“Helping advance some of the world’s most significant technological breakthroughs.” That’s one of the sayings at KLA, and even if you don’t realize it, many of the digital devices you use daily most likely have had their chips measured or inspected at some point during manufacturing by a KLA system.
Founded in Silicon Valley in 1976, KLA is a global tech company that serves semiconductor manufacturers. In 2018, they opened its second U.S. headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and now operate out of a new, state-of-the-art tech center. Using deep science and physics-based imaging and sensing hardware, algorithms and AI software, KLA helps detect flaws in chip manufacturing. Those manufacturers then use that critical information to develop new chip technologies, optimize their processes and manufacture functioning chips at large volumes.
KLA Ann Arbor
The Ann Arbor headquarters is home to several corporate and engineering teams, including KLA's AI and Modeling Center of Excellence, where machine learning engineers, software engineers, and hardware engineers work together to advance semiconductor manufacturing. This is an especially important mission as next-gen technologies continue to evolve.
For Akshay Krishna and Autumn Caraway, it was exactly this kind of opportunity that led them to KLA in Ann Arbor.
“KLA is at the forefront of cutting-edge technology, especially in physics, optics and robotics,” says Akshay. “My academic focus was computational physics, so it’s really exciting to be in this field.”
Akshay, a research scientist for KLA, has been with the company for about three years, working at the intersection of algorithms and software engineering. Autumn, an HPC (high-performance computing) software engineer, has also been with KLA for nearly three years. She works on a computer cluster for KLA systems to help funnel large amounts of data collected from point A to point B.
“It's kind of the glue that holds it all together, makes everything work,” says Autumn.
Engineering For Life
Whether you’re working behind the scenes on the infrastructure of KLA’s data systems as Autumn does, or using physics to help understand the data and create software simulations and modeling as Akshay does, engineers at KLA have a wide range of work opportunities.
Because KLA combines software engineering and hardware engineering, as well as physics, optics, and the latest in artificial intelligence (machine learning, deep learning and more), KLA is like an amusement park for working as an engineer.
"KLA is at the forefront of cutting-edge technology... It's really exciting to be in this field."
The devices that KLA has a hand in making — from laptops to VR headsets, smartphones to smart automobiles — are used every day by billions of people around the world. It’s the technology of our daily lives. Being a part of that process has had an incredible impact on the people who work at KLA.
“Any device you’re holding with digital capabilities, even a fancy coffee maker, there’s a high probability that one chip in there has been through our machines. That’s pretty cool,” says Autumn.
“We need to be eyes for our customers when it comes to chip development since you can’t fix what you can’t find and you can’t control what you can’t measure,” says Akshay. “It’s quite cool that we are able to develop these really powerful systems that help us see and measure chip features as they’re manufactured.”
Engineering For The Future
Working on cutting-edge technologies every day can come with its challenges.
At the forefront of artificial intelligence, optics, sensors, robotics and software, KLA has to stay ahead of an industry that’s moving incredibly fast. Not only that, but they have to innovate in a way that’s reliable, repeatable, and robust. It can’t just work once.
For Akshay, that keeps his work engaging, and he loves that it’s grounded in science.
“The field is moving so quickly that what might have been considered the leading chips two years ago are already becoming obsolete. And so we're always having to improve what we did in the past,” Akshay says.
It’s a challenge that the teams at KLA rise to every day, always innovating for the future.
"Sometimes it feels like we’re tasked with the impossible, but we find a way to get it done."
“KLA is always thinking ahead,” Autumn says. “We have to design technologies that solve today’s challenges but can continue performing for customers over long periods. And we spend a lot of time on that. Sometimes it feels like we’re tasked with the impossible, but we find a way to get it done.”
This is something Autumn thinks about daily in her role. As she builds the designs for how data is moved, “planning the roads and speed limits,” as she calls it, she also has to consider how the tool will be used ten years from now.
“We want to innovate and build in a really smart way,” she says. “There are so many more dimensions to software programming. You have to think about all the components as a whole and the greater effect of changing one aspect or another. That has really helped me grow my own skills, not just with fundamental skills, but with thinking about the bigger picture and improving my coding.”
As for the long term at KLA, Akshay and Autumn have loved their experiences and are looking forward to more years with the company.
“I love the aspect of multidimensional optimization,” says Autumn. “It’s about longevity, flexibility, solving different kinds of problems. I also love working close to the hardware and getting to draw on my computer architecture experience.”
The sheer breadth of engineering roles at KLA, and the intersection of them, is also exciting for Akshay.
“We have very cross functional teams, with expertise spanning across all sorts of technical backgrounds — people who are very advanced in machine learning, AI algorithms, optics, and more,” says Akshay. “There’s so much collective knowledge and a lot to learn from one’s peers. I’ve definitely benefited from that.”
If you’re an engineer looking for a company that’s working at the cutting edge of artificial intelligence, software engineering, hardware engineering, and optics, check out the many roles at KLA.