Engineering Jobs

Just Colorado Jobs

Dr. Dave from was nice enough to drop me a note recently. He is also in the field of analog electronics, but much more experienced and has written some really solid technical articles (such as this recent one about low noise discrete amplifiers).

He also mentioned that a friend of his (Bruce Gammill, no relation) was the chairman of a group dedicated to promoting Colorado’s tech region. While I’m not here to say whether the area is the next silicon valley or anything, I do appreciate the fact that it is another resource available for electrical engineers. Specifically, the “beta” section of the site shows a wonderful map of all the companies that are located on the 40 mile corridor from Denver to Fort Collins.

The reason I even mention this at all is that my previous post about where the technical areas are in the US completely glossed over the state of Colorado. While I blame my primitive search capabilities and the fact that the informal survey was based only one who is hiring now, I think it’s still important to point out where there are potential jobs for electrical engineers (and others!). Thankfully readers both here and on the ECE thread of reddit where I sometimes plug my posts were sure to point this fact out to me.

Does anyone know of other “chamber of commerce” type organizations that promote other technical areas in the US or even abroad? Having information about relevant companies in the same location can be a powerful tool for any job search. Using targeted company searches and good job hunting/interviewing techniques, the time searching for a job can be cut down considerably. Looking forward to seeing everyone’s tips!

Renewable Energy

Is black silicon the way to make cheaper solar power?

I came across an article today talking about how black silicon will revolutionize solar power. The idea developed at Harvard (and now at a company called SiOnyx) is basically to blast the surface of a silicon wafer with a high intensity laser for a very short interval. This short time “melts” the silicon and when it comes back together it has a structure allows the structure of the silicon to absorb more light. They also utilize a new type of doping, (doping is insertion of low quantities of specific elements, such as phosphorus, into silicon in order to change the properties of the silicon. Depending on the type of dopant the silicon may want to release an electron or absorb one); the laser process likely allows better penetration of the dopants into the silicon, which usually are accelerated into the silicon with HUGE magnets. There aren’t specifics about the entire process, but as you can see in the picture below, the silicon seems to stretch upwards creating cones of silicon. I would guess that the process is similar to carbon nano-tubes where they also use a laser to blast the carbon. It also makes sense that the process would work for silicon given the similar structure between carbon and silicon.

Courtesy of SiOnyx

Again, I don’t know the specifics of how the final product works better, but my guess would be that the cones are much better and capturing light, due to the higher surface area. When the light hits these more sensitive nodules, the energy “knocks” an electron loose (just as in regular PV cells), which then contributes to the overall current coming from the cell. Also of note is how the dopants shift the sensitivity of the silicon to a lower wavelength. In this case, it is shifting it down into the red and infrared regions of the spectrum, which allows for more energy to be absorbed by silicon, as opposed to reflected. This also is the namesake characteristic of this technology, because in theory “black” silicon would absorb all light (as opposed to a theoretically worthless “white” silicon that would reflect all light). The higher amount of cells hit by light (due to more surface area) and the greater sensitivity to low wavelength light such as infrared (which our bodies interpret as “heat”) gives this new silicon a much higher overall absorption and translation into usable electrical energy.

I like this idea because it lets existing solar facilities be transformed easily into solar cell facilities. This new capacity could then be absorbed by local micro-factories, putting the solar arrays together and hopefully driving the cost to the consumer down. As more and more fabrication facilities are shut down due to a possible recession, they could quickly be modified to start outputting less complicated solar cells in higher volumes. The SiOnyx equipment would provide the final processing necessary to have the higher efficiency panels.

I only know what I have read online, but I like what I have seen thus far (plus I tend to trust researchers from Harvard more than just some schlub off the street). It seems feasible in the short term and has much broader appeal and use than ideas like “dancing to save the world“. Check out the above article and if you have any thoughts, please leave them in the comments.

Analog Electronics Work

Modesty comes in bulk doses

I am not an analog engineer yet. But I’m learning how to be.

One of the things I love about my company is that they really allow for professional development. I will have the opportunity to go back to school and we have conferences on new technologies. Last week I was introduced to the another great opportunity, a meeting with the senior engineers of the company to just talk shop and bounce around ideas. Today we had another of our weekly meetings with each other and this time we had an outside vendor come in and present new product offerings. Here’s some of the things I learned:

  1. Analog engineers find favorite parts and stick to them
    • Say you’re a salesman. Do you think you’d be in a meeting and someone there would start gushing about the product you sold 10 years ago? How great it was? OK, say you’re a doctor. Do you hear other doctors talking about the great medicines and techniques that were used 10 years ago? No? Well, we do in analog engineering. Either by habit or price or whatever drives a man or woman to talk affectionately about an often-used piece of silicon, it’s kind of weird to hear it. Doubly so when you’re in a presentation for all the NEW stuff that is coming out and you expect the focus to be on that. To be fair, sometimes chip makers get it right one time and then can’t replicate it for a while. But that’s another blog post.
  2. The same point goes for books
    • I guess this point doesn’t really hold up when comparing analog designers to other professions. I’m sure doctors still read Grey’s Anatomy, Salesmen read Dale Carnegie and Priests still read the Bible. But there are some bibles in analog design too. In fact, that was the first meeting I mentioned above. We sat around talking about our favorite books. As someone who has just about no clue about everything, I’ve been grabbing at any knowledge I can get my hands on. I love books!
  3. If you used to work at a company and then come back as a vendor, watch out!
    • Yikes. I’ve seen some pretty rough treatment of vendors before, much worse than today actually (Semiconductor vendors REALLY get the shaft, that’s all I’ll say). But today I witnessed a vendor get hit from all sides. To be fair, I feel that a good deal of the treatment was because he used to work here and then became a vendor. This meant he had personal relationships with a lot of the engineers he was fielding questions from, but he still got some doozies. Makes me think twice about jumping into a field app position anytime soon (besides my cluelessness about it).
  4. There is actually some symbiosis between customers and vendors.
    • As I mention in point 3, I’ve seen some struggle between vendors and users. But today I saw some genuine attempts at bringing the needs of the customer back to the vendor, which gives me a warm professional fuzzy feeling. Plus I’ve heard they even deliver on some of their promises, another reason I’m glad I’m in this new sector (basically you had to be THE biggest player in the semiconductor market to really influence any change).
    • Another great thing is that I found out that some vendors offer free training to new guys like me. That is great because my job requires a little knowledge about a lot of things and then the ability to quickly acquire the remainder of any knowledge. Example: I am told a product isn’t working and it MIGHT be this or that part. Go. (That’s the point I start to scramble).
  5. Converse to the above point, analog engineers love asking for the moon.
    • Well, nothing is perfect, right? And in my experience, analog designers will ask for exactly what they want, even if it might never be possible. But if you don’t ask, you’ll never know, right? It reminds me of the phrase I use when I don’t get my way:
      • “All I want is everything I want right when I want it. Is that too much to ask?”
  6. I’ve mentioned it before, but I have a ton to learn
    • I wrote down no less than 6 things from that meeting that I had no clue what they were. That’s pretty crazy. I had a very general feeling about what they might be about (I actually found out some of them have applications in renewable energy), but I still have at least a good week of reading ahead of me (on top of my usual workload) to figure out what some of these things meant. When I came into this job thinking I’d be learning, I sure had it right.

So to reuse my blog headline, modesty does come in bulk doses when you’re an analog engineer, especially when you hang out with veterans. It’s kind of refreshing though, knowing that I have so much I can potentiall learn. I know it won’t get boring and I know the industry doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon either. Bring it on.