Leading through learning
Frans van Heesbeen, VP Human Resources NXP Semiconductors gives his feedback on the training programme for NXP architects
Maintaining leadership in any market is a challenge. Today’s markets are moving ever faster and are increasingly complex. For technology company NXP Semiconductors, a training programme that turns top engineers into system architects is playing a key role in keeping them at the forefront of a broad range of markets from automotive electronics to wireless infrastructure.
With a focus on high performance mixed signal technology, NXP Semiconductors has developed strong internal training programmes to ensure its leading position. A two-track career path allows engineers to either move into a management role or to continue on a technical track to become a specialist in their area of expertise.
“On the job training has always been important to NXP", explains Frans. "Our technical track allows our engineers to continue to grow in their area of expertise. They are recognised by their peers as having specialist knowledge and skills and share knowledge and/or provide training courses in their area of expertise to other engineers within the company.”
But specialization is not enough in today’s increasingly complex markets. Creating innovative solutions for new and emerging markets increasingly needs a broader variety of competencies. Competencies which, in an international company like NXP, can be spread across approximately 3,500 engineers in different divisions and regions.
“The days of ‘technology push’ are behind us”, states Frans. “Today, we are focused on developing integrated solutions for our markets that draw on our complete portfolio. That means we need people who can look at the bigger picture and work across Business Units and time zones to integrate different technologies into a single chip. ”
“We have a number of initiatives already in place to encourage cooperation and collaboration throughout NXP. Over 400 engineers are involved in our technology framework programme, exchanging ideas and information, and running training courses on specific competence areas. And our annual Innovation Workshop in October brings together our top 300 engineers to discuss upcoming technology developments.”
Seeing the bigger picture
Give an engineer a problem and he will solve it. But in today’s increasingly complex markets, the real challenge is in accurately defining and delineating the problem.
“Understanding the complexities of the market, defining a technical solution and identifying the business opportunities, is something that not all senior engineers are used to doing”, says Frans. “They also need to be able to present a business case to management and then coordinate the development of the solution with a team of engineers with different skills and knowledge, working across multiple BUs and time zones.”
“This is the role a system architect performs. So, we decided to set up a training programme to provide our top engineering talent with the skills they needed to advance to this level. And as we are a core partner of the Embedded System Institute, we knew they could provide the right programme.”
NXP architect development programme
The programme started in November 2011 and finished in July 2012. Sixteen engineers were drawn from a pool of candidates put forward by the BUs and split into teams of four. Each team worked to develop and present a unique value proposition for the emerging smart energy market.
ESI’s Domain Architect programme combines theory with practical work. It incorporates private coaching to develop the architecting skills of senior engineers and help them to apply architecting responsibility in a specific technology area. The programme pays extensive attention to developing relevant personal skills and technical leadership. It enhances the engineers’ capabilities in aligning design choices with product, market and business drivers.
A key element of the programme is its focus on relevant, rather than generic, examples. This helps the engineers to fully engage in the programme. It also means their learning experiences can be directly applied to their day-to-day work.
Over the course of the programme, the teams received training on various aspects of system architecting, including some modules on analog and digital design that were presented by NXP’s own specialists. They also worked on developing leadership skills as well as interpersonal and presentation skills to help them coordinate with others and present their value propositions to management.
Joris van den Aker and Frans van Heesbeen
“With R&D centres all over the world, international companies like NXP can have islands of dedicated knowledge in different divisions or regions”, says Joris van den Aker, Knowledge Manager at ESI. “But bringing the right product to the right market at the right time requires global access to all that knowledge and skill. The architect training programme put system-level thinking on a higher plane within the company and created an internal network of architects capable of sharing and applying the company’s breadth and depth of specialist knowledge.”
Having completed the first programme, NXP Semiconductors has already been lining up the next programme for another 16 engineers starting 5 September 2012.
“The programme was a great success,” concludes Frans. “Sure, there are always things that can be improved. That’s part of lifelong learning. We are working closely with ESI to fine-tune the setup of the next programme. We also have improved our selection process to ensure we pick the best candidates.”
Whether designing tomorrow’s generation of integrated circuits or complete systems-of-systems, this new generation of system architects will have the breadth of knowledge to ensure that companies develop the right solutions that meet the needs of increasingly complex markets.