Altera Corporation, a semiconductor firm based in San Jose California, provides programmable logic devices (PLDs) – specifically, field programmable gate arrays, or FPGAs, which are used in a multitude of electrical engineering designs – from wireless and wireline communications and broadcasting to designing state of the art systems for the automotive, industrial and military markets.
In the 1990’s Altera as well as others in the Silicon Valley were finding hiring qualified engineers was a challenge since the semiconductor industry was in a “boom” period. Also, about this time, in July 1994, Altera purchased Intel’s programmable logic business and acquired the rights to the IP tools and architecture. The move by Altera to take over this part of the Intel business and the ongoing need for new engineers led the company to expand its global reach and take advantage of the strong engineering talent located in Penang.
There were two operations that Altera had started in Penang already – the Altera Penang Technical Center and Penang Design Center. The Altera Penang Technical Center initially focused on engineering and fabrication for the product line purchased from Intel. Meanwhile, the Penang Design Center was focused on chip layout and design. Together, the leaders who ran the facilities built their teams from scratch, hiring engineering resources and creating the infrastructure that would support a successful operation in Penang.
Penang gave us a large pool of exceptionally talented and well educated engineers that helped make Altera’s continued growth possible. While the Penang operation started on a small scale, it was a precursor to other worldwide design teams and evolved into an integral part of how Altera does business. Now, teams of design engineers work around the world and around the clock on chip design and layout.
Altera offers a distinct advantage to job seekers in Malaysia—while most companies offer only assembly line and manufacturing work, Altera has true R&D opportunities where engineers in Penang can physically implement chip designs. This ability to work on “real” designs attracted the best and brightest engineers, giving Altera a committed and highly skilled team.
Initially, the Penang team focused on completing the chip designs and layouts for a given architecture, “filling out” the individual chips within a family so that the San Jose team was free to begin work on the next flagship architecture. Now, the Penang and San Jose teams are integrated, working hand-in-hand on a variety of engineering projects.
In 1998, Altera dedicated the newly constructed, 62,000-square-foot Penang Technical Center. Now, Penang houses a complete range of engineering and non-engineering functions in addition to the operations and layout functions it started with, from applications and information services to software, finance, marketing, and human resources. With nearly 1,200 employees, a third of the entire Altera workforce, Altera Penang is making a large impact both regionally and globally.