59) Facing an Ugly Truth and Breaking the News

Welcome new reader!

In the last post you read about Steve. In this post I try to provide you with an overview of the world of semiconductor design – at least from my perspective in 1988 as I considered my options in Minneapolis or moving my family from Minnesota, across county to Massachusetts.

An Ugly Truth

At this  point in my career, after approximately 4 years as mask designer – drawing tiny computer chips – I wasn’t lighting things up. In fact, I was not even getting along with the people at work. This shook my confidence badly.  I wasn’t a high performer and needed help and support with every task I was given, from engineering drawing interpretation to design application software and hardware use. No wonder my peers were avoiding me. I couldn’t do anything by myself.

I just wasn’t getting it. In addition, my memory and ability to arrange objects spatially, before I used the software to draw them, was failing badly. Often I would have to stop and start a task several times because, during the task, I would lose my place because I would forget what I just saw.

What was wrong? Simply, I didn’t possess the natural ability (aptitudes) to see what my peers saw, then to  do  what they did. At least not as fast.

My tests at The Johnson-O’Connor Research Foundation in Dallas during 1985, four years earlier, clearly illustrated these shortcomings.

Semiconductor Design and Manufacturing Jobs in the United States in 1989

A little background on semiconductor design job locations may serve well here. Mask designs serve a highly specialized industry niche whose opportunities for employment are located in just a few major clusters of technology within the US.

In addition, since Mask Design was an emerging occupation, the prospects for long-term growth were excellent but relatively few job openings existed.

The list of major technology centers in the United States in 1989 included Silicon Valley, Austin, Boston, North Carolina, Seattle and San Diego. Therefore, most semiconductor design – including Mask Design/IC Layout positions – could be found within these metro areas.

So because of relatively few semiconductor design facilities and comparatively few job openings it meant that Mask Designers seemed to move around the country a lot. If you were lucky enough to secure a position in your hometown, you did your best to hold on to it. But since I was outplaced in Minneapolis, to remain in my present career, I would most likely again have to uproot my family.

I couldn’t have known all of this on that day in California when I decided to get specialized training in IC Layout. I only knew designing computer chips seemed like something fun to do and didn’t require me to meet a sales quota.

Our Apartment Building

Improvements to the interior of our duplex in Minneapolis were moving along nicely. I had refinished the wooden floors and repainted the walls in both upstairs and downstairs units. We then rented the downstairs to three energetic and wholesome young ladies who were attending the University of Minnesota, just one-mile away.

Okay, my confidence was badly shaken. I had no natural abilities for my new career. And  I wasn’t getting along with people at work. In spite of my circumstances, I believed in myself and that it was only a matter of time before I found a design team that would appreciate my work ethic and ability to learn and adapt.

So one snowy November evening in Minneapolis, I told Nadine, Jenner and Stevie we would probably have to move across country again for my next job. Of course, they were devastated.

How long did it take you to become really proficient on your job?

Next: The Biggest Break of My Incredible New Career

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