Last week I attended a couple days of the 51st Design Automation Conference (DAC). I haven’t been to every one since my first in 1984, but I’ve been to enough to have the sense of its evolution. The evolution is simple; we’re old. I (happily) saw the same faces last week as I saw 30 years ago and, on a percentage basis, very few new ones. Let’s face it, EDA is no longer the place where the youngest, best and brightest flock. Don’t misunderstand. I believe, nay, I know, that absent the EDA industry the world comes to a gliding stop as next-generation semiconductors fail to hit the market and the world looks like Cuba stuck in 1959. But, I also know that the competition with the likes of social media for next-generation developers and business people is keen. My kids didn’t even go into tech let alone show up in EDA, and I know I’m not alone among my friends and colleagues. One of my good friends recently quoted his gifted programmer son as saying, “I’ve got to get out of this dinosaur.” He was referring to Apple. He went to Google.
One of the highlights of the show was attending the EDAC reception Sunday night. I particularly enjoyed listening to Mentor’s Sonia Harrison sing, backed up by a crisp and ad hoc EDA band. I thought the combination of electric guitars and all that gray hair spoke volumes about DAC and the EDA industry; fantastic results delivered by grandfathers. In fact, it had a little Alice in Wonderland feel to it…Who are these characters and how did I get here? Who were these techy rockers and isn’t it time for them to pass the baton to the younger guys?
Then I went home. I flipped on some television in time to see the replay of the 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Awards. Well, my apologies to my friends in EDA are due right about now. If our demographics in EDA are a topic for discussion and a bit of fun, then looking at KISS sans make-up is a downright source of hysteria. Are you kidding me? Sixty somethings, jet black hair, contorted faces from too much “work;” Johnny Cash lookalikes who walk with a grimace and can’t smile or barely blink…Come on. Really? At least put the signature make-up back on and pretend you’re not somebody’s grandpa. At least spare us. You may have guessed it by now but I was never a big KISS fan. But, I’ve always loved the work of Peter Gabrielle and, well, guess what? Yes, all gray among those hairs remaining and 50 pounds overweight. At least he seemed to be embracing the reality with some class. His clothes were a little funky for his age and torso, and the on-stage dance moves were barely executed. But he seemed to have a joy in his performance while KISS never took the stage due to infighting. Anyway, with eyes closed, Gabrielle still had it and eyes open KISS was a train wreck. I guess that’s the point: Notwithstanding appearances EDA still has it. Just don’t look…
Seriously, maybe EDA is no longer perceived as the young person’s destination for state-of-the-art technology (although it still is by a long shot: ever try to code up a P&R tool?). Or maybe it’s just that the compensation can’t compare to the sexier dotcom world. In either case, EDA needs to focus heavily on recruiting the next generations and, for that matter, so do semiconductors. We must explain why we collectively enable the world. Our contribution is not about rock bands. Even though, fortunately our tiny industry is blessed with enough renaissance people who can dazzle us both with miraculous products and fine music.
But, as I turned off the television I was reminded why the Phil Kaufman Award trumps the R&R Hall of Fame any day of the week, and that’s the right message for the 52nd DAC.
I attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year. I joined the hordes that scramble to see the next cool thing. And I did. I left Las Vegas without a shred of doubt (as opposed to how I usually leave Las Vegas) that the world is poised for explosive demand for life-changing electronics, whether you measure it by the pocketful, the corporation, the country or the continent. Every person and square inch of the globe is a candidate for automation. That’s good. We in the semiconductor industry power these gadgets, and we can be certain of continuous demand for as long as we want to make them.
Well, not so fast. That is, continuous demand for those of us who CAN make them. You see, the way things are tracking, fewer and fewer folks can deliver to the market those ICs that are worthy of being used 10 or 20 million times to satisfy the next great handset or compute device. And that’s too bad. It’s not like the big ideas are limited to the big companies. Our industry is a living history of small-company innovation resulting in grand outcomes. But it’s different now. The costs to develop the next big thing are skyrocketing and only the rich can play.
I think that’s wrong. But it’s not a question of fairness. It’s a question of profit. Why should the industry deny itself access to the greatest ideas because the entry costs are too high? Clearly, it shouldn’t.
That’s why eSilicon is committed to the deployment of efficiency tools and services that cut the waste, save the time, improve the outcome and otherwise enable the small (and large) company engineer to level the playing field, democratizing the process once again. I say “again” because the advent of the fabless semiconductor industry in the early nineties gave rise to a surge in start-up innovation and productivity. It enabled the delivery of massive technological solutions and created the likes of Qualcomm, Broadcom and, of course, Joe’s Chip and Screen Door Corporation. Don’t remember Joe’s? Well, I barely do either but it’s one of hundreds that got rolled up into the juggernauts we know today. We’ve lived through the greatest era of small company innovation. Why can’t it be rekindled?
It can. Last fall we launched a free, online multi-project wafer (MPW) tool that enables users to receive a quote for a slot on an MPW in minutes instead of days to weeks. The typical saving can be several days. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of these quotes generated each year industry-wide. Now, if we can save that time for a fraction of the MPWs crafted each year, how much can the industry save across multiple applications, multiple technologies, tools and companies? My guess is that the full value starts to look like an actual market segment and not just a small cost reduction.
Consolidation of an industry has merit. But lost innovation does not. It’s the latter that defines the semiconductor industry. Look to eSilicon to continue down the path of enabling engineers from corporations of all sizes to tackle the toughest IC problems, and give us all a reason to return to Las Vegas each year for the awe, grandeur and excitement. You may even visit CES and see some cool electronics.
A different approach to corporate social responsibility
For decades the largest industries in the world have deployed corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives that, on their surface, are designed to “give back” or “share the wealth” with the communities that have produced the labor force that drive their collective success. We are also told that CSR is good business and can be correlated with improved branding and greater profitability. Based upon the number of corporations that participate in some CSR activity I must conclude it is, in fact, good business to be aware of the needs of your broader community. It’s the ultimate investment: get paid for doing the right thing.
It’s not unlike the ubiquitous hotel room signs that ask you to save the planet by allowing them to not change your sheets or replace your towels. The truth is it does save natural resources to give your favorite Marriott a hall pass and sleep on day-old sheets. But it also saves the hotel in labor, cleaning supplies and utilities costs to do the right thing. These are righteous programs.
Recently, eSilicon has initiated its own CSR program. We have put our creative and useful “eMPW” engineering tool on our website and are offering its capabilities to the world for free. In a nutshell, you can build a multi-project wafer (MPW) spec at GLOBALFOUNDRIES or TSMC in about 5 minutes. The system will provide all the technical information with some intelligence and generate an executable quote in minutes, not weeks. However, and this is the different part, you are also welcome to take all the capability and detail and run over to the foundry directly, ask them for their direct quote and otherwise use everything we have provided you.
So, why are we doing this? Well, we believe that too much waste is cramping semiconductor profitability. Certainly, the sheer costs have all but eliminated startup companies. Our view, in fact our business model, is that more resources should be applied to innovation and far less to rote activities like MPW planning, a function we automated a while back. Further, we believe if all of us participated in a modest way with providing the industry, gratis, with one tool, one block of IP, we could meet the larger goal of increasing the profit pie and share accordingly.
And just like the hotel chain looking to profitably reduce its carbon footprint, we believe that our contributions will, in fact, continually enhance our brand, endear us to hard-working engineers and ultimately increase our bottom line. Several users have already asked us to provide the MPW to them and for that we make a modest profit.
The semiconductor industry is the heart of the internet, the cloud and computing. Yet, we collectively fail to use what we make. By availing the world of valuable tools on our website, increasing the efficiency of our industry’s engineers, and simply saving time and money, we are making a bold first step to demonstrate that a CSR viewpoint is good for our ecosystem and good for eSilicon.
Give it some thought and find a way to launch your own righteous program. And, in the meantime check out ours at www.esilicon.com/mpw.