If you haven’t heard, 2023 marked the end of the decades-long tech industry boom. Monolithic tech campuses, caught in a game of cat-and-mouse with workers between remote work and return-to-office edicts, have been downsized massively and seen their posh benefits largely slashed. CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg have declared a “year of efficiency” and more 225,000 tech workers have lost their jobs, per Layoffs.FYI.
With AI poised to reportedly replace as many as 300 million jobs in the future, it would seem like the tech heyday has finally come to a close. The surefire tech job market of the last 20 years suddenly seems as stable as a house of cards. Last call at the bar; time to go home.
Chips are the answer
Fear not, dear readers, I come to you today offering salvation: Salvation in the form of semiconductors. Our industry can’t hire fast enough, boasts incredible salaries, and amazing job security. Oh, and it’s recession-proof.
What’s that you say? The semiconductor industry seems boring? You find the world of software development more intriguing? You’ve never even considered the thought of a career in the semiconductor field? Well, it’s time that changes.
Sure, life working in semiconductor and data connectivity solutions may not seem as glamorous as working as a software engineer at the Next Big AI-Powered Dating App For People With Dietary Restrictions, but it’s far more mission-critical. While the average layperson probably couldn’t tell you what a semiconductor is – even though they could gladly list their favorite social media apps – our solutions power virtually everything in the modern world. And we desperately need more workers.
Currently, the semiconductor industry supports more than 1.6 million jobs in the United States – a large number at face value – but what’s astonishing is that that number needs to be much higher. An often-cited 2021 study from Eightfold AI showed that the United States would need to add 70,000-90,000 semiconductor fabrication jobs in the forthcoming years just to keep up with the semiconductor demand in the near future. Notably, that study was published before the launch of ChatGPT. In the time since, ChatGPT alone has reached more than 100 million users – and with each query requiring the engine to comb through more than 570 gigabytes of data, that number is sure to only rise.
McKinsey recently estimated that by 2030 there will be a shortage of more than 300,000 engineers and skilled technicians needed in the industry. Society’s need for those semiconductor professionals will only grow as we become increasingly reliant on new technologies as they advance and become more ingrained in vital industries like the medical field.
For instance, at present, 30 percent of all data created on Earth is from the medical field. That data is essential in helping doctors properly diagnose patients. In turn, this will make the prospect of any of those technologies failing due to an inability to process massive amounts of data – a la the Robinhood crash of 2020 – completely untenable. Consequently, regardless of external factors like market conditions or individual sectors that might boom or bust, we will always be hiring in the world of semiconductor and data connectivity.
Put another way, car manufacturers may grow and fade in scale across different generations, but there will always be a need for the people who build the roads they drive on. While the tech companies that consumers know may seem “sexier,” the reality is that jobs in the semiconductor and connectivity space pay just as well if not better, on average, than jobs in more generalized tech or software industries.
Chip makers get more pay
According to Salary.com, the median salary for a semiconductor process engineer in the United States is $95,000 a year, while the median entry salary for a software engineer is $76,000. With US students currently entering the semiconductor workforce at one-fourth the rate of international students – US student entry into the industry has remained more or less flat for the last 30 years – that represents billions of dollars in upward mobility and intergenerational wealth that isn’t being taken advantage of by the brightest minds in the country.
It might seem odd to hear the CTO of a semiconductor company openly reference the idea that ours is a “boring” industry – but I get it. Our industry is largely out of the view of the public. STEM education programs have done a fantastic job of teaching coding to kids at a young age – while electrical engineering isn’t as accessible at a young age for a number of reasons. And massive software companies have done a fantastic job at advertising their lavish on-campus perks, great salaries, and the potential for garnering intergenerational wealth. Every twenty-something tech worker has heard the story of a friend or a friend of a friend who got an incredible equity package at some software unicorn the IPO’d and who has since taken to using the word “summer” as a verb. And the results of that young recruiting push – as well as all the publicity around those that hit the equity jackpot – have clearly been effective: Per Zippia, the average age of a semiconductor engineer is around 45, with more than 50 percent of the workforce being over 40 years old. By contrast, Zippia shows the majority of software engineers as being in the 20-30 age bracket.
But the reality is, for every story of a friend of a friend who hit it big with enough equity to retire young, there’s ten other stories of software engineers who got the short end of the stick, were affected by massive layoffs, or were left with equity in a startup that – ultimately – was worthless.
Make something real
By contrast, semiconductor engineers actually make something tangible, and the job security in the industry is second-to-none. Plus, we’re proud to offer many of the same perks as our friends in software engineering! At Alphawave we happily provide catered lunches to our team – and we aren’t an outlier in our industry.
So, the next time you hear about some big software company layoff or read about how 2023 signaled the end of the tech boom, just remember that companies like Nvidia are adding market value and jobs at unprecedented rates. Our industry might not seem as “cool” as some of the other software companies but we aren’t going anywhere. After all, what good are all those technologies if you can’t process the data needed to run them?