Girls, understanding how the hardware, semiconductor industry works is just one 'WiSH' away

Did you know that Texas Instruments had set up shop in India way back in 1985? It was in Bengaluru where they did so 
Participants of the first edition of WiSH | (Pic: Sourced)
Participants of the first edition of WiSH | (Pic: Sourced)

If a career in hardware and semiconductors as a woman sounds desirable but tough, the semiconductor manufacturing company Texas Instruments has a plan to give you the first-mover advantage of sorts. And then perhaps your 'wish' to work in this industry might just be granted?

Texas Instruments' WiSH (Women in Semiconductors and Hardware) is a programme like no other where second-year engineering students can make the most of the hands-on mentorship that is offered. In just a month, which is the duration of the programme, there is a lot to gain for students.

"This is to help women engineering students make an informed decision when thinking of their future careers, and give semiconductors and hardware due consideration," Shubhra Bhandari, Director of Human Resources, Texas Instruments India.

"The biggest takeaway for me was to focus on the fundamentals. I learned that even the most complex problems can be broken down into something basic if we are clear with the fundamentals," says Swapnali Dalal from IIT Madras, one of the 40 students who was chosen from across 18 colleges for the first edition of WiSH. She also feels that the innovations happening in the field of semiconductors which feels "fascinating and rewarding to her".

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"I became more confident in trying our hardware DIYs through the experiments we did. This helped to bridge the gap between theoretical concepts and their practical implementation," says Diksha Chauhan, Delhi Technological University. She says that the programme has induced confidence in her to take on leadership roles.

In a conversation with Shubhra Bhandari, we ask her all about the programme and how it can help girl students take to the semiconductor and hardware industry with gusto. 

Why are numbers so dismal when it comes to women pursuing a career in hardware, semiconductors, and electronics? What is really lacking?
Yes, we definitely need more women engineers to join the hardware and semiconductor industry. While 40% of the overall stem graduates in India are women, less than half of them pursue a career in hardware. I would say this comes down to a lack of awareness. 

In our conversations with young women engineers, what we’ve understood is that most of them are not aware of the kind of work they will get to do in hardware — what technical challenges will they work on, what will be their impact, who are our customers, what are the different career paths they can take and so on. In addition, there are not too many visible women role models in this industry, and I want to stress on the visibility because we have brilliant women engineers in hardware, but we need to do a better job of telling their stories so we can inspire young women to join this field. 

Finally, an area that needs to be further strengthened is early mentorship opportunities, as early as high school and definitely not later than the first year of engineering, where students are choosing their electives and steering their careers in a particular direction. 

What was the idea behind WiSH and for how long has it been in the works?
To give you some context, TI has been around for more than 80 years, and throughout our journey, we have focused on driving great innovations that solve everyday customer problems. In India as well, we were the first global technology company to set up a base in Bengaluru way back in 1985, opening the doors for the Silicon Valley revolution in India.

Being a pioneer and doing things others have not done before is pretty much ingrained in us. This also means going that extra mile to solve problems the industry is facing, and the fact that half of our engineering population, that is, our women engineers, are not looking at hardware and semiconductors as a great career choice is a problem. 

This was the genesis of WiSH or our Women in Semiconductors and Hardware programme. Through WiSH we wanted to address key pain points like lack of awareness of the hardware and semiconductor industry and the absence of early mentorship opportunities. We started thinking about it a year back, with the core objectives being to build awareness, inspire and prepare young women engineers for a career in semiconductors and hardware. In this programme, we show what a career in hardware looks like and hopefully inspire the students to join the industry.

We want to do this through hands-on mentorship which includes both theoretical knowledge building and more importantly, simulation experiments, lab work, and live projects so they get a taste of the actual work being done and the kind of technical challenges we are addressing in semiconductors. 

When you say mentorship, tell us all the aspects that fall under it in detail. 
The highlight of WiSH is its hands-on mentorship. We wanted WiSH participants to get a 360-degree view of what it means to work in semiconductors, which means learning the fundamental concepts and applying this knowledge through simulation experiments. We had a daily connect with mentors, where participants could ask questions, clear their doubts and work on weekly projects. These 1x1 meetings were meant to be a space to have no-holds-barred conversations around semiconductors. 

Students also got to see how an IC works and what goes into designing and developing a chip. Lab visits, group projects, working on TI boards ensured that participants were walking away with practical knowledge and experience. In addition, understanding the breadth of roles available within hardware was also central to the programme.

Thinking beyond design and familiarising the students with equally challenging and critical domains like test, verification, validation, systems application also helped give a much more holistic understanding of product development.  

Mentorship and networking made all the difference in WiSH. It was a safe platform for students to connect with leaders and employees besides their mentors and openly ask questions about the challenges, their journey, their roles, work, and how they can build successful technical careers in hardware.

When did the registration process begin, how was the information spread among students, how many were selected, and for how long will the program go on?
In March 2022, we began our email outreach to over forty engineering colleges from across the country, inviting women engineering students to apply for the programme. The interest and response we received were very encouraging.

We had a three-step application process in place to select the students. Applicants had to submit a Statement of Purpose (SoP) on why they wished to join the programme along with their application form. We understood that most students enrolled in the programme with an exploratory mindset to understand the industry and the role of a hardware engineer. As a second step, students were given an aptitude test followed by a final round of discussion with a TI Talent Selector. 

Our recently concluded first edition had over 40 students in attendance from 18 colleges. 

What were the selection criteria?
We looked at four key parameters in our selection process — sincerity, the inquisitiveness and drive to learn, a sense of curiosity, and a passion for problem-solving. In my experience, I’ve seen that these attributes help nurture young innovators. Our talent selection team evaluated all four parameters across a three-step selection process. 

What gives this mentorship programme an edge over other internship programs?
For engineering students, internships are a part of their third year. Most students however decide on their career choice by the end of the first year. We wanted to ‘jump the queue’ and give students an opportunity to learn about a career in semiconductors and hardware before they made up their minds. 

WiSH is extended to second-year students with the objective that early access to such an experience will answer questions, give them first-hand insight into what a career in this space looks like, and will allow them to gather industry insights from conversations with professionals. This is to help women engineering students make an informed decision when thinking of their future careers, and give semiconductors and hardware due consideration.

What is the support which will be provided post-internship? Comment in terms of placements or any other support.
Once the official, month-long mentorship programme is over, we want WiSH to be that platform where participating students can stay connected with their mentors, with TI, and also with their own peers. This should help them stay in touch with what is happening in the industry and also continue to have a network to lean on in the future. 

In addition, based on their performance, their interest in this field, and feedback from mentors, the participants will also be provided internship offers at TI and subsequently a chance to begin their careers with TI based on their internship. 

What are other initiatives we can look forward to from Texas Instruments in the future with regards to education and academia?
Texas Instruments has been a pioneer in bridging the gap between industry and academia in the semiconductors space. We are working with multiple universities on various programmes. 

We have an MS programme for Analog and Mixed-Signal with IIT Madras and the TI Scholar programme for master’s students at IIT Bombay and IISc. Apart from this, we also have education assistance programs for TI employees interested in higher education programmes.

We have several research partnerships, lab support, guest lectures and other programmes underway with colleges, with the objective to help students get an insight into the semiconductor and hardware industry. We will continue to build on our programmes in the future, through targeted initiatives like WiSH and by leveraging digital platforms to reach a wider audience to get more and more engineers interested in the semiconductor industry. 

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