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Developing Wireless Technologies at Intel Austria: A Conversation with a Design Engineer

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Creating innovative technologies takes a lot of talent and teamwork. Intel Austria has employees that easily combine both, which was proven by our conversation with Daniel Gruber, a mixed-signal design engineer. Find out more about the amazing technology he works on, when does real learning start and why Villach is a great place to live.

 

Daniel, what’s your story with Intel? 

I worked at another semiconductor company, so I had a few years of experience before joining Intel, where I’ve been for nine years. I work as a mixed-signal-design and RF design engineer in Villach, Austria. I started as a mixed-signal engineer, continued in design for a few years and at one point was a line manager, but later moved to a completely technical role. Now I’m working as a lead designer for a digital to analogue converter design.

 

So Intel makes it possible to switch back from managing a team to lead designer?

Yes, I was managing 13 people when I was a line manager. Then a new opportunity came up. It sounded really interesting, so I moved back to the purely technical side, where I’m doing design again.

 

What is this new technology? Is this something you could tell us more about? 

Absolutely, it’s all about soft radio and software defined radio platforms. I'm working for the Network Platforms Groups (NPG) and Wireless Access Network Division (WAND), so as the name suggests, we're creating technology for wireless access networks or cellular infrastructure. Intel is doing a lot toward making everything software defined. We want to push that to the very edge of the signal chain, to where you really start to generate electromagnetic waves.

Our team works on the border of digital signal processing and the analogue world we live in. You don’t see zeros and ones flying through the air, it’s electromagnetic waves that are traveling. Somebody has to generate them, and that’s where we come in. At the interface of digital circuitry to the analog world with data converters. We're trying to build, or we are successfully building these converters. Basically, you can send any digital data stream that directly represents an RF waveform to the data converter and the output signal of the converter is what will be transmitted over the air. We do the same when receiving an RF waveform and directly converting it into digital data again. Traditional line-ups were customized for certain frequencies and certain bandwidths; we want to change that. We want to build converters that are so flexible, that you can change everything in software and they will handle anything you throw at them.

 

How would you explain the value of this technology to an average person? 

Well, the radio infrastructure that we have for cellular networks is what the cellphones are “talking to.” The cell towers in every country, every region, vary, e.g., there are different frequencies used, different bandwidths. Our customers have to build dedicated solutions for every market and every band combination. Plus, when new standards appear, you may have to change the hardware. It's not something you can easily deploy—there could be thousands of these stations for a single provider. It’d be great if you could say “I don't care how the standards are changing” when you want to support a new frequency band or just increase the data rate or use a new modulation scheme. It could be done with the same hardware. All you do is change the software and programming of the chips. This saves a lot of time. Most importantly, it facilitates adopting new standards or just deploying your product in another region that’s asking for a different frequency of operation. This will be easy to do with our solutions.

 

Is there something that you find particularly challenging in your line of work?

We’re really trying to push the boundaries of what's possible with converters. When we talk about high-speed processors, people mention clock rates of 5 GHz. We're talking more about 16 GHz and higher. With our designs, we’re pushing the limits of technology.

 

What do you find particularly special about the projects you work on? 

Well, when working on SDR, I am always amazed at how complex these things are. It’s absolutely incredible when you get the chip back into the lab. The level of complexity, how many functions must perform together so that it works. When you plug it into the board and see it for the very first time, you think “Wow, it’s working, it’s actually doing what it should.” It’s a great feeling.  It’s remarkable when you see such a complex soft radio converter for the first time and when you think about how many people are contributing to the process. The slightest error could break your chip. It always amazes me. If you talk to people who contributed to this work, you get a sense of pride from each and every one of them. When we created this new soft radio solution, we were able to present it at a very renowned conference. I know that some people were even sending this to their family, saying “Look what I did.”

 

What skills would someone need to join your team? 

There are a lot of various roles in our team, so people with a lot of different skill sets such as designers, layouters and lab engineers will find a place on our team. Plus, Intel hires people who have a lot of experience, but also people straight out of university. It’s a good mixture.

 

Are there any special courses that prepare people for these types of roles? 

Not necessarily. I would say microelectronics are a plus, but I studied telematics and network engineering, so nothing related to microelectronics or IC design. I think the most important thing here is that you have to be really willing to learn. University gives you a good base, but the things that we’re doing are really novel. The real learning starts when you start the job. Being experienced in design is not a necessity—again, we do hire people fresh out of university.

There’s a great mentoring program for bringing new employees up to speed and I think that's very valuable for somebody who's starting out. You get a mentor who makes sure that you develop your skills and continue growing. You simply have to be willing to learn new things all the time. And team players, people who can work very well with others, that's what we are always looking for.

 

Tell us why should people from other countries apply to Intel Austria? 

For me, the most important thing is that it’s simply a great team. There’s a lot of incredibly talented, but at the same time extremely nice, individuals. We are a very international team, with people from Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Estonia. Moreover, we probably have one of the nicest offices across Intel, with beautiful mountains, a river and lakes nearby. Our office is on the 5th floor, and we have an amazing terrace where you can step out and just enjoy the view. The other thing is that Villach is in the south of Austria, close to the border with Italy and Slovenia. It's a beautiful place to live in if you like traveling, nature and hiking.

 

Does your team take advantage of these amazing surroundings? 

What we do quite frequently is just use this beautiful terrace and barbecue together every now and then, during lunch time. We socialize on the terrace and get back to work. All the people we work with are extremely friendly and a lot of them are more than just colleagues. I consider a lot of them friends. I think that’s proof that the atmosphere is good. We also work with a lot of people from all over the world, mostly the U.S., but also Malaysia and India.

 

You said that you feel like you work with friends and that says a lot about the company.

Yes, definitely. That's probably the best thing, because when there are troubles you know you can rely on on each other and that's terrific. I think that if you want to join Intel, you have to be curious, willing to learn and embrace challenges. It's a great place to work, I'm very happy with the team we have, they're all astonishingly talented and incredibly kind people. 

 

Would you like to join such an amazing team? Explore job opportunities at Intel Austria.