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Hardware to Software: Technological Advancement in the Semiconductor Industry

20/02/18 Ruksana Begum Consultant, R&D & Engineering

The UK has c38% share of Europe’s electronics design industry. Companies such as ARM and Imagination Technology have helped establish the UK as an important contributor to semiconductor and IP design.

The UK has expertise in a number of areas including integrated circuits (ICs), optoelectronics, and radio frequency (RF) devices such as monolithic microwave integrated circuit (MMIC), FPGA development and electronic components.

Most of the world’s largest semiconductor companies have design or applications/support organisations in the UK with a limited number still manufacturing.

The semiconductor industry is heavily driven by the technological advancements in the products, processes and materials. It is the technological upgrade rate that makes the industry highly cyclical. The industry is constantly striving for low cost, high speed, energy efficient and smaller chips.

Last week, SEMI - the global industry association serving the manufacturing supply chain for the micro- and nano-electronics industries - announced an urgent call to action to overcome the pressing semiconductor industry challenge of recruiting new talent. In a letter to the CEOs of more than 2,000 global SEMI member companies, Ajit Manocha, SEMI’s president and CEO, called on the executives to act together to attract workers and develop the workforce vital to industry growth.  

“If we do not act together quickly, we will choke our own growth.” said Manocha. “New talent is key to sustaining robust growth that has broken all semiconductor industry records.”

Semiconductor revenues jumped 22% for the year to nearly $450 billion in 2017 with Semiconductor manufacturing equipment sales rising 36% and, with materials, topped $104 billion. In 2018, chip revenues are forecast to increase 7% and semiconductor equipment more than 11%.

We asked Ruksana Begum, Redline’s R&D and Engineering Consultant how semiconductor companies should respond to the technological advancements in software, which is an often under-played area and how they can secure the right staff for their businesses. Many semiconductor companies struggle when attempting to transition from pure hardware to software. 

“Semiconductor companies are embarking on extensive hiring campaigns to attract the talent needed for execution. While they begin optimistically, expecting the same enthusiastic response they receive when recruiting hardware and IC design experts, their efforts often falter.” says Ruksana.  “Company culture is one obstacle. Many software engineers do not believe that a traditional hardware player can create an environment that promotes the development of leading-edge software products. Some also fear that their software career opportunities will be limited. To address these concerns, semiconductor companies need to take a more innovative approach to talent recruitment and retention, both for top executives and mid-level managers to engineers. They also need to show their commitment to software development by transforming both their company culture and organisational structures.”

Ruksana continues: “Semiconductor companies that lack top software talent should recruit experienced leaders from other industries, rather than asking an internal hardware expert to manage the transformation. Unlike lower-level managers, many of these executives view software transformations as an exciting challenge, particularly if they began their careers in hardware. To attract the best talent, companies must emphasise that they will reward leaders for building the software business and the potential revenue stream it may bring. They should also give leaders some freedom to shape the transformation—for instance, by allowing them to develop their own road map of improvement initiatives.”

Semiconductor companies will need to be more aggressive and strategic when recruiting mid-level managers and entry-level software engineering staff, given their reluctance to consider traditional hardware companies. First, they need to understand what high-tech employees truly value. Some of these are obvious, such as high pay, but others are more subtle.  A lot of software developers wish that they spent more time programming.  Companies also need to understand the drive for efficiency with more software code being written using C++ as well as embedded C and with many businesses utilising Java, C#, Visual C++ and many scripting languages such as PhP depending on the application.

“While it may be tempting to hire any talented engineer who becomes available, semiconductor companies should initially focus on recruiting the software and systems architects who handle interface specification and other crucial tasks during early development. These employees are in extremely high demand and are often difficult to find, but teams will make little progress without their guidance.”

“Companies based outside of tech hubs like Silicon Valley face additional recruitment hurdles because of the restricted local talent pool. To attract a greater number of qualified applicants, including recent software graduates, their leaders should consider opening a new site in a location with a thriving technology culture. Software engineers often gravitate to such areas, knowing that they will have multiple job options and can strengthen their professional networks. The benefits associated with improved recruitment will outweigh the drop in productivity that often occurs when companies expand their geographic footprint.”

This transformation is not a choice but a necessity, since companies that focus solely on hardware will see their margins continue to deteriorate, especially as customer preferences continue to shift toward integrated solutions. 

For more information on Redline’s current embedded software engineer jobs, and semiconductors jobs please contact Ruksana Begum, R&D and Engineering Recruitment Consultant, on 01582 878815 or email