What kind of workplace drove laid-off engineer Jing Wu to allegedly murder his boss and a coworker at Silicon Valley semiconductor firm SiPort Inc?
Former Valleywag writer Alaska Miller once worked at a very similar “fabless” semiconducter shop — “the shops are called fabless because they don’t actually own a foundry to physically produce chips” — of which “there are literally thousands upon thousands” in Silicon Valley.
Now Miller’s written a post describing the fairly grim working conditions for a man like Wu. Here’s the bulletpoint version:
- There are thousands of these shops, created to “develop either a cheaper copy of an existing integrated circuit design or an amalgamation of multiple designs onto systems-on-a-chip (SoC).” Without foundries, these startups design the chips and sell them to bigger corporations or Asian manufacturers.
- “The risk for this is crazy,” writes Miller, “especially considering the extensive time and staff the sales process requires. Although if your business were 85% all one company, such as portable player with Apple, then by all means you’re going to be flush with cash — up to until Apple decides to make everything in-house, then you’re just fucked.”
- The working conditions are hellish: “When people describe startups before the go-go days of dotcoms (late 80’s and 90’s you punk kids) these chip companies were the shit that they were talking about. People sleeping under their desks. 90 hour workweeks. You eat, sleep, and die by your company.”
- There’s lots of industry turnover, but always more work for laid off engineers. “If your company flops there’s bound to another one down the street that’s hiring.”
- Imported labour is common. MIller says firms like Intel snap up American engineers before they get out of college. “The second and third tier engineers lack the experience, you need people with master degrees sprinkled with Ph.Ds, to actually research and develop an entire chip by themselves. so what’s one to do? import. h1bs.”
- Imported labour “is codeword for slavery.” Miller writes that the advantage of imported labour isn’t that its good, it’s that its cheap and easy to control. “Once they’re brought here you can basically put them into ‘corporate housing’ which basically amounts to slum apartments that you rent in Milpitas or Fremont. And since the company has sponsored them, their ability to stay in the USA is completely in your hands.”
- People snap: “Those with the circumstance to be able to pick up another job will just move on. For them, the lull in between is meaningless. But those that can’t — those without money and no freedom earned, suffered through the insane production schedules — those people will snap. People in their late forties who have immigrated to this country in hopes of making it big will outright fucking snap”
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