[Techie Tuesday] From explaining chemical reactions in the kitchen to navigating physical design at Texas Instruments - Shalini Eswaran’s journey
During her college years at BITS Pilani, Shalini Eswaran had heard of Texas Instruments (TI), and soon it became her dream company. Although she started her career with ST Microelectronics after her graduation in 2003, she quickly made her move to TI in a year as an entry-level Physical Design Engineer, in the then newly formed MSP430 team.
BITS gave an altogether new experience and grounding after being raised in multiple cities due to her father’s frequent transfers.
“The academic curriculum and the teaching methods were designed to spark critical thinking and questioning. The way in which assignments, projects, and open book tests were conducted was uncommon in those days. It shaped my approach to addressing challenges – from devising creative solutions to bootstrapping with limited resources and bringing a ‘can-do’ attitude to the table. This continues to be my guiding mantra even today,” she recalls.
Also, Shalini’s interest in science, particularly in Chemistry and Mathematics from childhood, made STEM the best possible career choice. “It has always fascinated me that everything happening around us can be explained by chemicals, reactions, and numbers. I always connected daily chores, like my mother cooking in the kitchen, to chemical reactions. For me, Mathematics was never just a subject – it was an all-pervading thing,” she says.
Her move to Texas Instruments in 2004 has seen Shalini navigate 17 years at the company, exploring the breadth and depth of her domain – from across Industrial, Automotive, and more recently, the IoT verticals – primarily in the MicroController segment (Embedded Processing).
Shalini also believes that networking and mentorship opportunities are extremely important for women in technology. She hopes to interact with and guide young women in their careers in the coming years.
In 2010, Shalini moved into a people manager role at TI, starting with a small team.
Currently, as Digital Design Manager, Shalini manages the Physical Design and Design for Testability (DFT) domains in the Connectivity Business Unit. Across the two domains, her team is responsible for the successful implementation and testing of IPs and SoCs, and ensuring timely delivery of PGs while meeting Power, Performance, and Area (PPA) commitments. The team supports designs being executed across TI’s Oslo, Israel, India, and the US sites under the SmartGrid, Industrial, Auto, and IoT verticals.
“Physical Design is popularly known as ‘RTL GDSii’ flow in the industry and is a complex process that involves transforming circuit descriptions written in code format into physical layouts. The layout will describe the position of transistors or gates in silicon, and the routes and interconnections between the code and layout,” she explains.
She works with several variables including design feasibility, timing requirements, technology, and FAB specifics required to convert logical representations into a physically fabricable form. Physical design directly impacts circuit performance, silicon area – which would impact manufacturing cost, reliability, circuit power, and manufacturing yield.
The work is innovation-centric and therefore rife with continuous challenges. Shalini believes the way to face them is to find clever solutions to address them each time.
“The most recent experience was enabling two PGs within a few months, while the team was working remotely. Even though these were derivative devices, executing them in these unprecedented times came with its own set of challenges. However, as a team, we did complete them with a significantly reduced cycle time and a lower-than-budgeted cost, resulting in an eye-opening, fulfilling, and truly humbling experience. Even with virtually onboarded recruits, our team successfully found innovative ways to connect, review, and track deliverables seamlessly,” she says.
While the pandemic posed its own challenges, Shalini ensured a strong roadmap for the team to execute and carry out key deliverables across devices out of Oslo, Israel, and India sites.
“Managing and interacting with teams from diverse backgrounds comes with its own set of complexities, but I also find it uniquely rewarding to be able to work together with a team that has such rich and diverse experience,” she says.
Need wider conversations on girls in STEM
Shalini sees a huge potential among women in STEM and tech with parents often supporting their daughters to perform well in academics. But unfortunately, she says this stance changes as they enter high school or pre-university years.
“We see subtle pressure on girls to evaluate their life choices from a wider angle – is it safe for a girl to go to a different city and study? Is it necessary? Can she pursue a course closer to home? Why study for a Master’s or Ph.D. if you can get a decent job with your Bachelors’ degree? This also extends into the years of professional growth – shouldn’t she think of marriage and raising a family? Should she take up that larger role?”
She believes this sets in a cycle of self-doubt and slowly, the choices narrow down and girls begin closing doors for themselves.
“What we need are more visible women role models in technology, mentoring opportunities for girls at an early age, and wider conversations in society that will allow them to leverage opportunities and realise their full potential. When it comes to retaining women in technical jobs, organisations need to provide the required support during crucial life stages,” she adds.
As a part of the Embedded Processing - Diversity and Inclusion Worldwide team at TI, Shalini networks with female colleagues across the organisation, particularly the younger crowd.
“At times, all they need is someone willing to listen to them, and these conversations help them clear their mind and think through their challenges. I also try and share my own experience with them so they can benefit from what I have learnt over the years,” she says.
In the current scenario, she says networking and mentorship opportunities are extremely important for women in technology. They can leverage each other’s experiences and learnings – both in the personal and professional space.
She also believes thinking of one’s career as a marathon as opposed to a sprint, and keeps one grounded, humble, and makes life easier.
A mother of two, in her free time, Shalini enjoys kicking a ball with her son and reviewing books with her daughter. A fitness enthusiast, she finds time to run, practice yoga or engage in high-intensity interval training. She has recently begun exploring guided meditation as well.
“Technology is always changing and presents us with new opportunities. This excites me tremendously and keeps me motivated to learn and do more in my domain. I am also passionate about guiding and mentoring women in technology. I was part of the virtual hiring process this year, and spent more time interacting with STEM aspirants. It is exciting and rewarding to be able to interact with these young women and guide them in their careers. I hope to do more of this in the coming years,” she says.