and computer engineering master in aproximatelly two years from now but i have absolutelly no idea what i am going to do with it. I like boolean logic and i also like the vlsi courses i am taking but appart from that i really dont know what i am supposed to do. In your experience working as an engineer didnt have a good working/money ratio ?
     
  4. Papabravo

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    I don't think so. The salary ratio from my first full time job (1971) to my last job (2014) was a factor of 10. In the beginning I sometimes worked 80 hrs/week and it damn near killed me. I started my own company in 1995, at a substantial pay cut, and again the hours I worked destroyed much of my non-work life. In 2001 I switched my focus to finance and investment. It has been a roller coaster white knuckle thrill ride, but at least I'm still standing.
     
  5. WBahn

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    Mar 31, 2012
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    As Papabravo said, FPGA work doesn't require much in the way of specialized education or training to get into. To be very good at it requires a lot of practice and a lot of supplemental education and training, but you can probably make a living pretty handily pretty quickly and then work your way up as you improve your skill set.

    The ASIC work is a lot more variable since this covers everything from essentially turning something proven in an FPGA into a low-cost ASIC implementation, in which case the design flow is not too different, to doing full-custom mixed-signal lunatic-fringe designs that all the big boys have declared as being impossible (and sometimes doing designs for those very same big boys after they've failed). There's also a huge difference between designing ASICs at a big house versus at a small niche company. But probably the biggest skill you need to develop and demonstrate to get started down that path, particularly for the latter type of ASICs, is solid engineering problem solving skills on top of solid EE fundamentals. If you have those, companies will be more than willing to teach you all the other stuff you need to know.
     
  6. JoyAm

    Thread Starter Member

    Aug 21, 2014
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    Thanks both of you for the info


    What you say is really intimidating to me because i plan to make a family and i dont think that the 80 hours per week would allow that.When you say you started your own company, what was it about ? Also about finance and investment what you did in that field ?



    If you are about to do asics you must have good knowledge in analogue ? Because its something i am not really into and the reason is because i hate maths , all except boolean algebra. Will i manage to do something good in my life without them ?
     
  7. WBahn

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    Depends on the type of ASIC work you do. There are a lot of purely digital ASICs out there, but keep in mind that ALL circuits are analog circuits at the end of the day. As long as the ASICs you are working on are not pushing the limits then you can largely rely on standard libraries and tools to take care of the analog issues for you. But, then again, if you are operating at this level you are being little more than a trained monkey, which is fine if that is good enough for you. But if you are pushing the limits, even with purely digital circuits, then analog issues need to be dealt with and many of them can be very subtle on an ASIC. We once hired a layout tech that had over twenty years of experience with Intel and it was a disaster -- she was so reliant on the tools doing everything for her (monkey, anyone) that she didn't understand what a parasitic capacitor even was, let along how to minimize them around sensitive nodes. We quickly realized that the kind of designs we did really required that the engineer that designed the circuit be the one to lay it out (or, if that wasn't possible, that it be laid out by another engineer that could understand the analog issues).

    If you "hate maths", then you are choosing a field that is likely to be a very poor fit for you.
     
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  8. Papabravo

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    The company I started made factory automation components with a DeviceNet Interface. They were based on the MC6805X4, and MC6805X32, from Motorola; and the T89C51CC01, and T89C51CC03 from Atmel. I left the company to my partners in 2006 after 12 years of trying to make it go. We were a one-trick pony and couldn't agree on how to grow from that model into something else.

    I got a MSE(Financial Engineering) in 2004 and have been building my portfolio since 1995. I spend 3-4 hours a day doing my homework on the companies for which I hold either stock or bonds. For fun and excitement I trade options and futures.

    My advice to you is to go after the Math like a hungry dog on a meaty bone, then shore up you analog skills. Dabble in RF if that is of interest to you. This will prepare you to solve a multitude of common problems and make you invaluable to an employer. For extra credit take a course in Accounting if you plan to start a business some day.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2016
  9. JoyAm

    Thread Starter Member

    Aug 21, 2014
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    I have heard that many times but now that i have already studied ece for 4 years already i think it would be a waste just to drop it so i am just trying to focus on the less math demanding fields of this vast domain . You agree with papabravo that the hours you will have to work are very long and exhausting ? Will i have to study/work even when i am home ( and not in the working place ) ?

    So you would suggest to take a master in some field of economics/management to have a more comfortable living ?
     
  10. DickCappels

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    Aug 21, 2008
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    There are plenty of jobs in which ASIC design is only part of the job description. Starting out in your career it is best to have a goal toward which you can work, but not to specialize too hightly because quite often ASICs are designed requires skills in other fields, such as in the filed of the eventual product.
     
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  11. WBahn

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    There's no one-size-fits-all answer to any of this.

    The more you put into it, the more you will get out of it and the further your career will progress.

    The real bottom line that you should always keep in mind is that even if you don't love engineering, you will always be competing against people that do.

    People that ARE willing to work 70 or 80 hours more often than not because they enjoy the work. People that WILL take work home with them, not because they are told to, but because they enjoy doing so. People that will constantly be upgrading their knowledge and skills, even on their own time and dime, because it is fun. If that isn't you, then don't expect to progress much because entry-level positions and entry-level incomes.

    Also, don't fall into the "I've already spent so much that I can't stop now" economic fallacy. You should have had to take a couple of economics courses by no, so go back and review sunk costs. It doesn't matter how much time and money you have already spent on something -- that time and money is gone regardless of what you do now. What matters is the expected return on investment on the time and money you need to spend from this moment forward.
     
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  12. Papabravo

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    JoyAm likes this.
  13. JoyAm

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    Aug 21, 2014
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    Thank you everyone :)
     
  14. dl324

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    Mar 30, 2015
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    Your career will be like most things in life; the more you put in to it, the more you're likely to get out of it. Early in my career, I often worked 80+ hours a week because there was work to be done and I really enjoyed the work. I worked day shift and often went to dinner with swing shift; I was often still working when they went home.

    But, I was in my twenties and had no immediate plans for starting a family. That came after I was more established in my career and had a house; well the bank and I had a house...
     
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  15. JoyAm

    Thread Starter Member

    Aug 21, 2014
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    Thanks for your answer
    How big was your first wage? Would you be able to stay in the job and work 8 hours per day?
     
  16. dl324

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    My first real job was in 1976 and my starting pay was around $10/hr; about 8 times minimum wage at the time.
     
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  17. JoyAm

    Thread Starter Member

    Aug 21, 2014
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    thanks for sharing your experience :)
     
  18. Papabravo

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    Your recollections are hazy:

    The minimum wage increased to $2.00 an hour in 1974, $2.10 in 1975, and $2.30 in 1976 for all except farm workers, whose minimum initially rose to $1.60. Parity with nonfarm workers was reached at $2.30 with the 1977 amendments.

    I started at $1.20/hr washing glassware in a biochem lab in 1964. You should be careful about making statements that can be easily checked.
     
  19. dl324

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    I remember very clearly what I was being paid.
    So you're some sort of expert in minimum wages??

    I worked as a waiter while I was in high school and college. During that timeframe, the minimum wage for tipped employees was set at 50% of the federal minimum wage. If you do the correct research, you'll find that tipped employees have not enjoyed the same relative minimum wage protections for the classes of people you cared to mention.

    We were unionized, but our union was only good at collecting our dues.

    Did you know that until recently (circa 2014), the federal minimum wage for waiters was $2.13?
     
  20. Papabravo

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    You did not specify that in your original post. I started working when the minimum wage was $1.25/hr and it was long before 1976. You should have qualified your original statement. And, yes, I am a stickler for accurate historical fact as opposed to what seems like an exaggerated claim.
     
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