MEMS career trends: Specialization, HVM, backend in demand

by Neha Choksi, contributing editor

July 23, 2010 – With the US reeling from record unemployment, many are wondering how the MEMS job market is fairing. Jason Weigold, founder and president of MEMStaff, shared his observations based on clients’ hiring and consulting needs. With 15 years of MEMS engineering experience and 4 years of MEMS staffing experience, Weigold is able to offer a unique perspective.Click to Enlarge

When MEMS industry was in its infancy, companies developing MEMS products hired top engineers from the traditional semiconductor industry because few experienced MEMS engineers existed. These employees leveraged their prior high-volume background coupled with general problem solving skills to address MEMS hurdles.

Since then, multiple companies have successfully commercialized MEMS devices. Examples include Texas Instruments, Analog Devices, Bosch, Freescale, ST Microelectronics, and Knowles, who collectively have shipped over 4 billion MEMS devices. Weigold estimates that the experienced, directly MEMS-related talent pool currently employed at these companies alone is over 1500 people.

Now that multiple companies have successfully brought high-volume MEMS devices to market, MEMS employers can demand more specific MEMS experience. "Any good semiconductor engineer who encounters problems in MEMS can determine a root cause and find a solution," Weigold says. "However, there exist people today who have who have already encountered and worked through many MEMS problems, and can therefore foresee their occurrence, and take steps to prevent them from ever occurring. This is essential to companies encountering shrinking market windows with increased competition, and those trying to achieve milestones in a timely manner for continued investment."

According to Weigold, MEMS hiring has definitely increased compared to a year ago, with companies seeking talent with experience in a specific product — prior work with MEMS RF devices or gyroscopes, for example. Solid MEMS design experience & MEMS process integration skills have been in demand, especially those with DRIE and wafer bonding know-how. Those with test and packaging experience are also at an advantage. Employers are actively seeking those who have already seen a MEMS product successfully commercialized. A large number of strong MEMS engineers being hired are not US citizens, in part because the American pool to choose from is already taken. This raises questions as to why American talent is not pursuing careers in engineering. In addition, there appears to be a current surplus of middle management and fresh graduates in the MEMS field.

Weigold will be sharing additional insight and best practices on how to acquire MEMS talent at the 2010 Commercialization of Micro-Nano Systems (COMS) Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the end of August. From his perspective, "acquisition and retention of top employees is essential in a field seeing increased competition, more stringent specifications, lower selling prices, and tightening timelines."

Neha K. Choksi is an independent consultant based in Mountain View, CA. She has worked for a variety of MEMS companies including as director of product engineering at Silicon Microstructures and as a consultant focusing on commercialization and high-volume production of MEMS devices. E-mail: Choksi [at] gmail.


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