Engineering takes on many forms, but one of the most exciting professions for engineers is to become an FPGA design engineer. Field-Program Gate Array, or FPGA, design engineers are tasked with designing circuits and products that are safe and secure and can be personalized by customers in the field.
FPGA design engineers create systems that can be used across multiple industries and are focused both on the engineering and design sides of the business. FPGA design engineers wear many hats and perform many tasks—there’s no typical day in this fast-moving field.
This in-demand profession is growing and provides many opportunities around the world. However, it can be competitive to secure top jobs in FPGA design engineering. The most successful engineers are regularly honing their skills to become well-rounded in both their technical skills and their business and application skills.
Here are 10 helpful skills needed by FPGA design engineers:
FPGA Design Tools
FPGA design engineers need to have a solid understanding of how to create systems and use industry software and tools. On the software side, design engineers must know how to create their designs virtually and run them through a series of tests. There are a number of programs used in the industry, including Matlab, Simulink, Octave, Verdi, and many more.
These programs are used to create digital prototypes of systems, work through issues, and simulate tests and applications before the circuits are even built. FPGA design engineers must know not only how to use various software, but also when to use it and understand the methodology behind it.
FPGA design engineers then actually create their systems and circuits, so they must have a strong understanding of what it takes to build a circuit. Design engineers need to know how to work tools like advanced pliers, hand soldering equipment, measuring devices, 3D printers, and much more to put together a cohesive circuit.
FPGA design engineers must be so skilled with these tools that they can successfully put together a prototype circuit and then test it, find the faults, and make improvements. That means they must not only know how to use the tools in tight spaces and on small systems, but they also must know the correct tool to use in a variety of situations.
FPGA design engineers must have a solid foundation of engineering skills and knowledge, including how engineering projects progress from the initial brainstorming and planning phase to final completion and use by the client.
Design engineers often work with many other types of engineers and must have a solid understanding of each person’s area of expertise to know how the team works together to share responsibilities for a successful project. Instead of being so focused on their part of the process, the best FPGA design engineers also know how their role fits into the bigger picture.
Successful FPGA design engineers must have strong communication skills—both written and verbal. Throughout the design and testing process, engineers will regularly be required to provide updates to other team members.
These reports can come as detailed written papers or as verbal updates and presentations. The systems are incredibly detailed, which means engineers need to be able to clearly communicate what they are working on, what progress they have made, and any issues that have arisen.
If someone else isn’t clear on what the engineer is saying and has to ask questions or makes incorrect assumptions, it could dramatically slow down the process and potentially lead to errors.
FPGA design engineers must be able to clearly communicate with their teams and colleagues using industry jargon, but they must also be able to clearly present their findings to business leaders and customers using more accessible terms.
Because FPGA design engineers create systems that can be used by clients across multiple industries, they must know how to introduce their systems in broad but understandable terms that can be applied to each industry.
FPGA design is as much of an artform as it is a science. Design engineers often have to think outside the box to find creative solutions. It isn’t enough to simply reiterate what you learned in school—successful FPGA design engineers use their education and experience to create a base of knowledge and then use creative thinking to apply their knowledge in new ways.
They aren’t boxed in by what’s been done before. Instead, they are curious and willing to try new things. FPGA design engineers are innovative and willing to take risks. Their creativity comes through in designing new types of systems and finding new ways to meet their customers’ needs.
The field is constantly evolving, and design engineers are on the cutting edge of technology, design, and applications.
FPGA systems are essentially small computers that can perform a wide variety of tasks and be applied to numerous situations. Understanding microarchitecture is crucial to putting everything in the right place.
Designing an FPGA circuit is similar to designing a house or city, but on a much smaller scale. Engineers need to be able to fit all of the components in a small space and in the right order to create a system that is functional, durable, and the right size.
FPGA design engineers must have a strong understanding of the entire system and how each piece works together. If one part of the system isn’t working properly or is out of control, it could impact the entire circuit.
Math and engineering go hand in hand, especially for FPGA design engineers. Many projects require complex mathematical equations that the design engineers need to be able to solve quickly.
FPGA design engineers use a variety of math, from tracking measurements and making calculations to build hardware systems to tracking expenses and risk factors using algorithms and statistical analysis.
A solid understanding of advanced math is crucial to succeeding in the field.
Many FPGA design engineer jobs require strong programming skills with script languages like Python, Perl, TCL, and Unix Shell.
These scripting programs are the language of FPGA design. In-demand FPGA design engineers have hands-on experience with these languages to automate much of the FPGA process.
Understanding scripting helps design engineers work more efficiently, which helps them discover issues in the circuit and make improvements much faster.
FPGA design engineers need to have strong knowledge of how to code in the languages mentioned above and more. In most organizations, design engineers work in multiple computer systems and need to know how to code in multiple languages.
A basic understanding of coding not only helps engineers create and program their systems but also makes it possible for them to better understand the roles and updates from other engineers and software designers.
FPGA design engineers often work closely with software teams and need to understand coding so they can clearly communicate and collaborate.
FPGA design engineers work on complicated systems with many details and small parts. Skipping over one small aspect of the system or not being precise with measurements could disrupt the success of the entire project.
Design engineers are also tasked with testing their systems and putting them through a series of complex scenarios. If the engineer isn’t incredibly detail-oriented in how they conduct the experiment, and record their observations and notes, it could throw off the entire project.
One small missed detail could grow over time; what may seem minor to some people can become a larger problem as the system is designed. FPGA design engineers must have an eye to catch mistakes and correct details from the very beginning.
In some ways, creating an FPGA system is like putting together a big puzzle or solving a giant equation. Each system is different and brings its own challenges. As FPGA design engineers test their findings, they often uncover things that need to be improved for the system to be viable and successful.
Engineers must be able to break systems down to find the problem and create new ways to solve it. They need the technical skills to understand each part of the system and pinpoint areas that could be improved.
Problem-solving skills are as much about the mindset as they are the technical skills. FPGA design engineers must have a mindset where they see challenges as opportunities instead of roadblocks. Design engineers can’t give up when they receive negative results.
They must be able to push through failure to find new paths to success. Problem-solving can be done individually or with a team, but it is a regular part of the job for design engineers.
FPGA design engineering is an evolving field that combines science, engineering, and design. Successful engineers are constantly learning and improving their skills, especially as technology and the industry changes.
This in-demand profession can be incredibly rewarding and provide great several growth opportunities. To be a successful FPGA design engineer, work on developing these 10 crucial skills.