Arun Bellary, Managing Director of PMC-Sierra (India), loves river rafting with his team. He enjoys navigating through rapids at a depth of 60 feet while busy dodging sharp boulders and rocks. For him it calls for true passion, not to mention incessant teamwork to ensure the safety of the participants. But it is not restricted to fun alone; Bellary is using the same principles of river rafting to guide the India development team of PMC-Sierra from scratch, through the vast semiconductor space. In fact, river rafting is among the several team-building lessons that all the employees at the center are put through.
After all, Bellary’s intentions are clear; Build an entire chip from India by 2008, front-end to back-end, all the way to fab. And the first step toward this would be building a strong and passionate team.
Headquartered in Canada, the providers of broadband communications, storage semiconductors and wireless infrastructure made way for their Indian counterparts in 2006 with a three-member team. Now one year in the making and with 45 employee and 70+ contractors from design services companies with a total team of 115+ engineers, PMC- Sierra's India development center is taking small but strong strides in creating software for the telecom, storage and wireless space.
It has now moved on from the traditional embedded software and design verification of chip to innovating and performing complex bloc designs.
While facts would show that other semiconductor companies in the country took a while to build such competencies, Bellary feels that PMC is more confident in the capability of the Indian engineers. His confidence emulating from the current progress they have had. “The country has the talent and we have the passion, I don’t see what can stop us,” he echoes.
But talent alone will not fuel the vision of this center and Bellary is aware of this. The current bloc design worked on by engineers in the India center for the storage space will culminate in creating interfaces for chip connectivity. Moving from four to six to ten gigabyte drives of SATA (Serial ATA), the transition from embedded to bloc design was difficult. Working on complex designs would only mean a need for experience and exposure. It not only requires exposure in the existing generation of chips but also the technical know-how in verticals such as physical layout of chip, digital design, mixed signals or RFIC.
Keeping this scenario in mind, PMC stepped forward offering what talent could not— an understanding of the system requirements. A two-month extensive visit to the Canadian headquarters provided the new engineers a better outlook of the front-end work being done. A practice still in vogue today.
Terming the storage area as old wine in new bottle, Bellary is exuding the excitement his engineers are experiencing working on the hotbed of the semiconductor space. Multiple disk drives, USB drive and fiber challenges moving at 10 gigabytes all contributing to its current 40 percent market growth. “Our engineers are working on the physical design, referral design, analog layout of these blocs and with the expanding storage arena, engineers are more than ready to learn and explore,” says Bellary adding that as a company, PMC is looking to leverage this scenario.
Hunt for passion
That is exactly what the company is on the look out for— people with the passion for designing chips. While the produce of the company may end up a tad low on volume, it only reflects the complexity of the design and architecture- ‘niche’ being the company’s keyword. With 130 chips on the market now, Bellary is calling his company the ‘Harley Davidson’ or a niche brand in the semiconductor industry.
“Our volumes may not be big, but margins are the highest- 68-70 percent-because of the complex SOC designs and functional integration,” says he.
Already in the fifth generation in telecom, four expat engineers are part of the senior team that is guiding the vision of this new venture side by side an eclectic mix of new grads and experienced professionals.
The take off
The start-up mentality of the center is palpable, reflecting right from the M.D to the youngest engineer. The mentality probably being brought in by Bellary himself, who is no novice in this field. He holds to his credit of being founder, chairman and CEO of Metro-OptiX for four years (before it was acquired by Exterra) where he established a company with 400 employees in the U.S. and India.
But the young center is aware of the tall claims and tough road ahead. It would almost be unheard of any new center promising so many things on its platter in the very first year, but Bellary begs to differ. In its bid to beat the routine and grow faster than expected, the company integrates its new employees faster into the global team than its competitors. This allows the engineers to adept themselves into the industry standards while broadening their mindset at the very start- something very important to survive in this industry.
At the same time, the company offers end-to-end chip design exposure to all its employees. Argues Bellary that many other companies in the same industry don’t provide access to their workforce to this knowledge repository- the access being essential for an engineer to grow in own domain. In an attempt to make away of these ‘horse blinders’, the company hosts special ‘lunch and learn’ sessions. Here all the engineers gather and gain exposure listening to each other talk on the technology from their domain. It helps a physical layout engineer understand the basics of maybe the digital or electric design sector. This by itself provides the apt environment for breeding innovation.
The India center has also tied up with prestigious institutes like IIT and IISC. In the short span of a year they have managed to send two of their engineers for PhD. and MBA courses in top universities in the country.
The center is planning collaborations with premier institutes in to carry out their research activities. “How much more would one expect to achieve in a year,” says a satisfied Bellary.
Crossing the first few hurdles while rafting through the lean mean semiconductor industry, PMC-Sierra India is preparing for a head along dive.