72) Forbidden Topics

Welcome new reader!

In the last post you read about me securing a contract and my family’s reaction to my news. In this post I will share some inside information about how much mask designers  are paid and how reputations are destroyed.

Compensation and Reputation

My friend Dave had once told me the best time for a contract Mask Designer is just after she has excepted a contract and just before she reported for work. I certainly found this to be true and just after winning most of my contracts, was already making plans to spend the money. Rates for contracts during the nineteen-nineties were, compared to other engineering compensation levels, relatively high and ranged from $55 to $100 dollars per hour. So it’s not too hard to see that if you possessed the right experience and/or industry connections and were hired for a contract you would be getting a $100,000/year plus gig.

Today, in the year 2013, a compensation package of $100, 000 is still significant but no longer an exception on the engineering salary ladder. What is most impressive is that a mask design contractor is normally NOT an individual that possesses a 4 year college degree in electrical engineering; or ANY degree, in most cases.

It Gets Better

Overtime was nearly always expected in the push to complete a chip on schedule, and this was paid at time and a half. Say you worked 40 hours per week for six months and 50 hours per week for the last six months. You are then pushing $200,000 per year. And so on. Certainly I have known mask design contractors that have consistently made $150,000 – $200, 000 for several years running. These are normally individuals that are “grinders”, have too many toys that are not paid for or have high costs associated with a failed marriage.

Not Talked About

Mask designers (people who draw computer chips) are not rock stars, pro athletes or CEO’s, but you can see that they make decent money – by most measures. During the 1990’s how well mask designers were paid, except within the semiconductor design staffing industry, was not widely known. Inside of a design laboratory where highly trained electrical engineering graduates typically supervise high-school educated but highly compensated mask designers, compensation is not a topic that is eagerly entered into by the folks who are still paying off school loans.

But Why?

For a contract mask designer to leak information about pay rates is very much discouraged by the employing staffing agency.  Matters of  salary – in the workplace – have always been a topic that is guarded. This is especially true in design labs of semiconductor companies because mask design contractors have not always enjoyed a favorable perception among sponsoring company employees.

Reputations at Stake

There may be some justification for this perception. Just as in any industry – defense contracting comes to mind – contractors have many methods at their disposal to cheat clients. I have witnessed this with mask design contractors in various situations. Cheating a client often has a devastating effect on a mask design contractors’ reputation. In spite of this, many individuals continue this behavior. And as you might expect, due in part to the high skill level, high demand for their services, and the fact that some cheaters are quite slippery, these individuals continue to get hired.

Do you know someone who is well paid but did not  graduate from college?

Next: The Day I Realized I Was Unemployable

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