Working at imec means freedom

Mario Konijnenburg is R&D Manager IC Design at imec’s Holst Centre, having initially joined as Senior Researcher in 2009. By then, he already had extensive experience as a Design Flow Architect & Technical Lead Nx-Builder at NXP, among other positions. Since 2009, he has progressed from Senior Researcher to Principal Member of Technical Staff, before rising to his current post of R&D Manager. For Mario, working at imec means freedom – freedom not only to work on innovations and learn, but also to pay attention to those around him.  


Mario began his career at TU Delft’s computer architecture department. There, he would go on to achieve a PhD in efficient chip testing. This would prove to be his chosen field for a number of years. Over the next 11 years, he would go on to work at Philips Research, followed by NXP. 

Working on innovations 

In 2009, the research center had been operating for about three years out of the Eindhoven High Tech campus. “While it was still kind of in its start-up phase, I had fantastic time. As part of a small team, mostly made up of recent graduates who didn't really yet know how to make chips, I was able to develop the flow that would allow us to start manufacturing chips. I think I managed to accomplish a great deal during that time.” 


“After a year, we sent off the first chip to actually be manufactured. Getting it back as a fully functioning chip proved a real moment for the whole team to celebrate. After that, the team started to grow.” 


“With new clients the likes of Samsung and Panasonic, the chips soon became more complex. As Technical Lead, I was the architect charged with making sure that the chips met these new specifications. Given that we work closely with researchers, each with their own area of expertise, new ideas often arise as the chips are being developed. While at other companies it would usually be out of the question to work on such potentially ‘risky' ideas, here, as long as it falls within imec’s scope of interest, you are free to pursue any idea. Here, you really are free to try new things. Not only is developing state-of-the-art chips and working on innovation something I get excited about, it is also what imec stands for as a company.” 


Pooling expertise 

“A good example is our development of sensors that measure signals from the body, such as moisture and bioimpedance. This was a true collaboration between experts with an analog background, measuring raw signals from the body, and others with a more digital background, who would make that small, subtle signal available digitally. An exciting challenge, one where everyone played a crucial role. Such signals often carry a whole lot of noise, such as unwanted movements, for example. To filter out any useful information, this needs to be eliminated.” 


“The great thing about working at imec is that you get to share a great deal of knowledge with others, such as with colleagues who have recently graduated or achieved their PhD, for example. I particularly enjoy working with such people, as they are often curious and eager to learn. Together, you can end up developing, say, sensor chips that serve to measure brain activity.” 

Personal contact 

Mario’s heart lies in engineering. At least, that’s what he thought. When he was asked to become Manager of the IC Design team, this really appealed to him. “Developing chips together, while coaching and supporting others. This is what I enjoy most in my position as Manager: personal contact with others. I believe this is crucial for any team to succeed. If I notice that something isn’t going to plan, I can talk to the relevant person separately to understand why.” 


“I like being able to follow what everyone’s working on and contribute my own ideas. I don’t want to give up the technical side. So far, it’s actually working out quite well. I still make chips regularly, usually for a student or if I’m working on a relatively small project. I often look to tackle small jobs so that those who are otherwise busy with ongoing projects don’t have to.” 



One of Mario’s teams works in the field of neuromorphic research. “This is a special topic within imec. Three branches are working on it, one here in Eindhoven, one in Leuven, and another in Antwerp. While it’s not always easy keeping such collaborations running smoothly, this complexity does keep things interesting. I’ve invested a lot of time into making sure that we continue to improve how we work together.” An example of this was when Mario organized a team event that saw employees from all three branches meeting in person. “Now, not only do we work well together, but we know each other’s strengths. It’s great to see everyone connecting with one another.”  


Work and play 

Being considerate of others is always paramount, no matter how busy things get. As a father of five, Mario is very much used to this. “Some have already left home now. While it’s now a little less busy, for a long time there were seven of us at home. This made my life incredibly busy, even hectic. However, that suited me down to the ground.”  


Mario finds his moments of calm on the bike. “I cycle to work every day. Here, I’m seen as a keen cyclist. I recently started riding and mountain biking with my youngest son. Cycling to work from my hometown of Best via the slow lane, there are zero traffic lights and no intersections. Bliss. In summer, I sometimes wake up early and take a walk instead of heading straight to work. This is a great chance for me to enjoy nature.” 


Who: Mario Konijnenburg 

From: The Netherlands 

What: R&D Manager IC Design 

At imec since: 1 February 2009