Do we still need Hardware IC Design Engineer in the coming decades? Considering a Career Change towards Software Design Engineer? Or even start-ups?

by Teddy Lesmana
Until now, Electronic Engineer, especially Hardware IC Design Engineer has been a prestigious and often extremely lucrative career choice especially in Silicon Valley industry. But in the near future, will we still need as many Hardware Engineer as we have now? Are we going to see significant Hardware Engineer unemployment in the coming decades ?

As the main hardware core design for the most advance electronic system has fully developed and established with the highest possible performance and most importantly the lowest reliability issues and losses possible, the vast majority of the electronic products have more than enough hardware choices to play with. This brings an important fact that the Hardware Engineer demand will soon hit a plateau.

Do we still need Hardware IC Design Engineer in the coming decades? Considering a Career Change towards Software Design Engineer? Or even start-ups?

As predicted, most of the hardware hype cycles do need the implementation on the embedded system level. However, most of them do not need any further enhancing hardware design and development. The major business players are mainly focusing on the application based products through out various different industrial segments. For instance, the VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality), the needs of embedded software engineer is far more important than the needs of hardware design engineer. The vast majority of the start up companies that design the VR and AR products have more than enough choices of the hardware development boards that are available on the markets, including the giant major players Facebook — Oculus VR and Google Cardboard VR.

As mentioned on Bloomberg (19/01/2016) its article “Why an Ex-Google Coder Makes Twice as Much Freelancing.” The need for coders mushroomed when the iPhone’s arrival in 2007 set off an explosion of mobile apps. Since then, software has been seeping into fridges, watches, apparel, you name it — requiring ever more people to write the underlying code. Demand for software developers is expected to grow 17 percent between 2014 and 2024, or more than twice the average, according to the BLS, which estimates that the U.S. will have 1 million more information technology jobs by 2020 than computer science students.”

Do we still need Hardware IC Design Engineer in the coming decades? Considering a Career Change towards Software Design Engineer? Or even start-ups?
Do we still need Hardware IC Design Engineer in the coming decades? Considering a Career Change towards Software Design Engineer? Or even start-ups?

On the other hand, several major semiconductor suppliers are merging together in order to cut down the cost, enhance, and strengthen the performance of their core IP hardware products. Here are several major semiconductor mergers and acquisitions that happened through out 2015.

NXP acquires Freescale — It what may be the most talked-about acquisition of the year, NXP announced a $40 billion merger to help secure NXP’s mission to be the leader in “Secure Connections for a Smarter World.” The merger made NXP the top automotive semiconductor supplier and general-purpose MCU supplier in the world. It also created a high performance mixed signal semiconductor industry leader, with combined revenue of greater than $10 billion.

The NXP CEO, Rick Clemmer, insisted that the planned NXP-Freescale deal is a strategic, not a tactical, acquisition. He explained, “Through the merger, we are adding Freescale’s computing power to our security and wireless communication strengths, in order to drive the Internet of Things.”

Avago acquires Broadcom — In another massive acquisition, the chip manufacturer Avago acquired Broadcom, an American fabless semiconductor company in the wireless and broadband communication business, for $37 billion. This puts Avago in the top ranks of semiconductor makers, though still behind Intel and Qualcomm. Avago has been aggressively acquiring companies since it went public in 2009.

Microchip acquires Micrel — The $839 million marries Arizona-based Microchip with the analog semiconductor company Micrel. “Micrel’s portfolio of linear and power management products, LAN solutions and timing and communications products, as well as their strong position in the industrial, automotive and communications markets, complement many of Microchip’s initiatives in these areas,” said Steve Sanghi, president and CEO of Microchip Technology.

Intel buys Altera — Altera, a maker of programmable logic semiconductors, was bought by the industry giant for $16.7 billion. In their statement to the public, Intel said, “The acquisition will couple Intel’s leading-edge products and manufacturing process with Altera’s leading field-programmable gate array (FPGA) technology. The combination is expected to enable new classes of products that meet customer needs in the data center and Internet of Things market segments.”

In the nutshell, first and foremost, the trend of semiconductor mergers and acquisitions in 2015 supports the fact that there would be redundancies / job cuts. The bottom line is cost reduction. There were a number of instances of the Hardware Engineering teams being let go after mergers. This somehow leads to millions of dollars cost saving within the merged of the companies. The needs of the Hardware IC Design Engineer, for instance, is slowly but surely going down, as the demands of the new chip design is no longer necessary.

Secondly, the fact that there is an innovation gap — one prominent executive member of the semiconductor community believes that the consolidation will result in an innovation gap ready to be filled by entrepreneurial companies and start-ups. His reasoning is that these large companies will be focused on cost reductions and team integration rather than innovation!

Thirdly, the high demand — for Software Design Engineers is indicative of a global shortage for these skills, as well as Europe’s continuing leading position in this area. The HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), power Management, RFIC and Automotive companies are showing particularly high activity levels. Germany, Austria, Ireland, The UK, The Netherlands and Belgium have emerged as the areas with the biggest increase in start ups and the needs of more Software Engineers.

So, are you considering a career change towards Software Design Engineer? Or even start your own company?

What does this have to do with whether you should become a software engineer? The whole story is not entirely important, but there are some points that need to be understood.

You must enjoy what you are doing. This is even more important in software engineering that some other industries. In many cases, software engineering is not a typical 9 to 5 job. It is fairly stressful as well sometimes. If you do not enjoy programming, the stress will demotivate you to the point that your code will eventually sucks and useless.

You can have some level of job security. Especially in this emerging economy where the hardware system has been fully established, software engineer position may give a level of job security.

There is good money in software engineering. You may not see large wads of cash to start, but over time your salary will grow. If you look at salary surveys for different locations, senior level engineers can make $100,000 or more.

There is a lot of job diversity available. If you like working with real-time devices like embedded systems, the mobile devices, like phones and tablets, are growing rapidly nowadays. There is a ton of development occurring in the mobile space. Websites and web applications are continuously being built and require people to know user interface (UI) development, some server side development and maybe even some database code. If you like to code, there are plenty of niches to explore.

What is your inspiration? Why do you code? Some people like the idea of creating something. Others like solving puzzles. You may like the fast feedback cycle in programming. If you have no inspiration for programming, you probably will not really enjoy the job.

Easier path to independence. Some people may not like the idea of being a wage-slave at some big corporation. Software development allows you to work remotely or build your own consulting business. This is easier than in many other industries, where working remotely is just not a possibility.

Obviously, there is no clear reason to become a software engineer. It is a personal choice and not some stereotype like introverted math and science lovers who are devoted Star Wars and Star Trek fanatics. To find out if you like programming, try writing some simple code. Do not try to build a significant web application or some mobile app, that is too much to start with. Look at some basic tutorials on learning a language and start coding.

Here are some of emerging markets that could be excellent options for your start-ups in 2016.

1. The Internet of Things
2. 3D Printing
3. BLE (Bluetooth low energy) and iBeacon to add new options
4. Cloud/Client Computing
5. Software-Defined Applications and Infrastructure
6. Smart Wearables
7. Augmented reality/Virtual reality
8. Advanced, Pervasive and Invisible Analytics
9. 4K and beyond

If Software Design Engineer is somehow not your passion, starting up your own company might be your best choice.

– Here are some reasons why –

1. Be your own boss
Someone said, “People don’t leave companies, they leave their bosses.” If that is true, then the first good reason to start up is to become your own boss.
2. Create value for society
Take the opportunity to transform the lives of millions of people. See what Airbnb, Blablacar and Uber did with peer to peer sharing economy platform.
3. Explore yourself
Entrepreneurship is a journey of self-exploration. You may find your real self after working on something you love.
Discover your passions and find one thing that you can work at without looking at the clock. Find something you are willing to work on even if you are not paid for that.
4. Do things you are not qualified for
Starting up will give you the opportunity to do all sorts of odd things in which you do not hold any degree and force you to step out of your comfort zone.
5. Be a job creator
You will touch human lives in many ways. You will create jobs for your country.
Just imagine if 1000 companies starts in a year and employ 5 people on average. The total number of jobs created is 5000. Assume 90% companies fail in the first year and only 100 survive. These 100 companies will grow and employ 50 people — total jobs are again 5000.
Then why remain a job seeker? Become a job provider!
6. Become more productive
Your productivity will improve because it is your company, and you have a personal responsibility on in it.
“You are where you are and what you are because of yourself, nothing else. Nature is neutral. Nature doesn’t care. If you do what other successful people do, you will enjoy the same results and rewards that they do. And if you don’t, you won’t.” ― Brian Tracy, Focal Point
7. Mentorship
You will find very good mentors while working on your startup. You will have the opportunity to be a mentor as well. You will share your success and failure experiences with others as you grow, and thus ensure their growth too. You will feel good when someone comes to you for help as well.
8. Networking with successful people
You will meet new people every day. You will work with amazing people in your industry. You will meet successful entrepreneurs at networking events. You will build relationships with some of the most interesting people on this planet.
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. — Jim Rohn
9. Financial independence
If you are very lucky then your startup will take off. You will make a lot of money which you could have never imagined in your job.
You will be free to pursue your dreams, whether it is travel, owning a big home, or owning sports cars and bikes. You won’t have to wait for your salary by the end of each month.
10. Heads you win, tails you won’t lose much
Once you start a company which becomes successful, you will get everything you wanted in life.
Unfortunately, more than 90% of companies fail and only less than 3% take off. However, you will learn so much in your startup career that any other startup will gladly accept you as part of their journey. Your startup learning may not be useful for a corporate job, but it will be an asset for another startup companies not to repeat the same mistake again in the future.

“So what is your biggest reason for not starting up ?”, Pardeep Goyal.