Posted December 12, 2016 | Career Advice, Electronics | No Comments »

Top Tips to Become a Successful Analog/RF IC Design Engineer

Abhay Dixit Principal Engineer/Manager at Qualcomm tells us what it takes to become a successful Analog/RF IC Design Engineer.

This can be broken down into key technical skills and key qualities of a good Analog/RF IC Design Engineer.

Key Qualities:

  1. Razor sharp Focus:  Analog/RF is a BIG world, it’s good to have knowledge about various disciplines in this field, but you must be an expert in one of the slices of this field. Razor sharp focus is required.
  2. Organize yourself: You need to be disciplined in this task, read lots of ISSCC, CICC papers, analyze them & understand what works and what does not
  3. Quality matters: Analog tasks and teams demand quality, you can’t finish tasks by putting more headcount. Quality matters, not quantity. Same goes with designs. Some of the great circuits have handful of transistors (5-8) interconnected in brilliant fashion.
  4. You need to love what you are doing, not just do it for the sake of social pride!!
  5. Analog Design is both an Art and Science. Art is all about creativity and science is all about insight. Analog design needs both.

Essential Skills:

Analog field can be broadly classified into 3 segments

  • RF world ; where you will design wireless circuits like LNAs (Low Noise Amplifiers), PAs (Power amplifiers), mixers, oscillators, PLLs etc. You will design narrow band high-Q circuits.
  • Baseband signal processing analog; where you will design broadband analog circuits. These circuits usually comprise of interface ICs like high speed SerDes, data converters, precision op-amps, filters, band gap reference circuits, oscillators, PLLs etc..
  • Power management design; where you will design power management IPs like voltage regulators, DC-DC converters, band-gap circuits, low drop out regulators, battery chargers etc..

You need to define your slice & get real world practical skills (not just theoretical knowledge). You must be familiar with block level designs as well as top level integration to effectively deliver the design as an IP (Intellectual property block)

Knowledge of following design topics is a must no matter your slice:        

  1. Small signal analysis
  2. Current references & voltage references
  3. Single stage & multistage differential amplifiers
  4. Op-amps & OTAs
  5. Frequency response of amplifiers
  6. Stability analysis of amplifiers
  7. Noise analysis
  8. Some device physics knowledge
  9. Knowledge of spice simulator tool & techniques to perform analog and mixed signal circuit simulations
  10. Last but not the least “art of analog layout design”; circuit design is 50% job. You tape-out GDS, so the remaining 50% layout & physical verification work is critically important for the success of your design in Silicon. Learn how to do systematic layout, symmetry requirements, common centroid & inter-digitating techniques, off-set cancellation, noise prevention & floor planning of your design.

This is a long list. If you are a student or beginner in this field it will take anywhere from 1 to 2 years to appreciate & get insight into some of the skills. To be an expert in your chosen slice it will take delightful 10,000 hours of practice. But remember journey is important not the destination.

Here is what our living analog guru Dr Willy Sansen has to say about analog design ” Analog design is not possible without insight. This is not the case in general for electronics.  Insight lets the designer strike the right compromises among the endless number of specifications. Analog design requires compromises. So does life! On the other hand, making compromises is fun. It gives one a feeling of power. Analog design, with its compromises, leads to greater insight. It generates intuition, which is essential in order to be efficient for the next design.”

Some good reference books

  • Design of Analog CMOS Integrated Circuits by Dr Behzad Razavi
  • Analog Design Essentials by Dr Willy Sansen
  • CMOS Circuit Design, Layout & Simulation by R. Jacob Baker
  • The Art of Analog Layout by Alan Hastings

Finally a good analog designer always follows the “KISS” principle…which means “keep it simple stupid”…this applies in real world & real world is analog…

Good Luck!

This article was written by Abhay Dixit Principal Engineer/Manager at Qualcomm, and originally appeared on LinkedIn. Follow @abhayconnect on Twitter.

Enigma People Solutions is a specialist Electronics, Photonics and Semiconductor recruitment consultancy. Join our specialist InElectronics Group on LinkedIn ic_lkdin_22 Or follow us on Twitter @In_Electronics ic_twit_22.

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