For this week’s feature interview, Analytics India Magazine got in touch with Balajee Sowrirajan, the Corporate Vice President at Samsung Semiconductor India R&D Center (SSIR), who has been overseeing India operations of the Memory, System LSI, Foundry business units and driving both strategy and culture for innovation and inclusion at SSIR. Balajee has been a driving force at SSIR for more than six years and paved the way for Samsung’s role as a technology leader in the semiconductor industry in India, making it the largest Global R&D Center for Samsung Semiconductor. In this interview, he shares his insights from a journey that spanned close to three decades.
AIM: Tell us how you got started into the field of semiconductors?
Balajee: While growing up, I was always interested in computers and programming. This led me to pursue a masters in computer science from BITS Pilani, following which I started my career as a software engineer at TCS and later moved Texas Instruments. It was during my tenure here that I got introduced to the semiconductor space by working with EDA software development and was intrigued by it. My interests grew when I delved deeper into EDA algorithms and the development of CAD tools in the ASIC group. Later I moved into the Wireless Design group when it was started in India. My journey here started from IP Development and eventually solidified into Complex SoC Development.
AIM: What does a typical day for a researcher look like at Samsung R & D?
Balajee: At SSIR, our core competency lies in product development, from architecture to implementation. A typical day in the life of a researcher revolves around focusing on the active product development for current and next-gen products in the consumer electronics space. We lay great emphasis on reaching product milestones for this, with a continuous focus on enhancing the quality and reducing the cycle time. We intentionally carve out some time and dedicate effort to incremental innovation, exploring what could be the next possibility in developing POCs. Another key aspect of the day includes literature studying, which involves market research on the latest trend patterns, user analysis and current product analyses.
AIM: What are the challenges of running a research lab in the semiconductor industry?
Balajee: At SSIR, we are currently focusing on a holistic range of broad portfolios in IP, library, to design service and product development. One of the biggest challenges we face is that, since it is a very niche market, it requires a massive investment of time in order to gain the relevant expertise and assimilate the depth of knowledge before one can start making a significant contribution. Since the cycle time for project completion is long, a considerable amount of patience and perseverance is also required.
AIM: What according to you is the next big trend in the chip industry for the next decade
Balajee: The next big trend is going to be around creating a connected and intelligent world. We need devices not just to be connected but to be able to make informed decisions based on data. This will be defined by four pillars – Connectivity, Sensor, Data and AI.
- Connectivity – Tomorrow’s 5G will be efficient and scalable and will power the next generation of connected devices.
- Sensor – While more pixels and more cameras enhance the quality of our pictures, smart sensors will provide more intelligence and will enable us to choose the best shots too. Beyond image sensors, other sensors are also catching up to mimic human capabilities.
- Data – With big data on the rise, storage solutions have evolved a lot.
- AI – Artificial intelligence will be critical with movement from cloud-based AI to edge-based AI to ensure real-time decision making.
Today’s intelligent devices are changing the way we live, and it excites me to know that SSIR is contributing to much faster processing, from mobile devices to automobiles. Neural processing units power our next-gen Exynos mobile processor. Our SSIR team makes significant contributions in Inspection and Metrology software which power our fabs.
AIM: What is the hiring process at Samsung R&D for a research position?
Balajee: We look to hire the best talent in the industry which entails us to have a detailed hiring process. We conduct rigorous interview processes that cover core as well as soft skills. This includes hardware and software basics, followed by role-specific interviews and a soft skills interview with HR. For fresh graduates, we have a hiring strategy that is focused on hiring full-time employees and interns from premier institutes in India.
We always try to match the cultural fitment of the candidate to the company by having an interview with the business unit leader as well. For critical leadership and technology roles, I personally have a conversation with the applicants to give them a bigger picture of SSIR and to understand what they can bring to the table as people and technology leaders.
Personal attributes play a significant part, even in a technical role. For example, we look for candidates that possess an inquisitive mindset and have a knack for problem-solving, analytical reasoning and out of the box thinking. As a research and innovation centre, we really look forward to having people who have the zeal and hunger to continuously improve their ideas, learn new concepts and technology.
In terms of technical prowess, for hardware roles, the basics of digital design and circuit design are essential skills. For a software role, we look for attributes like embedded software, communication software, computer architecture, programming, algorithms and data structure are key. For technology leadership roles, expertise in areas like connectivity protocol, physical layer, system-level knowledge of storage solutions and AI/ML technology, are a few skills that we look for.
AIM: Any additional tips for the beginners?
Balajee: One of the most important traits that a beginner can possess is to have a fire in the belly that pushes one to constantly learn and become better. My most important piece of advice to freshers is to avoid being complacent and be on the lookout for the next big opportunity. It’s also integral to remember that while you keep innovating and growing in your career, your humility will take you to greater heights. Two books that have inspired me to dream and have a passion for realizing those are Wings of Fire by Abdul Kalam and Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. I would recommend these books to everyone.