Electronic Design

Career Paths: Actel's Engineering Recruitment Faces Cultural, Political Challenges

Actel Corp. wants to hire more engineers, but it faces two employment dilemmas: getting software people for a hardware company in Silicon Valley, and obtaining visas for foreign grads from U.S. universities.

"Because silicon has been king, one of the great struggles we have is to encourage software professionals that a career at a computer hardware company is worthwhile," says Jim Robertson, director of staffing at the Mountain View, Calif.-based company. Actel designs, manufacturers, and sells nonvolatile antifuse- and flash-based FPGAs.

Hiring the last few years was nearly zero. This year, Actel is looking to recruit up to 70 engineers to complement its employment base of 500 plus. "We spend a lot of time in universities and conferences, extolling the virtues of software in silicon," says Robertson. "That is going to be one of the biggest thrusts in what differentiates FPGA companies like ours."

"We make integrated-circuit silicon chips, so hardware engineering an IC design is still a skill very much in demand. But software tools are so critical to our company. Engineers with software skills and C++ programming are becoming a constant part of our employee search," he says.

The second employment challenge, according to Robertson, is a government cap on the H1B visa awarded to foreign nationals coming to work for technology companies. "The U.S. has installed a cap of 65,000 people. That cap was met this March for the entire year," he says."Many young people graduating today from universities with science degrees are foreign nationals. They are unable to work at an American company without that visa," he adds. "Companies are unable to apply for additional visas until October of this year. That means the entire hiring season for new college grads, from March through summer, has been complicated. We are unable to hire many of the interesting new college grads coming out this year."

Why are so many of the engineering grads foreign nationals? "I wish to heaven I knew," says Robertson. "This country must figure out ways to motivate more American students to enter engineering schools to develop the people we need, because these issues cannot stop our industry."

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