x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

A Globalfoundries engineer's learning curve in Germany

Tech 2013: Safa Al Hashmi, a UAE national and a manufacturing engineer at the microchip maker Globalfoundries, talks about his time working in Dresden, Germany.

During summers in Dresden, Germany the air surrounding the carefully landscaped parks is thick with the smell of grilling meat and loud conversation.

The engineers, professors, researchers and students who form a large portion of the city's technology district unwind together and discuss the challenges and successes of the past week.

The ideas one easily overhears simply stagger the mind: how can we re-engineer the structure of a semiconductor to be more like the human brain, how might live nerve tissue one day form the backbone of what allows our mobile phones to function, and what is needed to design a single circuit more than 2,000 times thinner than the human hair.

They are pushing the bounds of our modern understanding of technology, and they are doing so casually - over lunch. In such an environment, stepping beyond the confines of current knowledge becomes a deeply ingrained part of the culture. And it is this culture, I believe, that lies at the heart of innovation.

I began my path in the technology industry studying chemical engineering at UAE University in Al Ain. The education gave me a deep understanding of high-level maths and science concepts, and initially directed me towards a strong career in oil and gas.

After graduation, I wanted to put my fingerprint on the future of the UAE, and contribute to an area of development that stood to change the very economic make-up of our society.

I followed an opportunity at the Globalfoundries semiconductor plant in Dresden, and was quickly immersed in an industry where the very small has very big implications. I spoke to my family about the chance to work in Dresden and to this day, I am truly thankful for their support.

I spent the first 18 months working with lithography experts managing each stage in semiconductor fabrication, ensuring every product functions as designed. As I move towards the final eight months of my time abroad, it will be my team's responsibility to ensure the smooth transition to full capacity on the industry's current leading-edge technology: 28 nanometre, a scale which fits more than 2 billion individual circuits onto a space roughly the size of a dirham coin.

As we work to scale up, my team and Globalfoundries' management communicate primarily in English and - not surprisingly since we are in Dresden - German. But in every strategy meeting, I cannot help but grow deeply excited knowing conversations about the next great step forward will take place one day soon in Arabic - my native tongue.

With UAE University's research across water resources, petroleum resources and solar energy; NYU Abu Dhabi's research into neuroscience and cloud computing; Masdar's broad research into clean energy; Atic's investment across a range of microelectronics projects; and Khalifa University's aerospace research capabilities, institutions that stand to make an impact on our nation's technology capabilities are growing.

While established institutions are no doubt important, my time in Dresden has shown that the change from budding ecosystem to a mature innovation culture will be affected by individuals more than any other factor.

It is up to each and every one of us to fully realise our potential, and make pushing the boundaries of knowledge a core part of our ethos.

I am truly thankful to my family for supporting my journey. I hope others like me will step up and put their own fingerprint on the UAE's burgeoning culture of innovation.


Safa Al Hashmi is a UAE national and a manufacturing engineer working at the microchip maker Globalfoundries in Dresden, Germany