Does the idea of working in a "fab" (a semiconductor fabrication facility)
wearing a "bunny suit" (a garment covering your entire body to help keep dirt
away from the semiconductors) and tinkering with microscopic electronic devices
sound appealing? Then a career as a semiconductor technician may be for you.
What are semiconductors? They are tiny electronic circuits engraved on
to a silicon wafer. Each wafer contains hundreds of these circuits, also known
as microchips. Microchips are all around us: in television sets, digital watches,
even traffic lights. Experts say that by lunchtime, most of us have already
come into contact with at least 50 of these devices.
Semiconductor technicians perform a number of tasks that help in the production
of semiconductors. For example, a manufacturing technician (also called a
fabrication technician) spends his days operating one of the many pieces of
equipment used to make microchips.
An equipment technician is constantly testing equipment and performing
any repairs that are necessary. A microcontamination technician ensures that
the clean room where the microchips are actually made remains as pollution-free
Semiconductor technicians work for government organizations, universities,
large companies and smaller firms that produce specialty microchips for a
Working irregular hours is part of the job for semiconductor technicians.
Many fabs operate around the clock. Technicians are often expected to work
12-hour rotating shifts. The plus side of this "compressed" workweek is a
greater number of days off each month.
If you're the sort of person who can't rest until you discover how something
works, then you might consider becoming a semiconductor technician. Troubleshooting
is an important part of a technician's job, says Richard Ifert, an implant
equipment technician from Virginia.
"If there's anything wrong with the wafer, if it is damaged by the machine,
you can't tell until it has gone further down the production line," Ifert
explains. To get around this problem, technicians perform daily tests on the
equipment. This helps them spot potential problems before the machine malfunctions.
When a problem does occur, technicians need to systematically examine all
the possibilities until they've rooted out the problem. John Zitterkopf used
to work as an engineering technician.
"The equipment I was working on was a complex series of microprocessors,
power circuits, microwave generators, electromechanical systems, gas delivery
systems and vacuum systems. Understanding how each system was connected became
a very crucial part of the job," says Zitterkopf.
A basic grasp of math is a must for technicians. They must understand and
interpret all the data they've collected testing the equipment.
Computer skills are also essential. While technicians don't have to become
experts in languages such as UNIX, they do need to be familiar with basic
Test the material used to make microchips