Deploying ideas-Centillium way
Date: Saturday , March 31, 2007
Rajat Sharma, a student of class nine, dreams of becoming a cricketer one day. He never misses his practice sessions over the Internet, as it gives him an opportunity to look beyond his studies once in a while. However, the high-speed broadband connectivity also contributes to keeping his hobby alive. Contributing silently to all this, is the technology that runs the connectivity done by Centillium Communications.
Centillium engages in design, development, and supply of system-on-a-chip (SoC) solutions for broadband access infrastructure and various applications enabling broadband services. The SoC use digital and mixed-signal semiconductors, and related software for use in the digital subscriber line (DSL), voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), and Fiber-To-The-Premises (FTTP) markets. “We make innovative high performance cost effective semiconductor solutions for broadband access deployments,” says Faraj Aalaei, CEO of Centillium Communications.
Broadband has started to make its presence felt and is expected to grow to 400 million subscribers worldwide by 2010. There is proliferating demand from consumers for new capabilities in television entertainment, which includes interactivity, integration with voice and data communications, personalization and value-added services. Service providers are offering an answer to this burgeoning demand by ramping up their deployments, making solution providers like Centillium an ideal workplace for engineers.
“We drive broadband innovation till the periphery and helps customers to do more than they ever thought possible,” says Mohan C. S., Vice President and General Manager, Centillium. They increase DSL data rates to 50 Mbps, extending the reach of DSL services to 26,000 feet, or supporting more than 1,000 VoIP channels on a single chip. Centillium was the first company to introduce both 12 Mbps and 24 Mbps downstream data solutions and recently, they released the next generation Mustang 300 system-on-chip (SoC), expanding the company’s end-to-end fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) semiconductor portfolio. This highly integrated and low power FTTH solution, adds Mohan, is ideal for service providers deploying Ethernet Passive Optical Networks (EPON) in customer premise equipments.
These deployments have been made possible by their 300-engineer- workforce, which is involved in building applications from ground up. At the Bangalore center of Centillium, techies are involved in chores ranging from architectural to testing level. They move from broader specifications to the more detailed ones and help customers take the chip to the market quickly. “The India center,” adds Aalaei, “takes a different approach and enjoys end-to-end product development authority.” The components of software deployment are done here, validated and then find its way to the customers platter.
Most companies carrying out their chip designing process have a support team in other centers, but having a complete support team in India helps speed up the solutions for engineering products, notes Mohan.
The holistic view
Mohan aspires to make his team big and bring in more techies. As most techies are hesitant to move into a smaller venture, Centillium takes the extra step in retaining their employees. For instant, employee referral is a trusted mean for hiring people in the company and according to a survey done internally, last year, 50 percent of the recruitment took place through employee referral.
Employees who have been in the company for more than a year stick around for a much longer period. As, Mohan believes, is owing to the holistic role they have in the organization. An Integrated circuits designer is exposed to the aspects of a system design and vice-versa. “A kind of cross-pollination,” says Kumar.M.N, Director of IC Design Group, “wherein everybody enjoys a secondary role.”
As the employees follow a mantra ‘get things done.’ An issue, not necessarily in a particular domain, needs to be pursued and solved. For instance, there are IT engineers in the company who take responsibility of most of the problems. “One needs to drive and take that extra mile in solving a problem, and everybody enjoys that role,” says Mohan. These engineers are exposed to brand new technology and seeing new products getting deployed in less time is quite exciting. The huge customer interaction that every employee is exposed to is a motivation to higher performance.
Aalaei exerts that respect for employees is the first lesson taught in the organization. “All employees of Centillium travel the way a junior engineer does,” says Mohan. Centillium helps its employees to be responsible citizens and involves them in community work and charitable organizations.
“We also encourage people to think differently in terms of technology and indulge in discussions,” Mohan says referring to the quarterly discussions that employees share with the CEO and the Vice Presidents. There is a culture flow, wherein personal interaction with the employees helps in getting to know the affinity of the employee. This helps in building the career of the techie because if he thinks his role in too monotonous he can move to another role. “We get to know their integrity and do not take an action against our employees, when their performance is low, instead give them a chance to grow.”
For instance, points Mohan, an employee’s performance was under check. On more interactions, the team got aware of his liking for a particular domain. He was shifted immediately and incidentally was awarded the best performer in the year. “Working in Centillium is like working at home,” quips Aalaei. “The market is aggressive yet people stick around, apart from the pay package, there is a unique bonding.”
Centillium is waiting for a break point in their financial results and they communicate it well with their employees. Engineers know that this is a calculated strategy and that the company is undertaking a loss to invest in the future “People within the organization should know that,” says Mohan.
He feels that once the communication is done, employees get aligned with the organization. Transparency is a must and so employees are made aware of all the future deployment plans of the company.
Centillium has grown over the six years since they started in India. The challenges have doubled, however one still remains unchanged, ‘bureaucracy,’ says Aalaei. It is a problem to import hardware, as the custom laws are stringent, affecting the agility in a huge way. In other words, Centillium is looking forward to overcome hurdles and make the center idyllic.