Becoming a Semiconductor Engineer: Salary Info & Job Description

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Learn about a semiconductor engineer's job description, salary and education requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a semiconductor engineering career.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Semiconductor Engineer

As a type of materials engineer, a semiconductor engineer designs and constructs tiny electronic circuits for computers and other types of technology. Compare the following list of pros and cons to help determine if becoming a semiconductor engineer is right for you.

Pros of Becoming a Semiconductor Engineer
High average salaries (about $91,150 in 2014)*
Advancement opportunities are available (more complex projects, supervisory roles)*
Professional certifications in the materials science field are available*
May develop technologies that help improve quality of life*

Cons of Becoming a Semiconductor Engineer
Slow employment growth (1% from 2014-2024)*
Some employers prefer candidates with a graduate degree**
May need to become licensed*
Need to be able to communicate highly technical information to laypersons*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **July 2012 job postings.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As a semiconductor engineer, you're responsible for creating the piece that facilitates the functionality of an electrical device. You may work with silicon, which is a main component in semiconductors, as well as other materials, including chemical solvents and gases. These precise and complex tasks require that you work in uncontaminated environments while wearing protective gear to avoid tainting the materials. Microscopes are often used to analyze the microelectronic device. You ensure each newly created circuit meets specific standards and keep records of the start-to-end process.

Career Outlook and Salary

Semiconductor engineers are a subset of materials engineers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment opportunities for materials engineers, which includes semiconductor engineers, will only increase 1% from 2014-2024, which is slower than average. Those working in industries like as aerospace manufacturing and architectural engineering have better prospects, as do those with experience in computer modeling. In May 2014, the BLS reported that materials engineers earned a median annual wage of about $87,690. Those working in the semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing industries earned about $96,370.

What Are the Requirements?

Education

A bachelor's degree in materials science and engineering or a related field, such as electrical engineering, is usually necessary for obtaining work as a semiconductor engineer. The BLS suggests that you look for programs accredited by ABET since employers may prefer candidates with these degrees. In a material science and engineering program, you will learn concepts in chemistry, physics, mathematics and foundational engineering during your first two years. In your final two years, you will study more complicated topics, including nanomaterials, electronic materials and magnetic materials. You will also learn how to create or improve materials. Some programs may offer concentrations, such as biomaterials or structural and functional materials.

Licensure

According to the BLS, some states mandate that materials engineers obtain licensure. However, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, you must be a licensed professional engineer to offer engineering services to the public. Becoming licensed typically requires graduating from an ABET-accredited program, gaining four years of professional experience and passing two exams. The first exam is the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam that may be taken near the completion of a bachelor's program. After passing the FE and gaining work experience, you may take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam, which typically completes the licensing process. Often, you will have to earn continuing education credits to maintain your license.

What Are Employers Looking for?

Many employers look for candidates with good communication skills who can relay complicated information to people unfamiliar with the field. Proficient mathematical skills are also necessary. The following job postings from 2012 outline some requirements from July 2012 in order to provide you with an idea of what employers are looking for:

  • A company in California sought an experienced semiconductor equipment support engineer with a bachelor's degree. Excellent communication and problem-solving abilities were listed as requirements.
  • A technology innovation company in Idaho was looking to hire a semiconductor facilities engineer with at least 3 years of experience. The duties would include developing equipment, evaluating component specifications and ensuring material compatibility.
  • A university laboratory in Massachusetts wanted a semiconductor process engineer to work in the microelectronics laboratory clean room to assist in manufacturing charge-coupled devices, deep sub micron CMOS devices and micro mechanical structures. This position was temporary, lasting one year.

How to Stand Out

Gain Practical Training

Your degree program may not require you to complete an internship as part of your graduation requirements, but you can still apply with semiconductor production companies in order to gain professional experience. Additionally, you can take advantage of other on-campus opportunities, such as assisting faculty in laboratories and in research projects, participating in research competitions and spending time in lab facilities.

Earn a Graduate Degree

Some employers may prefer candidates with a graduate degree. Some schools offer dual bachelor's/ master's programs in relevant engineering fields. In these 5- or 6-year programs, the BLS states that you may participate in a cooperative learning experience that provides training in a professional setting. You may also be able to work on graduate research or apply for a teaching assistantship. PhD programs often focus on independent research and culminate with a doctoral thesis.

Get Certified

Relevant certification options for semiconductor engineers are available through ASM International: the Materials Information Society. The ASM-affiliated International Metallographic Society awards the Certified Metallographer credential to those who demonstrate expertise by passing an exam. Once you are certified, recertification through continuing education or professional experience is necessary.

Alternative Career Paths

If the technological aspect of a semiconductor engineering job appeals to you, but you also like the business aspect of engineering, consider becoming a sales engineer. This career allows you to specialize in the sale of complex technological products. The BLS projected that these professionals would see 14% job growth from 2010-2020. However, sales engineers in computer systems design and related fields are expected to see a 43% employment growth rate over the same time period. In May 2011, the BLS reported that sales engineers earned a median annual wage of about $89,000, but your income and job security is directly related to how successful you are in selling your products. You can also expect to travel and work long, variable hours in order to meet sales goals and accommodate clients.

If you want to stay in the engineering field, but prefer a job with a more promising outlook, consider becoming a biomedical engineer. In this profession, you develop anything from tools, devices or software in order to improve healthcare. The BLS indicates that these professionals are expected to see a 62% employment growth from 2010-2020. In May 2011, the BLS reported that biomedical engineers earned a median annual wage of more than $84,000.

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