Things to Do During a Recession
|Paul M. Sakamoto
At this year's SEMICON West, I was really thrown for a loop to see how many "visitor" badges were at the show. I had expected to see a fleet of sorrowful exhibitors mercilessly swarming over a few potential customers.
I had an expectation that this would be particularly acute at the San Jose part of the show. I was wrong. While nobody was searching for a fleet of testers or other equipment, they were looking in numbers for a few items of importance during this seemingly endless drought.
Interest in 300 mm Wafer Sorting
One of the big items seemed to be an interest in 300 mm wafer sort strategies. This is an issue that is just really getting started in the backend.
While 200 mm seems to be fine for a lot of ASICs and other applications, it appears that 300 mm will hit flash memory fairly soon-if we ever start needing cell phones, digital cameras and MP3 players again, that is!
There were several probers on display, mounted with suitable testers. Of even greater interest, perhaps, were the various probe cards with thousands of probes.
It turns out that for really high, parallel test applications, the probe card becomes the tough technology decision. This is complicated by the attitude of many of the users. I hate to admit this, since I am from the tester side of the business, but testers are a matter of choice, while probe cards are a matter of religion.
Selecting tools for next generation applications is another important area. This was evident by the interest in new capability machines for engineering development, characterization and debug.
Outside of the machines, many vendors were showing software for data capture, yield analysis, factory automation and other enhancements for that future time when the warehouses are finally empty.
There were some other fairly interesting hardware and software products at the show, but they didn't capture my attention nearly as much as the really great display of loose talent walking around the Convention Center.
A quote generally attributed to Harry Truman is, "A recession is when your neighbor is out of work. A depression is when you are out of work."
If that is the definition, then SEMICON was a bit scary. This was the first time in 24 years that I witnessed the spectacle of many really talented ATE professionals walking the SEMICON halls, out of work.
They carried their heads high, as well as their personal business cards, résumés and Palm Pilots. These are folks most of us would have given a bonus for last year.
In many cases, they had worked the start up path towards the seemingly unending pool of venture capital. A few drifted out to the "dot com" realm in search of real gold, but now were coming back as prodigal sons and daughters, hoping for a warm reception and finding none from companies who are publicly laying off in droves.
Really competent people having trouble finding a job presents a scary spectacle. With this "more than a recession" level of the economy, we have an opportunity to stock up on some really talented test professionals.
Since the pressure on most managers at a time like this is to not hire, the competition for these gems is much less fierce than at any time in recent memory.
And with that, we all go back to sharpening our swords, polishing our shields and getting ready for dealing with the "Next Big Thing," as industry seer Dan Hutcheson would say.
Mr. Sakamoto is vice president and general manager of the Memory Products Division at Credence Systems Corp., Fremont, Calif. [firstname.lastname@example.org]