As the workday in San Jose, California, draws to a close, Lim Siok Wei’s day begins. Before her US colleagues shut down and head out for the evening, she is brought up to speed on what has been achieved during their day so the Singapore team can pick up where they leave off.

At Xilinx, innovation is a round-the-clock quest, and Siok Wei – newly promoted to Integrated Circuit Design Manager – is one of its leading innovators.

“I tell my mum that I make the black chip inside the television and phone,” she laughs.

It belies what the 39-year-old does. Siok Wei led the Singapore sub-team that has won two Ross Freeman awards – Xilinx’s most prestigious award – for her work on its class-leading SerDes.

“What SerDes does is transmit data at very high speeds – so normally your ram is 16 gig or 32 gig, our highest speed is 112Gb/s,” she says.

What she does not say is that she pioneered the use of advanced analog/digital co-simulations for the entire SerDes design team, and has eight IEEE papers and nine patents to her name.

These “black chips” are also among the most challenging circuits the company’s analog designers undertake and are the only ones in the industry that are programmable – they can go into anything from cameras to fighter jets. 

The seed for her career in semiconductors was planted in primary school during a science lesson on electrical circuits. Later, she used that knowledge to build a lantern for a science competition. “My lantern lit up and I got a prize for that,” she recalls. Later in secondary school, it was her physics teacher that motivated her to pursue her passion at university.

Studying electrical engineering at the University of Malaya, Siok Wei found herself one of just nine girls in a cohort of more than 100 students. Today, women make up as much as 40% of the engineers in her team.

“Women bring something different to the table. Their perspective is sometimes different from men and when ideas from the two genders merge, they come up with solutions,” says Siok Wei.

Siok Wei receiving a patent award from David Ferguson, Vice President, Production Operations and Site Director for Xilinx Asia Pacific, and Vincent Tong, EVP, Global Operations & Quality, Executive Leader APAC

Siok Wei at Xilinx’s Founder’s Day event at the company’s San Jose premises. She’s being served by former Xilinx CEO Moshe Gavrielov and current CEO Victor Peng

As a Xilinx employee, Siok Wei completed her two-year part-time Masters programme in microelectronics at NUS. Today, she is an inspiration to the company’s younger engineers, and also mentors aspiring design engineers.

IC Design, she says, is an ideal career for those who are interested in learning new things and who don’t want to do the same thing every day. “If you want to innovate, improve on something or create something new, IC design is for you. It is an innovative process. Every day, you try to improve on, or change something”.

Looking forward, she is optimistic about the fast-moving industry, and its ability to keep her challenged.

“Technology keeps evolving and goes faster and faster, even as chips get smaller and smaller. We are always working on something new,” she says.

“You will not find us doing the same thing for ten years.”