Today, a lot of hype and buzz is created around a lot of (new) technology. Not a day goes by without hearing something about blockchain, artificial intelligence, robots, drones, … . Optimists see a bright and better future for everybody. Pessimists see the world going towards a Skynet future where Terminator robots remove all human life from planet earth. As usual the real future will be somewhere in between. The burning question remains, how will we prepare for this future from a career and education standpoint?
One of the most important things I remember, is an analogy I heard in my twenties. It was related to investing at that time. Choose the company to invest in wisely. But it applies to more than just investing. Anyway, let’s take a look at the gold rush. When word gets out that gold is found in a specific area, immediately a lot of people can’t resist the opportunity to get rich quick. They leave everything behind and set up camp near where the gold is supposed to be found. They buy or rent a plot of land, they buy a pickaxe and some other stuff and they start digging and sifting. They work day and night. Without knowing if there is really gold to find. And even if there is gold to be found, that they will find part of that gold. Or not. Looking from a distance, the gold digger’s chances are stacked against him. While the guy that sells the pickaxes made good money. Not everybody draws the same conclusion but for me it is obvious you choose the pickaxe business over the slim chance to make a one time killer profit, a bit similar to winning the lottery.
I liked science fiction books a lot. A lot of Asimov books, mainly because he wrote so many. For me, it was clear that the future would be a technology based future. Even though, at that time, the computer was not yet mainstream. Privilege of the happy few. Even though I was predestined to become an engineer, I was initially just following my old man’s footsteps in another field of engineering. But in college, I was living in a house with a few other students. One of the guys was doing a masters in electrical engineering. And I got bitten by an electron, I knew electronics was my thing. From working on the first affordable desktop PC’s with a matrix printer to the multi-core monsters we now today, the future would be a hardware and software future. Maybe I am biased but software is heavily depending on hardware. For example, neural networks and machine learning has been around for decades. It is silicon that is now capable of running trained networks in real time. This unlocks a new era of custom designed chips speeding up the software algorithms. A lot of different fields of technology will be essential for the future. VLSI is a very important and key factor in the intelligent future.
A lot of technologies have been hyped as of late. IoT, a fuzzy word that promises us all things connected to the internet. Blockchain, a decentralised way for applications to avoid the trusted middleman with cyrptocurrency as best known application. Drones and robots that are becoming more intelligent and independent from their human creators. In our homes, our workplace, on the streets and in our cities, everywhere things will change in a way we have not seen before in history. But in all technologies there is a common factor. Hardware and software. So, actually two factors. As a VLSI engineer, processors, communication protocols, firmware, software and operating systems are areas touching or overlapping with the job description. For my home automation, I use a raspberry pi running a linux distro. My 3D printers are based on Arduino. With my 3D printer, I can print drones and robot parts.
What did we learn today?
Silicon will be an essential part of the future, a career in VLSI will be a wise choice for the future. Demand for this kind of profile will grow exponentially like the technology predictions show exponential growth for machine based automation. A second benefit is that a VLSI engineer can apply his kowledge to a lot of other technologies and markets, for private or professional purposes. A career shift from VLSI digital design to IoT developer is perfectly possible since similar skills and experience are needed for both roles.