Semiconductors are critical to the technology we rely on, yet massive gaps persist in the understanding of the sector, what it does, and the exciting roles within it. We take on five common misconceptions young graduates have about careers in one of the world’s fastest-growing industries.

1. You need an Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE) degree

Hannah Koh, a Republic Polytechnic majoring in Industrial & Operation Management, joined Siltronic’s Procurement and Logistics department as an intern in September 2019. Under the guidance of her supervisor, she reviewed and improved business process gaps, and created and maintained a vendor database. At the end of her internship, she was offered a permanent position at the company. AMD’s Lim Shangyi, an aspiring engineer from the company’s device analysis team, meanwhile, graduated from NTU with a degree in Materials Engineering. A product development engineer at the company, he is currently pursuing a PhD under the Industrial Postgraduate Program which will allow him to hone his research skills while helping solve a real-life challenge at AMD.

2. You need a degree to work in the semiconductor industry

Not so. Chew Su Fang, a Temasek Polytechnic graduate in Microelectronics, joined Xilinx in 2010 as a Failure Analysis Associate Engineer. While she did not possess an undergraduate degree, she did possess ample amounts of ambition and drive, attending external training sessions and obtaining certificates in “Failure Mode & Effects Analysis” in 2016 and “Advanced Fault Isolation and Failure Analysis” in 2017, with support from Xilinx. Su Fang progressed rapidly through the ranks, and in 2018, was promoted to the position of Senior Failure Analysis Engineer.

3. Semiconductors is only about hardware

The massive potential of AI apps has made software just as important – a trend that can only gain strength. Realtek, for instance, has a growing AI algorithm development team based in Singapore and is also training talent to develop light neural networks for AI. Beyond software, most semiconductor companies in Singapore are integrated companies that design, manufacture and market their own products – which means they require not just technical talent, but talent across the entire chain, from design and production to logistics and human resources.

4. Semiconductors is for guys

Many women have found their calling and passion in the semiconductor industry, and several have risen to occupy positions at the very top including Dr Lisa Su who is president and CEO of multinational semiconductor company Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). AMD’s leadership in Singapore is also split fairly evenly between men and women. At ams, a global leader in optical solutions, Jennifer Zhao is the Executive VP and GM of the Advanced Optical Sensors Division. She is also a key sponsor of “Women in Network”, a platform for women professionals to learn and grow through networking and mentorship, and was named “Woman of the Year” at  information and events company Questex’s Sensors Innovation Week.

5. Process engineers only work in cleanrooms to deploy manufacturing process strategies

Process engineers are responsible for deploying manufacturing process strategies, but their responsibilities do not stop there. Communication with customers is an integral part of optimising performance and ensuring that all process requirements are met, says Applied Materials’ Process Support Engineer, Cecilia Lim. “We (also) collaborate closely with our customers to explore new applications and opportunities to further improve their products’ yield, performance and time-to-market.” Brainstorming and teamwork are also part of the job. “When we meet with difficult challenges, our cross-functional team comes together to review the data, analyse the impact, and come up with solutions,” says SSMC process engineer CH Ong.

5. You have to start as an IC design engineer to make a career as one

Graduating from NTU with a degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Yap Kwee Peng began her career as a product engineer for Micron, only switching to IC design when she joined  Agere Systems two years later. In 2006, she moved to Xilinx Asia Pacific and was part of the company’s pioneer batch of IC designers. For the past decade, Kwee Peng has focussed on digital IC design implementation and delivering state-of-art products using the latest silicon technology nodes. Today, as Xilinx’s Design Engineering Manager, she manages a multi-site team across Singapore and Ireland, and owns all physical implementations for the company’s Wired & Wireless Group.