Archive for April, 2009

Soft Skills Aren’t Hard To Learn

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

It was 1992 and I was supporting the Motorola Iridium project in Chandler, AZ. There was a project lead named Steve who I was tasked to work with. My job was to get certain elements of our DesignWare library working properly to support his ASIC design team.

Steve was a bit of a control freak. Whenever there were technical decisions to be made, Steve wanted to be the one making the decisions. And once he made his decision, there was no changing it. You see, Steve had a big ego and did not like to be wrong, much less wrong in front of his team.

Unfortunately, his decisions were not always the correct decisions and I had no problem telling him that. You see, I had a big ego too.

As you can imagine, Steve and I did not get along very well.

Fortunately, I had a boss who had dealt with Steve before and who gave me some advice that I carry to this day. He suggested that I bring the relevant facts to Steve and present them in such a way that the decision was obvious. Then, I needed to say these words, “I’m not sure what is the best choice. What do you think?”

As hard as it was for me to relinquish control of these decisions, it turned out to be the right way to handle Steve. Instead of feeling like he was put on the spot to win a debate with the local AE, he felt like a respected authority figure. With this pressure removed, Steve usually ended up making the right decision (i.e. the one I would have recommended).

Steve was happier. I was happier. And we got a lot more productive work done as a result!

__________

The soft skills that I describe in the story above do not come naturally to most engineers. A matter of fact, I’ve often heard it said “he’s a great engineer, but I’d never take him to a client”. So I was very interested when I came across a press release describing how Mentor Graphics and RTM Consulting collaborated to develop a soft skills training class for Mentor consultants. I sent an email to Paul Hofstadler, VP of Consulting at Mentor, requesting to talk to him about the class, and he graciously accepted.

According to Paul, Mentor’s Services are typically focused on deploying to their clients new working processes around the EDA tools that Mentor sells. That is, they are teaching their clients to fish, rather than selling them fish. As you can imagine, it requires a great deal of influence and political savvy to effectively implement these types of changes in a client’s organization. Unfortunately, these skills don’t necessarily come naturally for most engineers. Indeed, when Mentor went back and examined the projects that had challenges, they discovered that the core issues were not technical, but rather involved corporate politics and communication issues.

Paul decided that he needed to increase the soft skills of his consultants in order to be more effective on projects and to recognize opportunities for more business in a tough economy. “More than half the work in consulting is finding and growing people”.  Rather than building a training program internally, or piecing one together from existing off-the-shelf classes, Paul engaged with RTM Consulting to develop a customized class to meet Mentor’s specific needs. “We didn’t want to pull our best consultants off of time critical customer projects to develop the class. They are the ones guiding our customers through complex projects. In addition, we wanted the outside point of view that RTM brought to the situation.”

Most of the course material came from RTM Consulting . The specific case studies and industry specific material came from Mentor. Paul had senior consultants help with the development of the material, especially the case studies which were based on real experiences. The result is a 3 day course that is very hands-on. There is standard lecture time and also several 5-6 person role play case studies. “The collaboration with Mentor Graphics was key to honing in on customization of the training to give the them the best chance at gaining the right skills necessary, and providing a solid return on their educational investment”, according to Randy Mysliviec, CEO of RTM Consulting.

Paul Hofstadler particularly praised the case studies. “The case studies were the most interesting part of the course. I never knew what was going to come out of them. Each group solved the case studies slightly differently using the skills taught in the class.” Even so, Paul resisted the urge to let the consultants bring real customer situations into the class for fear that the entire class would end up working on one real customer case. Instead, Mentor asked consultants to present real case studies after the class, several weeks later, and present them to the internal team. This served as a reinforcement of the material and helped to put the course material into practice.

A 3-day training course for the entire consulting team seems like a big investment. “Ironically, the cost of soft skills training can often be offset by just a single large project overrun or a collection of overruns”, according to Randy Mysliviec. Fortunately, the timing of the class coincided with an end of year lull in delivery, so Mentor was able to implement the training class with minimal customer project impact as well.

Since the training was administered just a few months ago, it is difficult to definitively measure the value. However, there is strong anecdotal evidence that it is working. One senior consultant, who was very skeptical at the beginning, used the techniques in the class to turn around a difficult customer (similar to my story at the beginning of this post). Paul has indicated that “consulting orders this quarter are a lot better than last quarter” and he attributes that in part to the training, particularly the parts that help consultants recognize potential follow-on opportunities for more business.

“In this economy, it is more important than ever to understand the customer’s needs, communicate effectively, and deliver excellent solutions on every engagement” said Paul in summary. “It is clear to me that our projects are running more smoothly after the training. As a bonus, our repeat customer order rate is up indicating that we are continuing to deliver high value to our customers despite the ‘interesting’ times in which we find ourselves.”

Due to the success of the training, Mentor is looking at extending the training to other parts of the consulting organization and to other organizations in Mentor. In the meantime, RTM Consulting is offering the course for other customers, minus the Mentor specific material, of course. “The soft skills needs at Mentor are certainly not unique in the professional and consulting services world”, says’ Randy Mysliviec. “Most technology and pure services companies do a good job of teaching their teams about products, services, and technologies they need to know to effectively serve clients. What is most often missed are the soft skills necessary for consultants to effectively interact with their clients.”

Thanks to folks like RTM Consulting, these soft skill aren’t hard to learn after all.

harry the ASIC guy

5 Degrees Of Consultant Twiteration

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

There is a consultant working with one of my clients with whom I’ve developed a good working relationship. Today he came by and asked me if I knew of someone to help on another project with a different client. The area of expertise, board design, was not one that I had a lot of contacts. So I decided to Twitter the opportunity:

13:20pm harrytheASICguy: Friend has short term need to design a board for cons elec startup in SoCal. Contact me if you r interested. Please retweet.

The post got retweeted 3 times (to my knowledge). At 7:55pm I got a reference to a board designer and hooked him up with my consultant buddy.

The request came from (1) the customer to (2) my buddy to (3) me to (4) another guy who recommended (5) the board designer. I don’t know the guy or if he’ll get the job or work out, but the speed with which a qualified candidate was identified was remarkable. Just slightly more than 4 1/2 hours. Of course, it would have been a lot less if I had more board design followers on Twitter, and that is the point.

Twitter, for all of its annoyances (and there are many), provides the fastest way to communicate to a large audience today. For identifying possible candidates to fill job opportunities, permanent or temporary, Twitter seems ideally suited.

So, if you are one of the unlucky ones to be looking for another job or another client, you need to get on Twitter. Here are 20 Tips to Twitter Job Search Success. Good luck.

harry the ASIC guy

You’ve Got Talent - Now Get Out There!

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Last Saturday night, an unattractive, overweight, 47-year old spinster from Scotland appeared on the UK television show Britain’s Got Talent. If you have not seen it, here is the video.

Susan Boyle

Susan Boyle has become an overnight sensation, this video becoming the most popular on YouTube this week and this month, with over 11 Million views as I write this. What made this remarkable was not the quality of the singing, which was excellent, but probably no better than many top performers on this and other similar shows like American Idol. What made it remarkable was the level of performance as compared to the expectations that EVEYBODY had before she sang. We were set up … by her appearance and by her age and by past auditions by no-name wannabees who delivered horrid performances in order to be ridiculed by the judges. We knew what was going to happen before it happened … and we were dead wrong.

As I thought more about this, I noticed the parallels between Miss Boyle and many displaced engineers affected by the continuing economic woes. Many of you, like me and Miss Boyle, are in your forties. You may be a little overweight and the hair that you still have is turning gray. And you find yourself having to audition for a job amid snickers from the interviewers who don’t expect very much. In fact, I find myself in a similar circumstance, the contract with my current client coming to a close, and me starting to beat the bushes for the next project to work on.

So I am going to take away from Miss Boyle 3 points of inspiration that will hopefully help me and maybe help you too:

1 - Be out there

Even though she has amazing talent, Susan Boyle had every reason to think that she could not compete with the younger and prettier contestants. And even if she did go out there, she risked being ridiculed in front of a national audience. After all, this is a society that judges appearance over substance in so many ways. What was the point?  Instead, she decided that she owed it to herself and her mother (now deceased) to give it a go.

You may think that your age is a liability, especially compared to younger engineers, armed with up-to-date education, who work for less and put in crazy hours. And you may be right. So you have to make a decision. You can feel sorry for yourself and convince yourself that nobody wants you. Or you can give it a go like Miss Boyle and at least you have a chance.

2 - Be Yourself

It’s truly amazing what professional makeup artists and clothing consultants can do to improve your appearance. Miss Boyle could have hired someone like that to make her appear younger, slimmer, and more attractive. But she didn’t. In fact, it looked like she dragged an old dress out of her closet to wear to the show. That probably did not help her, but she would have been much more the fool had she come out with tons of makeup and jewelry in tight fitting Spandex pants. I may be naive, but I believe that people inherently value honesty and authenticity … two of Miss Boyle’s most attractive qualities.

Now, I’m not saying you should dress sloppily when you go to an interview. But you should not go out of your way to make yourself appear, physically or otherwise, like someone you are not. Everybody get’s older, so you have nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, you can use your “experience” as an advantage in most situations. At least your future employer will walk away with the peace of mind that there are no surprises and that he knows what he gets with you.

3 - Be Prepared

Susan Boyle could have been on the show and been herself, but if she sang poorly she would have been ridiculed like so many other contestants. In the end, she had to be better than mediocre, to have real talent to impress the judges. She not only had talent, but she chose a song to sing that highlighted her strengths.

If you follow the 2 recommendations above, at least you’ll get yourself in front of people and they’ll know you are authentic. That should get you close to a level playing field. To get the job, you need to have skills. If you are lacking in the skills you need, you may need to acquire new skills to impress the judges. As I have mentioned several times before, Mentor Graphics’ Displaced Worker Program provides free access to training for displaced engineers and can be a great resource. (Hopefully Synopsys and Cadence will do the same). If you can, take advantage of this and so many of the other free resources available today. There are blogs, Webinars, forums, and social networks that can help you get the skills you desire.

Once you have the skills, make sure you highlight those skills and strengths. Just as Susan Boyle no doubt chose a song that emphasized her singing strengths and de-emphasized her weaknesses (I’m sure she has some), make sure you can speak during an interview to those parts of your experience and expertise that are your strengths. Be prepared for any and all questions.

__________

In summary, I don’t expect that finding a new job/project at this time will be easy for you or for me. But at least we can be out there, be ourselves, and be prepared like Susan Boyle.

Good luck!!!

harry the ASIC guy

What To Do With 1000 CPUs - The Answers

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

I recall taking a course called The Counselor Salesperson when I was an AE at Synopsys. The course was very popular across the industry and was the basis for the book Win-Win Selling. It advocated a consultative approach to sales, one in which the salesperson tries to understand the customer’s problem first and provide a solution that he needs second. Sounds obvious, but how often do you encounter a salesperson who knows he has what you need and then tries to convince you that you have a problem?

One of the techniques in the process is called the “Magic Wand” wherein the salesperson asks the customer “What would it be like if …”. This open-ended type of question is designed to free the customer’s mind to imagine solutions that he’d otherwise not consider due to real or imagined constraints. That’s the type of question I asked last week when I asked: What would you do with 1000 CPU’s? And boy did it free your minds!

Before I go into the responses, you may be wondering what was my point in asking the question in the first place.  Well, not so surprisingly, I’m looking to understand better the possible applications of cloud computing to EDA and ASIC design. If a designer, design team, or company can affordably access a large number of CPUs for a short period of time, as needed, what would that mean? What would they be able to do with this magic wand that they would not even have thought of otherwise?

I received 8 separate responses, some of them dripping with humor, sarcasm, and even disdain. Good stuff! I’ve looked them over and noticed that they seem to fall into 4 groups, each of which highlights a different aspect or issue of this question.

“Rent Them Out”

Gabe Moretti had the best response along these lines, “(I’d) heat my house and pool while selling time to shivering engineers”. Jeremy Ralph of PDTi put some dollar value on the proposition, calculating that he could make $8.25M per month sub-licensing the licenses and CPUs. While Guarav Jalan pointed out that I’d need to also provide bandwidth to support this “pay-as-you-use” batch farm.

The opportunity is to aggregate users together to share hardware and software resources. If I buy a large quantity of hardware and software on a long-term basis at discounted rates, then I can rent it out on a shorter-term basis at higher rates and make money. The EDA company wins because they get a big sale at a low cost-of-sales. The customers win because they get access to tools on a pay-as-you-go basis at lower cost without a long-term commitment. And I win because I get to pocket the difference for taking the risk.

“Philanthropy”

One of the reasons that Karen Bartleson and I get along so well is that we’ve both been around the EDA industry for some time (we’ll leave it at that). As a result, we not only feel connected to the industry, but also some sense of responsibility to give back. Karen would train university student’s on designing SOCs. I’d train displaced workers on tools that can help them find a new job.

Even though this is not really a business model, I think it is still something that the EDA vendors should consider. Mentor is already very active in promoting it’s Displaced Worker Program. Autodesk and SolidWorks are giving away free licenses to the unemployed. This type of program should be universal. Using cloud computing resources is an easy way to make it happen without investing in lots of hardware.

(On a side note: PLEASE, PLEASE encourage anyone you know at Synopsys and Cadence to follow Mentor’s lead. Synopsys did this in 2001 and Cadence once had a “Retool-To-Work” program that was similar. I truly believe that both companies have that same sense of corporate responsibility as Mentor has, but for some reason they have not felt the urgency of the current situation. I am personally going to issue a daily challenge on Twitter to Synopsys and Cadence to follow suit until it happens. Please Retweet.)

“Do Nothing”

John Eaton pointed out that it is very difficult to use any additional capability offered as “pumpkinware” if you know it will evaporate within a month. It would take that long to set up a way to use it. And John McGehee stated that his client already has all the “beer, wine, and sangria” they can drink (New Yorkers - do you remember Beefsteak Charlie’s?), so he’d pass. John: Can you hook me up with your client :-) ?

Seriously,  it certainly requires some planning to to take advantage of this type of horsepower. You don’t just fire off more simulations or synthesis runs or place and route jobs without a plan. For design teams that might have access to this type of capability, it’s important to figure out ahead of time how you will use it and for how long you will need it. If you will be running more sims, which sims will they be? How will you randomize them? How will you target them to the most risky parts of the design?

Run Lots of Experiments”

Which brings us to Jeremy Ralph’s 2nd response. This one wins the prize as best response because it was well thought out and also addressed the intention of the magic wand question: what problem could you solve that you otherwise could not have solved? Jeremy would use the resources to explore many different candidate architectures for his IP (aka chiplet) and select the best one.

One of the key benefits of the cloud is that anyone can have affordable access to 1000 CPUs if they want it. If that is the case, what sorts of new approaches could be implemented by the EDA tools in addressing design challenges? Could we implement place and route on 1000 CPUs and have it finish in an hour on a 100M gate design? Could we partition formal verification problems into smaller problems and solve what was formerly the unsolvable? Could we run lots more simulations to find the one key bug that will kill our chip? The cloud opens up a whole new set of possibilities.

__________

I’ve learned a lot from your responses. Some were expected and some were not. That’s what’s fun about doing this type of research … finding the unexpected. I’ll definitely give it some thought.

harry the ASIC guy

What would you do with 1000 CPUs?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

If I gave you 1000 CPUs to use for a month … and 1000 licenses of any EDA tool you want … what would you do?

What would it be worth?

harry the ASIC guy

The Missing Lynx - The ASIC Cloud

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

My last blog post, entitled The Weakest Lynx, got a lot of attention from the Synopsys Lynx CAEs and Synopsys marketing. Please go see the comments on that post for a response from Chris Smith, the lead support person for Lynx at Synopsys. Meanwhile, the final part of this series … The Missing Lynx.

About 7 months ago, I wrote a blog post entitled Birth of an EDA Revolution in which I first shared my growing excitement over the potential for cloud computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) to transform EDA. About a week later, Cadence announced a SaaS offering that provides their reference flows, their software, and their hardware for rent to projects on a short-term basis. About a week after that, I wrote a third post on this topic, asking WWSD (what will Synopsys do) in response to Cadence.

In that last post, I wrote the following:

Synopsys could probably go one better and offer a superior solution if it wanted to, combining their DesignSphere infrastructure and Pilot Design Environment.  If fact, they have done this for select customers already, but not as a standard offering. There is some legwork that they’d need to do, but the real barrier is Synopsys itself. They’ve got to decide to go after this market and put together a standard offering like Cadence has … And while they are at it, if they host it on a secure cloud to make it universally accessible and scalable, and if they offer on-demand licensing, and if they make it truly open by allowing third party tools to plug into their flow, they can own the high ground in the upcoming revolution.

Although I wrote this over 6 months ago, I don’t think I could have written it better today. The only difference is that Pilot has now become Lynx. “The ASIC Cloud”, as I call it, would look something like this:

The ASIC Cloud

As I envision it, Synopsys Lynx will be the heart of The ASIC Cloud and will serve to provide the overall production design flow. The Runtime Manager will manage the resources including provisioning of additional hardware (CPU and storage) and licenses, as needed. The management cockpit will provide real-time statistics on resource utilization so the number of CPUs and licenses can be scaled on-the-go. Since The ASIC Cloud is accessible through any web browser, this virtual design center is accessible to large corporate customers and to smaller startups and consultants. It’s also available to run through portable devices such as netbooks and smartphones.

If you think I’m insane, you may be right, I may be crazy. But it just might be a lunatic you’re looking for. To show you that this whole cloud computing thing is not just my fever (I have been sick this past week), take a look at what this one guy in Greece did with Xilinx tools. He basically pays < $1 per hour to access hardware to run Xilinx synthesis tools on the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud. Now, this is nothing like running an entire RTL2GDSII design flow, but he IS running EDA tools on the cloud, taking advantage of pay-as-you go CPU and storage resources, and taking advantage of multiple processors to speed up his turnaround time. The ASIC Cloud will be similar and on a much greater scale.

It may take some time for Synopsys to warm up to this idea, especially since it is a whole new business model for licensing software. But for a certain class of customers (startups, design services providers) it has definite immediate benefits. And many of these customers are also potential Lynx customers.

So, Synopsys, if you want to talk, you know where to find me.

__________

That wraps up my 5-part series on Synopsys Lynx. If you want to find the other 4 parts, here they are:

Part 1 - Synopsys Lynx Design System Debuts at SNUG

Part 2 - Lynx Design System? - It’s The Flow, Stupid!

Part 3 - Strongest Lynx

Part 4 - The Weakest Lynx

harry the ASIC guy