Silicon Labs focuses on ‘mature, respectful’ workplace environment

Since its inception in the 1990s, Silicon Laboratories set out to hire the smartest engineers it could find to work on technical product breakthroughs in promising electronics growth markets.

That fundamental strategy has worked well enough to make the chip design company one of the biggest and most profitable home-grown tech firms in Austin.

The company has a global reach, with extensive customer relationships in Europe and Asia.

And it regards its employees among the brightest engineers it can find from around the world.

Silicon Labs ranks No. 1 among large employers in the American-Statesman’s 2017 Top Workplaces of Greater Austin project.

Among its talented engineers is Jinwen Xiao, a native of China who joined the Austin company in 2003 not long after earning a doctorate in electrical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. She heads a product development team of more than 40 people who come from 11 different countries.

Xiao says her first conversations with company managers and executives during jobs interviews made a big impression.

“I thought, I will be working with these high-caliber people,” she recently recalled. “I will be challenged by them and I will challenge them back and in that process we will build wonderful products.”

Xiao left the company briefly and returned in 2007.

“I realized that I missed Silicon Labs where people were working together on really important goals and where I learned so much,” she said. “I felt like I was wasting my life away from that.”

Fourteen years after she first joined the company, Xiao, now a U.S. citizen, heads development for Silicon Labs’ Internet of Things business, which incorporates interconnected devices used in smart lighting systems for homes and offices, other smart home functions, factory automation and other markets.

Because the company is so internationally focused, CEO Tyson Tuttle is among technology executives who has spoken out against the Trump Administration’s proposed travel ban that would affect people from targeted Muslim countries. Such a ban would adversely affect Silicon Laboratories’ ability to hire and retain top international technical talent, Tuttle said.

When one of the company’s brilliant young engineers, a native of Egypt, ran into problems with the federal immigration authorities in getting his green card renewed, the company went to bat for him. It hired an immigration lawyer who counseled the young engineer and his wife and accompanied them when they appeared before immigration officials.

That proactive stance by the company sped up the approval process and the engineer got his new green card in late August.

When fellow employees at Austin learned the good news, “it was a huge celebration,” Xiao said. “Everyone was thrilled. That is part of why this is a great place to work. The company takes care of its people.”

Applications engineer Alfredo Perez was recruited to the company four years ago while he was a graduate student in electrical engineering at Texas A&M University.

He also likes the company for the intellectual challenges its employees face and for its mentoring program that helps engineers navigate some of those challenges.

“I am getting paid to learn,” he said. “That excites me. My job involves constant learning about new products and systems. We are working on technology that has a direct impact on society,” he said.

“I am convinced that our company knows how to win in the marketplace,” he added. “That comes from seeing the products under development now and the fact their are already customers that are waiting to start developing their own products based on our chips.

Perez has had several different jobs within the company and has felt free to tap the knowledge of more veteran employees to do his job better.

“I feel empowered to succeed in the company,” he said. “One of the core values that we have is to foster and empower talent.”

Perez says he frequently talks with friends about how much he likes his employer. He also helps recruit new workers from his alma mater, Texas A&M.

Colin Tompkins, director of the company’s sensor applications business, has worked at Silicon Laboratories for 18 years.

His career at the company has seen him move around among different products and technologies. He likes his present assignment working with sensor chips because he said it feels like a startup venture with the support of a larger company. Some of its products have gone into wearable portable fitness devices.

He, like other employees, appreciates the engineering strength he sees among other workers.

“My coworkers are very high caliber in terms of their professionalism, their aptitude and their motivation. The culture here is intelligent, respectful and logical. We try to keep things mature. Liking and respecting the people you work with is essential. Life is too short to do otherwise

“I have been connected to an exceptional group of people, which is why I have stayed here for so long. The work absolutely challenges you, but in a mature, respectful way.

“We have all heard about tech companies that are dysfunctional, but this is a mature place. We are focused on the technology issues and the business and how to resolve and improve things and not on personalities or emotions.”

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