The Fab Years


After I graduated from college, I had trouble finding a decent job, so I continued cooking. My last cooking gig I took with a purpose. It was a small, family owned operation who specialized in catering for local tech firms. I spent about 2 and a half years there, with one eye open towards an opportunity.

One day, that strategy paid off. I got a lead on an entry level position at a local company called Read-Rite. They made thin film heads for computer disk drives. Located in Milpitas California, they also had operations in Thailand, close to where the disk drives were made. My job was the lowest of the low, the real entry level, mixing and delivering chemicals for the process equipment in the fab.

It was a grungy, dirty, dangerous job. We handled some real fun stuff.  I worked the Weekend A shift, 4AM to 4PM. I did that for 6 or so months, before the chem lab manager noticed that I was a “cut above” the usual riff-raff. Having a degree was unique, and being somewhat of a physics geek was really unique.

Chem Tech

A slot opened up on the graveyard for an analysis tech, and I leapt at the offer. Chemical Analysis tech. We did a variety of analyses, from elemental analysis, titrations, FTIR analyses, and detailed assay analyses of the plating baths. mixing the bath replenishment solutions.

Chemical Analysis Lead

I really enjoyed the job, but hated graveyard shift. I did that for about 2 years, before an opportunity to move into a different role. The company had built a new fab in Fremont, and an opportunity opened up to be a lead in their chem tech area. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity. There I learned a lot about instrumentation. We got all the cool new toys. Karl Fischer titration, viscometers, XRF, stylus profilers, scanning electron microscopes, Inductively Coupled Plasma, atomic emission spectroscopy.

I am not going to lie, I loved that job. My regular duties were pretty straightforward, and I had plenty of time to learn and play with the instruments.  We would get something new in, and I would be the one to figure it out, work up methods for our needs, and write the procedures for the rest of the department to use.

Process Engineer

An opening for a Process Engineer position opened, and I was offered it. I would have beaten my sister into a coma for that opportunity (not really sis), so I jumped on it. It was back on the night shift, but I learned a lot about metal plating and wet etch processes. I learned about WIP tracking, (and vax’s), all sorts of new things, Kerr effect microscopes, XRF, EDS, AFM’s, and the one piece of equipment that sang to me, the confocal microscope. We used it to monitor plating thicknesses (and hence rates). It was deceptively simple, but very accurate. It required a fair amount of programming (called “scripting”) to use for our processes. I dove in and made it as good as possible.

One day, we were buying a new one, so I was off to the maker to do the source inspection (verifying that it met spec, and our needs). I was working with one of their Applications Engineers, Bob Wiegand, and was commenting that I knew more about programming their instrument than they did, and that they should give me a job.

Turns out that they were trying to figure out how to hire me without pissing off one of their best customers. I was made an offer, and moved into the next stage of my career, the applications engineer at an instrument company.

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July 2024

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