|Are there any other CPU designers here? If so, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the industry. I’ve been working as a CPU designer for several years and as I’ve watched the growth of the tech sector during this time, I can’t help but wonder if I should switch to software engineering. My reasons are:|
1. Limited choice of employers and cities – The semiconductor industry has been consolidating over the last several years, and the trend seems likely to continue. Consequently, there are currently only a handful of tech giants designing ICs. Jobs seem limited to a few major cities. SWE jobs can be found in most large cities across a range of company sizes.
2. Lack of startup/solo opportunities – SWE seems to offer many opportunities to found/join a startup or work as an independent contractor. CPU design seems to have far fewer of these opportunities, likely due to the much higher capital requirements. Will the tech sector’s current interest in AI/ML lead to many more startups in CPU design, as it has done for software design?
3. Lack of community – A search on Meetup reveals many software-related groups in my city. No such groups seem to exist for CPU design, likely due to its closed-source nature. Many free resources exist to learn the basics of coding, but learning CPU design using free tools is not as straightforward. Additionally, there seems to be little incentive to design and fabricate an open-source CPU when cheap ones can already be purchased, whereas there are many motivations for creating open-source software.
4. Compensation – I would certainly not describe CPU designers’ compensation as poor, but I’ve never read/heard about anyone outside of executives receiving annual stock grants that exceed their base salary, whereas such things seem common for SWE’s at the largest tech companies.
Are my points above incorrect, "grass is greener" observations, or does SWE have much better career prospects than CPU design?