Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Important Technology Developments of 2008 - Seeking Alpha

Happy New Year, dear readers! This time of year, it's irresistable to look back over the last year, and perhaps venture some forecasts for the coming one. Before I try to put together my own list, here's a list of The 10 Most Important Technology Developments of 2008 that covers technology broadly (not just semiconductors).

Most of the technologies cited are still nascent. While the iPhone is already significant, it's going to be quite a while before we see memristors in our chips. And I'll have to go look up graphine, since I've never heard of that for chip fabrication.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An Engineer's Guide to Dating

Thanks to John Blyler for pointing out these Funny Videos about Engineers

Happy Holidays, everyone! We survived 2008 and here's to a prosperous new year.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Choice Careers

Would you advise smart young people to go into Engineering? It's a question our profession often ponders.

Consider the alternatives. Why not use one's attention to detail to become an attorney? Why not use one's mathematical prowess to go into finance? Become a "rocket scientist", a "master of the universe". I hadn't looked seriously at Wall Street careers, but the compensation described in The Reckoning - On Wall Street, Bonuses, Not Profits, Were Real - Series - is truly staggering:

The bonanza redefined success for an entire generation. Graduates of top universities sought their fortunes in banking, rather than in careers like medicine, engineering or teaching. Wall Street worked its rookies hard, but it held out the promise of rich rewards. In college dorms, tales of 30-year-olds pulling down $5 million a year were legion.

Admittedly, now isn't the best moment to go into finance. Wall Street financiers are going to have to lay low for a while, lick their wounds, and make some pay for the Ponzi scheme(s) that will come out. But in the end, won't it come roaring back? From a monetary perspective, won't it always be more lucrative to be close to where money is changing hands, rather than cooped up in an R&D lab designing the next big thing? I'm not saying it's right, but that seems to be the way it is.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Last EDA Vendor Standing?

Man, there's some ugly financial results being reported by almost all EDA companies lately. Take a look at Sramana Mitra's financial review.

And poor LogicVision is facing a measly $10M takeover offer, as John Ford covers in Merry Christmas… We want your company

Ms. Mitra surveys the current situation of EDA companies in the provocatively titled EDA: Bring Costello Back?. The title of the post alludes to Cadence's vacancy at the top, of course. For those of you too young to remember, Joe Costello was the charismatic and highly energetic CEO of Cadence from its founding through 1997. It's fun to reminisce about EDA's heyday and colorful characters, but it's probably wishful thinking that he'd want to come back and try to revive Cadence's business.

Meanwhile, John Cooley has a list of 47 candidates for Cadence CEO. What do you think about that list? I get his point, that he strongly believes the new leader should be an EDA veteran. But 47 names? Too unfocused. It's almost like he's name-dropping all the EDA executives he knows.

In my opinion, the best candidate might be a proven CEO or top executive of an EDA start-up, or an autonomous General Manager of an EDA company division. The candidate should be strong technically and have a track record of managing and growing the business. Not "just a Sales guy", or some VP who dropped into the company after it was already up and running. Perhaps a founder of the company, with passion and real leadership. Let's hope they find a great leader, both for the industry and the sake of chip designers everywhere.

Let's hope we don't end up with one company dominating the industry. That would be insufferable, like Ernestine the Operator's (monopoly) Telephone Company

How To Be World Class

Amidst the constant news of the struggling macroeconomy and generally bleak news in EDA and related industries, it'd be a good idea to focus on doing something positive.

How To Be World Class is a brief review of the talked-about book Outliers, which I hope you'll find inspirational.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

‘Golden’ timing signoff

Ruben Molina of Extreme DA has a well-written article, ‘Golden’ timing signoff – does it correlate to Spice?. Certainly, one cannot argue that we treat SPICE simulation results as "golden" (for a given set of PVT conditions). At the same time, device-level SPICE is a lot harder to work with than gate-level tools such as static timing analyzers. Therefore, as he says, designers looking to qualify a tool may take the easy way out and compare the new tool to the de facto standard, even if the accuracy of the standard tool isn't well understood. SPICE should be the arbiter.

I sometimes feel sorry for new tool vendors going against a well-established "gorilla". They design the fastest, most accurate tool that they can, and then find customers complaining that it doesn't match the idiosyncracies of older tools. To add insult to injury, the aspiring tool vendor may have to add in "compatibility mode" features that produce less accurate or less sensible results, just to correlate to the tool the want to displace.

This has happened in EDA for a long time. Remember when Cadence's Verilog-XL was THE simulation standard? Upstarts, including Chronologic with VCS, couldn't just implement the Verilog spec. Customers forced them to mimic every quirk of Verilog-XL. It was the arbiter, much to competitor's frustration.

In the case of timing tools, it behooves tool vendors to offer a qualification flow. For example, to compare to SPICE, the tool should be able to select timing paths, write out accurate & valid SPICE decks, and make it easy to run the simulations by pointing to the SPICE tool and library models. In this way, it lowers the barrier for customers to compare against the "right" standard, instead of the easy one.