Tech test driver: AMD Production Development Engineer Ponmithiran Kannan ensures that chips work as they should

In a cleanroom at AMD’s Singapore plant, Ponmithiran Kannan is fully focused on a semiconductor chip the size of a $1 coin. On the chip are billions of transistors, each barely twice the diameter of a DNA strand.

His job: to develop a flow algorithm – a set of instructions – that will test each one of these components.

“My responsibility – in a nutshell – is to determine the product’s real-world capabilities versus simulated expectations,” says the 22-year-old.

Two years into his job as a Production Development Engineer, Ponmithiran is completely in his element.

“My intention has always been to work on the next major change or advancement in human technology,” he says. “I’m fascinated by it, and have always wanted to be a part of it.” Since joining AMD, he has had no shortage of opportunities.

“I’ve personally worked on the chip for the Microsoft Xbox console, and when I see my cousin or brother going out and buying a Xbox or PlayStation5, it warms my heart. Something I’ve worked on is touching the lives of real people – and not just people hundreds of miles away, but my very own family.”

In industry parlance, Ponmithiran works with automated test equipment (ATE) and the planning and data analysis around system level testing (SLT).

“ATE, SLT – all these technical terms may make it sound like a mundane job, but it isn’t,” he says. “It’s really challenging, finding the bugs and feeding your assessment back to the design engineers… As product engineers, we pretty much drive the product from start all the way to mass production and on to the customer.”

From almost as soon as he discovered the world of technology as a child, Ponmithiran has had an eye on being at the forefront of the next Industrial Revolution.

“I was that weird kid who stayed back to do science projects,” he laughs. “I’ve always enjoyed innovating, thinking of new applications for technology. Back in high school, I built a dynamo and tried to generate electricity from tap water – I didn’t make any major breakthroughs, but I did try my best, trust me!”

Later, as an undergraduate at Singapore University of Technology and Design, he majored in Robotics to “position myself for Industry 4.0 – the mechanical and electrical modules were very relevant.” He graduated with Honours, and immediately applied for a position with AMD.

Two years on, plans are in motion for the next stage of his development – Ponmithiran expects to embark on his Masters degree under the Industrial Postgraduate Programme (IPP) later this year. An initiative of the Economic Development Board, the IPP offers graduates the opportunity to hone their research skills through a combination of study and hands-on experience tackling an actual challenge at their company.

Ponmithiran hopes his Masters research in AI and Machine Learning will bring new efficiencies and cost-savings to the area of testing, and that he will continue to be among those leading the technological revolution.

“Advancements in semiconductors are at the core of enabling such a revolution… Your job has an impact.”