Archive for July, 2009

Coffee, Jobs, and DAC

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Coffeeshop

I’m writing to you today from a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in beautiful Southern California. There’s something about the atmosphere at a coffee shop that helps me get my thoughts together. Maybe it’s the white noise of the cappuccino machines or the conversations or music in the background.

I’m not the only one of course. Daniel Nenni and his two great danes can often be found at the downtown Danville Starbucks. And like the show Cheers, there are regulars at my local coffee shop that I see most days I am here. Sales people and college students come here a lot. And there has been a noticeable increase in another group. People out of work or “in transition”. In fact, as I glance over to the next table, I see a woman working on her resume. No lie.

Despite the uncertainty, I’ve actually benefited from the opportunity to take a one month break between projects, something I never got as a full-time employee. I’ve been able to catch up with old friends and colleagues on the phone, or over coffee, lunch, or some beers. I’ve also been able to start up some new business opportunities that you’ll be hearing more about in the near future. It never hurts to have multiple irons in the fire, especially in today’s economy.

Which brings me to the topic of jobs. I don’t care what any politician or semiconductor analyst or economist says or what the Dow or NASDAQ is at today. The high tech jobs market sucks. When I ask my very experienced friends and colleagues “what’s happening” they tell me they “can’t find no work, can’t find no job, my friend”. (Marvin Gaye fans will get the reference). Here are some examples:

  • Al Magnani, a friend in the Bay Area with 23 years experience, educated at MIT, USC, and Carnegie-Mellon, an expert in computer architecture, networking, and graphics processing, who’s led dozens of ASIC design developments, who’s been a Director managing a total team of over 50 people, has gone through almost all of his 229 LinkedIn contacts and has not even been able to get an interview in almost 2 months.
  • Jon Atwood, former VP of Sales at Synopsys and a man who has so much EDA experience that he remembers Joe Costello before he played guitar, has been looking for almost 6 months and has started a blog called Job Search 2.0 chronicling his job search adventure. He’s even been on ABC news talking about his employment woes.
  • I’ve received emails from several other very experienced designers, both employees and independent consultants, who tell similar stories of months looking for work.
  • On a personal level, as I have been looking for that “next project”, I have encountered much of the same, and count myself lucky that I actually have a next project to work on.

Having talked to so many of these people and recruiters, here is how I assess the high-tech job situation today:

  • There are a lot more job seekers than jobs out there. OK, that’s obvious. But to give you an idea, of the magnitude, my recruiter friend says she receives hundreds of resumes for every job posted and there are usually many, sometimes dozens of, qualified candidates to choose from.
  • Many of the job postings are soft. That is, the employer does not need to hire someone right away but just has the job posted in case the perfect candidate comes along.
  • Employers are looking for the perfect candidate to come along. If they have 10 requirements for the position, and you meet 9 of them, you are probably on the B-list. And not only are they looking for the right experience, they want you to have been doing pretty much the same job very recently, not 2 years ago.
  • Submitting your resume to a corporate website is a waste of time. Even if you are perfectly qualified, recruiters get too many job postings and your resume may not even get looked at because they run out of time and already have many candidates.
  • Experience counts … against you. Many employers are looking for younger people who don’t have high salary expectations and will work long hours and travel. In fact, I spoke to a recruiter that was retained by a recent chip synthesis startup that told me that he was only looking for candidates with <5 years experience to be an AE at that company. They are not the only ones.
  • Employers hold all the cards. I heard today about someone who accepted a job at 10% less than she was currently making. Don’t expect to make more or even as much as you made before. Don’t expect stock options or signing bonuses. And don’t expect more than 24 hours to make a decision on an offer because there is someone on-deck.

So, with the news that bad, it would be easy to get discouraged. I have been discouraged, for myself and for my friends. Still, here are a few tips that I think will help:

  1. Update your online identity. Every recruiter and hiring manager will do 2 things before they ever pick up the phone and call you. They will Google your name and they will search for you on LinkedIn. Space prohibits me from going into the details of how to do this, but believe me that this is critical. If you want to see an example, you can see my LinkedIn profile.
  2. Find someone in the company who can introduce you or your resume to the hiring manager with a recommendation. This has always been the best way to find a job, but today it is the only way. As I said, the odds of you making it through the corporate website and HR are very low. LinkedIn can help tremendously since you can identify easily who you know at a target company and also whether your contacts know somebody there to whom they can introduce you.
  3. Let your contact refer you before you submit anything to the corporate website. Even in this economy, many companies still give bonuses to employees who refer candidates. If you let your contact get the referral bonus, he will be more likely to help you find the right people in the company to talk to and even sell you to them.
  4. Sign up for job boards. I know that everyone else is using these, but there are still real jobs posted there and you can get an idea which companies are hiring and then use your networking skills to get in the door. Simplyhired and even craigslist are good.
  5. Be willing to take a step back to go forward. You will probably need to a take a cut in pay or take on a position with less responsibility or prestige than you currently have. Accept it. I have a friend who refused to look at jobs that paid less than he previously made. He ended up out of work for 6 months and then ended up taking a lower paying job anyway. It’s more important that you get a job you can do well and that the company has a good outlook going forward.
  6. Help others find a job. You can file this under good karma, or pay it forward, or just plain being a mentsch. If you come across a position for which someone you know would be a good fit, let them know, help them out. It will make you feel a little better and you’ll have made a loyal friend who may be in a position to help you out one day soon.
  7. Get into social networking. I’ll be talking about this more at DAC, but for now, look for opportunities to get on Twitter. Start reading, commenting on, or even writing a blog. Join relevant LinkedIn groups. Join online communities like those at Synopsys, Mentor, and Cadence or independent ones like OVMWorld or Xuropa.
  8. Keep up your skills. There are so many free webinars and opportunities to keep up-to-date that you have no excuse. Check out the Mentor Displaced Worker program.
  9. Consider doing some free work. I know that does not sound great, but you can possibly learn something new in the process and at least avoid having a gap in your resume (remember how picky employers are).
  10. Decide if you are willing to relocate or travel. If you are only looking for positions within your commuting distance then that limits your opportunities.

For those of you who will be attending DAC this coming week, I will be in the Synopsys Conversation Central booth Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 1:30 hosting a conversation on Using Social Media for Job Seekers and Employers.

Please stop and we can talk over a cup of coffee.

harry the ASIC guy

Oasys or Mirage?

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Oasis BMP

That’s the question that everyone was asking last week when Oasys Design Systems came out of stealth mode with a “chip synthesis” tool they claim leaves Synopsys’ Design Compiler and other synthesis tools in the dust. According to Sanjiv Kaul, Chairman of Oasys and former VP of Synopsys’ Implementation Business Unit, RealTime Designer can synthesize full chips up to 100 million gates in a single run, and do so 20x faster with smaller memory requirements and achieving better quality of results. Oh, and it also produces a legalized cell placement that can be taken forward into detailed routing.

Well, I had 3 different reactions to these claims:

1. “Too good to be true!”

This was also the most common reaction I heard from fellow designers when I told them of the Oasys claims. It was my own reaction a month or so ago when I first spoke to Oasys about their technology. (To tell the truth, I was wondering what they were smoking.) Paul McLellan, as of last week a blogger for Oasys, indicated that disbelief was the most common reaction heard from people Oasys talks to about this product. Steve Meier, former VP of R&D for IC Compiler at Synopsys, said the same thing on Twitter and added some specific questions for Oasys to answer. Even one of the Oasoids (is it to early to coin that phrase) acknowledged to me privately that he was incredulous when he was first approached months ago to join the team. I guess he was convinced enough to join.

2. “I’ve seen this movie before, and I know how it ends.”

That was my second reaction. After all, there were Synopsys killers before. Ambit (out of which, by the way, came most of the developers of the Oasys tool) was the first big threat. They had a better QOR (quality of results) by many accounts, but Synopsys responded quickly to stave them off. Then came Get2Chip. Similar story. Cadence’s RTL Compiler, which combines technology from both Ambit and Get2Chip, is well regarded by many but still it has a very small market share. Bottom line, nobody ever got fired for choosing Design Compiler, so it’s hard to imagine a mass migration. Still, if the Oasys claims are true, they’d have a much more compelling advantage than Ambit or Get2Chip ever had.

3. “Synthesis? Who cares about synthesis?”

That’s my third reaction. Verification is the #1 problem for ASIC design teams. DFM is a critical issue. ESL and C-synthesis are starting to take off. RTL synthesis addresses none of these big problems or opportunities. It’s a solved problem. Indeed, many design flows just do a “quick and dirty” synthesis in order to get a netlist in to place and route where real timing can be seen and a good placement performed. I hear very few people complaining about synthesis, so I wonder who is going to spend money in a tight economy on something that just “ain’t broken”. True, synthesis may be a bottleneck for 100M gate ASICs, but how many companies are doing those and can those companies alone support Oasys. If you talk to Oasys, however, they feel that the availability of such fast synthesis will change the way people design, creating a “new platform”. I’m not sure I see that, but perhaps they are smarter than me.

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OK, so that’s my first 3 thoughts regarding Oasys design. I’ll be getting a better look at them at DAC and will share what I learn in some upcoming blog posts. Please feel free to share your thoughts here as well. Between us, we can hopefully decide if this Oasys is real or a mirage.

harry the ASIC guy

What Makes DAC 2009 different from other DACs?

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

By Narendra (Nari) Shenoy, Technical Program Co-Chair, 46th DAC

Each year, around this time, the electronic design industry and academia meticulously prepare to showcase the latest research and technologies at the Design Automation Conference. For the casual attendee, after a few years the difference between the conferences of years past begins to dim. If you are one of them, allow me to dispel this notion and invite you to look at what is different this year.

For starters, we will be in the beautiful city of San Francisco from July 26-31. The DAC 2009 program, as in previous years, has been thoughtfully composed from using two approaches. The bottom up approach selects technical papers from a pool of submissions using a rigorous review process. This ensures that only the best technical submissions are accepted. For 2009, we see an increasing focus on research towards system level design, low power design and analysis, and physical design and manufacturability. This year, a special emphasis for the design community has been added to the program, with a User Track that runs throughout the conference. The new track, which focuses on the use of EDA tools, attracted 117 submissions reviewed by a committee made up of experienced tool users from the industry. The User Track features front end and back end sessions and a poster session that allows a perfect opportunity to interact with presenters and other DAC attendees. In addition to the traditional EDA professionals, we invite all practitioners in the design community – design tool users, hardware and software designers, application engineers, consultants, and flow/methodology developers, to come join us.

This first approach is complemented by a careful top-down selection of themes and topics in the form of panels, special sessions, keynote sessions, and management day events. The popular CEO panel returns to DAC this year as a keynote panel. The captains of the EDA industry, Aart deGeus (Synopsys), Lip-Bu Tan (Cadence) and Walden Rhines (Mentor) will explore what the future holds for EDA. The keynote on Tuesday by Fu-Chieh Hsu (TSMC), will discuss alignment of business and technology models to overcome design complexity. William Dally (Nvidia and Stanford) will present the challenges and opportunities that throughput computing provides to the EDA world in his keynote on Wednesday. Eight panels on relevant areas are spread across the conference. One panel explores whether the emphasis on Design for Manufacturing is a differentiator or a distraction. Other panels focus on a variety of themes such as confronting hardware-dependent software design, analog and mixed signal verification challenges, and various system prototyping approaches. The financial viability of Moore’s law is explored in a panel, while another panel explores the role of statistical analysis in several fields, including EDA. Lastly, we have a panel exploring the implications of recent changes in the EDA industry from an engineer’s perspective.

Special technical sessions will deal with a wide variety of themes such as preparing for design at 22nm, designing circuits in the face of uncertainty, verification of large systems on chip, bug-tracking in complex designs, novel computation models and multi-core computing. Leading researchers and industry experts will present their views on each of these topics.

Management day includes topics that tackle challenges and decision making in a complex technology and business environment. The current “green” trend is reflected in a slate of events during the afternoon of Thursday July 30th. We start with a special plenary that explores green technology and its impact on system design, public policy and our industry. A special panel investigates the system level power design challenge and finally a special session considers technologies for data centers.

Rather than considering it a hindrance to attendance, the prolonged economic malaise this year should provide a fundamental reason to participate at DAC. As a participant in the technical program, DAC offers an opportunity to share your research and win peer acclaim. As an exhibitor, it is an ideal environment to demonstrate your technology and advance your business agenda. As an attendee, you cannot afford to miss the event where “electronic design meets”. DAC provides an unparalleled chance to network and learn about advances in electronic design for everyone. Won’t you join us at the Moscone Center at the end of the month?

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This year’s DAC will be held July 26-31 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Register today at www.dac.com. Note also that there are 600 free DAC passes being offered courtesy of the DAC Fan Club (Atrenta, Denali, Springsoft) for those who have no other means to attend.

Why I’m a Blogger and Not an EDA Idol

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

(WARNING: What you are about to hear is very disturbing. You may want to remove any children, pets, or small farm animals before listening to the audio in this blog post. You’ve been warned.)

Several years ago, I was driving home from a family vacation when I accidentally speed dialed my boss on the cell phone. His voice mail picked up just as I was singing in the car to my daughter. I had no idea what had occurred until a month later at a staff meeting when he got up in from of my team and my colleagues and played this audio track.

Now you know why I am not trying to become the next EDA Idol at this year’s Design Automation Conference!

Top BloggerFortunately, there is another tongue-in-cheek contest that I am honored to be part of, EDA’s Next Top Blogger.

In case you can’t make DAC this year, I’d like to introduce you to the fellow nominees because they are all great writers and experts in their domains. I encourage you to read these blogs and subscribe to the ones that you find valuable. And look beyond this list because there are many more out there.

Colin Warwick is a Product Marketing Manager at Agilent EEsof EDA group. Colin’s Signal Integrity blog is about signal integrity tips, tricks, and tutorial for multigigabit/s chip-to-chip data links. It includes videos (technical and humorous), tutorial articles, interactive calculators and polls, reviews, and product and event information.

John Busco is a Design Implementation Manager at NVidia. Blogging since 2005, John’s Semi-Blog shares high quality news and opinion about semiconductors and EDA. John is hands-on working in the trenches on the bleeding edge designs, so you can trust what he tells you.

Paul McLellan  has been an executive in EDA and Semiconductors with companies like VLSI Technologies, Compass, Ambit, Cadence,and on and on. His EDA Graffiti blog covers EDA and semiconductor, looking back to some history, analyzing the industry and looking where things are likely to end up. I always walk away from Paul’s blog posts with something to think about.

Daniel Nenni is also an EDA industry veteran with similarly impressive credentials. Although his Silicon Valley Blog is fairly new, Daniel writes like a verteran blogger, sharing his 25+ years of experience in semiconductor design and manufacture in an entertaining manner. He manages to share some of his personal life observations as well.

Karen Bartleson is Director of Community Marketing at Synopsys. Since November 2007, she has presented news, insights, and opinions on the topic of EDA standards in her ever popular The Standards Game blog. Karen is also spearheading Synopsys’ Conversation Central at DAC where you can exchange ideas with many of these same top bloggers (and many more) about how social media is changing the media landscape.

Frank Schirrmeister is Director of Product Marketing and System-Level Solutions at Synopsys. His A View From The Top blog is dedicated to System-Level Design and Embedded Software and deals with the technology and business aspects to get us to ESL and the next abstraction level eventually!

JL Gray is a hands-on verification consultant at Verilab. In his Cool Verification blog, which set the standard for independent blogging in EDA, JL shares this thoughts on hardware verification, the EDA industry, and related topics. JL spearheaded the EDA Blogger Birds-of-a-Feather session at DAC last year and sits on the ever popular Accellera Verification IP Technical Subcommittee.

I have 2 favors to ask. First, please check out some these wonderful bloggers (and some of the others you can find on David Lin’s EDA Blog Roll) who devote their evenings and weekends writing for free (well, about half of us) to bring you valuable information you can’t get anywhere else. Then, show your support by voting for your favorite blog and telling a friend or a co-worker about all this great content out there. Please vote for whoever you want, but remember, if I lose, I might have to sing next year. And you don’t want that!

(Note: The Denali site requires you to enter a Captcha phrase and also your valid email address in order to ensure that people only vote once. The email address WILL NOT be used for any other purpose, so please do not be dissuaded from voting because of this).

harry the ASIC guy