A 'user group' meeting at Bangalore's costliest hotel, last week, saw some 750 engineers abuzz about the latest in chip design tools. Those engineers may have represented a tenth, or more, of the total core chip design talent pool in the country.
Yet, semiconductor companies, including the large chipmakers and their suppliers, are trying to increase the work they do in India. That talent pool, it has emerged in the last year, will be key to the sector's growth in the country.
The 'user group' meet was organised by an important supplier to the chip makers -- Synopsys Inc. This electronics design automation (EDA) company supplies software tools needed to design chips. Clients include just about every major chipmaker, such as Intel, at one end, and small 'foundry-less' startups, like Open Silicon, at the other.
Antun Domic, a general manager at Synopsys, says, semiconductor-related design and software work in India has come a long way from testing and bug fixing. While India accounted for less than 1 per cent of the $210 billion worldwide semiconductor market, last fiscal, chips designed here and software made for semiconductor chips have reached high degrees of complexity, Domic says.
"The complexity of a chip designed in India could be as much as that of a chip coming out of San Jose." So does that mean working in India is not cheaper, for the semiconductor industry?
"At the entry level, the cost arbitrage still works: Indian engineers cost a third of their American or European counterparts. But if you take someone with 10 years of experience who can say "this isn't my first chip, it is my fifth, it is a seller's market," he says.
But, "We are expanding here as our customers are ramping up the work they do from India," says Domic. Worldwide, Synopsys has a quarter of the $4 billion plus EDA market, by sales. In India, it has consistently grown its team of core EDA engineers over the decade it has been here, says Pradip K Dutta, president and managing director of Synopsys India.
It has three facilities in Bangalore, one in Hyderabad and another in Noida and will soon start a fourth centre in Bangalore.
"We have been both supporting our customers here, and taking advantage of the local talent to develop tools," Domic says. In fact, of the 350 staff at Synopsys India, some 250 are involved in building new tools.
"On an average, we have been adding between 50 and 60 engineers every year in the last three or four years," Dutta says. But, the single most important obstacle to some serious ramping up of work is the liability of engineers knowledge of areas such as VLSI, a key semiconductor chip technology.
"This will largely depend on what we do with the universities," Dutta says, by providing software, offering more VLSI internships, getting top engineers from the industry to teach courses and so on.
The VLSI Society of India, of which Texas Instruments' Biswadip Mitra is president, wants to turn out 10,000 chip-savvy engineers and another 2,000 teachers in universities, by the year 2010.
Domic says, "The top three EDA vendors, Synopsys, Cadence Design Systems and Mentor Graphics account for some 70 per cent of the EDA market."
These firms worldwide would have "about 4,000 R&D engineers. So, in the $4 billion EDA market, "it is a true metric of the talent concentration that each of these engineers' work must translate to nearly a million dollars in sales," he says.