BANGALORE, India The gulf between India's design industry and its technology institutes was highlighted by executives attending the Electronic Design Forum 2000, sponsored by Cadence Design Systems (India).
Speakers at the forum also stressed the need for companies such as Cadence to offer a different licensing model that would enable small design outfits here to access the latest tools. Typically, small design companies in India cannot easily raise venture funding, and the relatively high cost of design tools often limits their growth.
Speakers from technology labs, design houses and technology training institutes agreed that, given the increasing attraction of application software development as a lucrative career option for graduate engineers, design houses based here will suffer a worsening shortage of design manpower in the coming years.
"The awareness of chip design opportunities in the universities except at the premier Indian institutes of technology is very low, so potentially good chip designers go into software programming," said A. Vasudevan, general manager of VLSI/System Design at Wipro Technologies (Bangalore).
He was hardly the only speaker to point out that students at India's technology training institutes need to be made aware of the career opportunities in the design industry, something India's application software companies have done exceedingly well.
"Budding engineers are leaning more toward a career in software," said S.N. Padmanabhan, vice president of IC design at Bangalore-based MindTree Consulting. "They seem to want to do coding from day one."
That, Padmanabhan said, will not help India's information technology industry move up the value chain. "The current advantage that India has in software service exports may not last more than a couple of years, [since] China and other countries are also getting into it in a big way," he warned. That would seem to recommend increased activity in chip design, which could earn higher incomes and would "also change the way India is perceived outside," Padmanabhan said.
Narendra Jain, engineering director of the Cadence Design Center in India, believes that if the country's scarcity of design manpower "can be addressed, there is explosive potential for electronic design in India." Jain said that while such encouraging steps as a new law to protect IC layout designs have helped, more needs to be done to foster the growth of the Indian design industry.
Speakers also agreed that the lack of training facilities for potential design engineers and the general infrastructure itself need to be addressed if design activity is to grow at a faster pace.
Further, the speakers said, design tool suppliers need to come up with an effective licensing policy for India's small design startups, which typically are unable to afford the tools they need. "The affordability of tools is an issue," said Wipro's Vasudevan. "Tool vendors need to have a business model by which the small outfits can use the tools and then pass on a part of their revenues to the vendors."
Design services, which are growing in India, provide the best opportunity for the country to leverage its information technology skills to boost technology exports. That could also help eliminate the impression that India is at best a cheap source for software programming.
"India can move from software design to generation of intellectual property using the domain expertise gathered when writing software," said Chandra Shekhar, group leader of IC design and deputy director of the Semiconductor Devices Area at the Central Electronics Engineering Research Institute (CEERI) in Pilani, India.
Forum organizers said they had broadened the focus of this year's event in response to discussions with the design industry. "We decided to address issues that electronic design faces in the country," said Himanshu Singh of Cadence Design Systems (India).
Attendees said the organizers succeeded. "It is heartening to see a forum of this kind," said CEERI's Shekhar.