51) 1985 – Tooling Up for Something but What?

You’ve heard of Intel, right?

In my last post you read about how sometimes our excitement – or even a dream about a fresh idea – can drive us to further investigation. 

Some ideas are so new no one has written about them in a book.  That was the case in 1984 with my idea about working in an engineering laboratory to help design computer chips.  It is even more true today, in the year 2013, during a time which ideas and careers are evolving faster than folks can organize information to write about them.

In this post you will read about how I poked around and located some technical training to prepare myself for my new career. But  I had no money. Further, the results of my aptitude tests all but disqualified me for a career in engineering. In fact, nothing in my background – except an intense curiosity – suggested I could succeed designing computer chips.

What is a Semiconductor Circuit Designer – (Electrical  Design Engineer)?

Design Engineers are individuals who hold at a minimum, a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. One of their principle responsibilities is to arrange the transistors (and other circuit elements) on a semiconductor (chip) to direct the electrons in the circuit to perform in a certain way. This activity is called designing the circuit. The circuit can be a simple, stand-alone entity or part of an enormously complex group of circuits that perform an operation in a customer application.

Once she has created the circuit, she then hands a representation of the circuit – called a schematic diagram – off to a Mask Designer.

What is a Semiconductor Mask Designer?

The Mask Designer is usually an individual without an advanced engineering degree, who translates the circuit from more abstract symbols to concrete shapes representing transistors, wires and other elements. The mask designer accomplishes this by drawing a layout of these transistors and wires in a manner that corresponds to the circuit. As electronic design automation (EDA) of semiconductors has evolved, the translation is sometimes accomplished with a few clicks of the mouse via EDA software. Mostly though, designing the layout for a semiconductor schematic, involves hand placement and routing of tiny transistors and wires using computer software. It is an exacting, creative and at times, stressful occupation – that is relatively highly compensated.

While simplified, these two job descriptions serve to distinguish the credentials necessary to enter the field of semiconductor design.

I became convinced, that with some specialized training, I could become a Mask Designer. This was a career, I reasoned, that straddled the bridge between science and art, was relatively new and would likely place me on the wave of computational integration that was penetrating all aspects of our society and not yet close to cresting.

Of course, I couldn’t predict this in 1985 but this is exactly what happened.

Masters Design and Technical Center, San Jose, CA.

I located a technical training program in San Jose (a distance of 45 miles away, or about one-hour by car) that I could complete in approximately 9 months. The class was entitled integrated-circuit layout (IC Layout) and was met 4-nights per week from 5:30 – 8:30 at The Master’s Design and Technical Center.

I didn’t know how I was going to pay for it or get to class by 5:30 PM no matter what type of job I could find. It appeared that I had hit a brick wall. But I was determined to find a way to get the technical training and work in Silicon Valley.

Next: Scamming again. This time to get the training for my new career.

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