“I think anybody can get into tech if you have the drive and the passion. If this is what you want and you put the time into it, you can do it.” — Janet Tisnado
In my senior year, reps for an internship program came to my high school looking for electrical engineering interns. I got in and that summer, they taught us how chips get made. I learned about everything from wafers to all of the technical components needed to make an electrical circuit. It was my first exposure to semiconductors and electronics. That was when I first fell in love with the process of making a chip.
Designing a chip’s layout is like a game of Tetris; you have to make all the pieces fit. The challenge of rotating the block in exactly the right way and into the perfect open space — that’s my job in a nutshell. Take the chip in your smartphone. It has to enable you to access the internet, make calls, take photos — all without the battery dying on you. It’s up to me (and my team) to work out how we’re going to squeeze all these features onto chips that keep getting smaller and smaller. We have to look at a schematic and think, “How can we do this?” It really is like solving a puzzle. You can’t put certain components too close together, while others can’t be placed in certain areas. It all has to work, and there’s always a way.
And that’s true for anyone pursuing a career in STEM. The common misperception is that you’ll spend your days crunching numbers. But the truth is that the field is so wide that you don’t know what you might end up doing. I don’t go to work and do math all day. The computer does that for me. What we need now is creative thinkers: people who can envision the technology we need in the future and invent ways to make it happen. I’m not going to lie; there’s a lot of math and science involved, but you don’t need to know how to take a derivative straight out of the gate. All you need is to be willing to practice until you get it right … and then keep going.
Janet Tisnado is a senior staff manager and layout designer at Qualcomm. After 17 years in the industry, she still loves helping people who are just embarking in their tech careers.