My name is Chris…and I’m an analog engineer

Or am I?

I read technical publications on a pretty regular basis. And more and more lately, especially with the lull in the economy, I read about how jobs are going offshore or overseas. Sure, this concerns me, I’m human! Plus, I’ve inherited a worrisome nature from my mother. But I’ve had the fortune of reading a lot of articles about how analog engineers are in short supply. Even how they’re moving into green technologies!

Yahoo!” I think.

But wait a second, what’s all this.

I have read how analog engineers are hard to find. I know that the experience is both rare and valuable. But what kind of analog engineer I ask? Most of the articles I see are regarding silicon design and regardless of what I have done in the past with Samsung, I have never had the opportunity to look at analog design on silicon. And I have to wonder, am I allowed to call myself an analog engineer? I’m going to go with yes.

Here’s why:

  1. I know how to use an op amp
    • That’s one of those triangle things, right? I use these all the time and they are the basis of any analog engineer’s work. I feel like the main difference between myself and an engineer designing in silicon is I go out and buy a part for a dollar, they just go into a CAD library and plop one down in their design (and maybe mess around with it to get the specs they need). Anyone out there know if this is true or not?
  2. Yes, I even know how a transistor works
    • Granted, my silicon level knowledge is a little weak (I never liked calculating the number of electrons flowing through a PN junction…it just seemed so anti-Heisenburg). But plop an NPN transistor down in front of me (or a symbol of one), and I think I can fare pretty well. A great test of basic knowledge is in the chapter “A New Graduate’s Guide to the Analog Interview”. See how many of this limited passage you can get right.
  3. I know how to put it all together
    • There is a lot more to analog electrical engineering than knowing equations. A good example in my specific branch would be talking to vendors and getting pricing on parts. There are some big swings that can occur on prices of parts! Another example of putting it all together includes other aspects of design you might not think about. How about supporting a product 10 years down the line? I haven’t done this one personally (given my relatively short career thus far), but I’ve had to help out with some designs where the original designers were no longer around. And I’ll tell ya, some of those components were not meant to last! Needless to say, there is a lot of other tasks out there than just thinking up a circuit.

So even though I don’t intend on changing what I call myself anytime soon, I will clarify my skills. I am an analog system designer. Is that too far off? No, I don’t think so. Even the limited amount of design I’ve done really fits into that category. I have strung together a lot of components in order to create systems capable of processing analog signals. Further, sometimes the available system components (op-amps, buck/boost converters, etc) need to be made with passive components because of individual system constraints (meaning the stuff that vendors offer just don’t do what we need them to). I think more and more though, the industry will go towards system designers, simply because of rising costs. As systems get more and more complex, economies of scale mandate that people specialize in order to win business. We have also seen trends where chip makers are beginning to reach practical limits of how much better they can make certain devices (op amps, for instance). As such, we’ll see that the chip makers put more and more functions inside of chips.

So maybe one day I will work for a chip maker, trying to shove more components into a package? I enjoy the thought of creating a component that thousands if not millions would use. Perhaps this will be all that will be left to do? I’d obviously like to start learning it all before it’s the last frontier of design. Perhaps one day our tiny cell phones and other gadgetry will be nothing more than a screen and a single chip with every required function in it. But if I’m not making the screen or the chip, hopefully they’ll still need someone like me to hook that chip up to that screen. Who knows what the future will hold?

One final (and mostly unrelated) note I’ve been meaning to put in a post; writing about analog issues seems to be as good a time as any.  I’m sure at least one or two people noticed (probably not), I changed the tag line on my blog from “Chris Gammell’s Renewable Life” to “Chris Gammell’s Analog Life“. A few reasons: I think it makes more sense (I’m not Hindu, so I don’t really think life is “renewable” per se); the world around us is truly analog (as much as marketers would have us believe that music is “digital”); and to be blunt, I like the sound of it better.  Plus, I doubt too many people will be like “Wait, where is my favorite site??? Ohhhh, it just changed names…”.  This doesn’t mean I will stop looking at issues facing renewable energy, just that I want the focus of my site to be on analog.

That’s all for now. Chris Gammell, analog electrical engineer, out.

3 Comments

  1. I am an Analog IC Designer, you’re right in saying you’re mor like an Analog Systems designer. You can do system definition, you cannot do and are a world away from being able to do analog ic design. We don’t plop down a cell from some library and tweak it for new specs, at least not when we are developing the next whiz bang IC. The innovation comes from many places, but transistor level design is a fundamental part that is not trivial and requires a lot of experience, creativity and understanding of the device physics.
    I agree with you that Systems is a growth area.

  2. Agree with Raul here. Unless one is working in “old” technology and re-using an existing design almost as is, rarely do an analog IC designer just plop one down from a CAD library. Analog IC CAD libraries are just not that common, if they exist at all for the technology node that you’re working in. They may take a design architecture as a starting point (e.g folded cascode amplifier), but it is just that, a starting point.

    The analog IC designer doesn’t just need to know how to use an op-amp, s/he needs to know how to build one from scratch. Discrete transistor devices also differ from the ones used to design ICs.

    One thing that IC designers don’t do is to deal with pricing with vendors. That is done at very high levels of management as it can involve millions of dollars. With ICs, something as simple as changing a resistor value after the initial design is finished may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

  3. Hey, just found this blog and I'm very interested in Analog Design Engineers. I work for a staffing company and our clients are telling us that these are the types of engineers they need now. How do I find Analog Design Engineers? Can you help? Where do they hang out? Most of our clients needs are based in the Dallas, TX area. Any help is appreciated.

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