Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

The Burning Platform

Monday, March 1st, 2010

The Burning PlatformAlthough I was unable to attend DVCon last week, and I missed Jim Hogan and Paul McLellan presenting “So you want to start an EDA Company? Here’s how“, I was at least able to sit in on an interesting webinar offered by RTM Consulting entitled Achieving Breakthrough Customer Satisfaction through Project Excellence.

As you may recall, I wrote a previous blog post about a Consulting Soft Skills training curriculum developed by RTM in conjunction with Mentor Graphics for their consulting organization. Since that time, I’ve spoken on and off with RTM CEO Randy Mysliviec. During a recent conversation he made me aware of this webinar and offered one of the slots for me to attend. I figured it would be a good refresher, at a minimum, and if I came out of it with at least one new nugget or perspective, I was ahead of the game. So I accepted.

I decided to “live tweet” the seminar. That is to say, I posted tweets of anything interesting that I heard during the webinar, all using the hash tag #RTMConsulting. If you want to view the tweets from that webinar, go here.

After 15 years in the consulting biz, I certainly had learned a lot, and the webinar was indeed a good refresher on some of the basics of managing customer satisfaction. There was a lot of material for the 2 hours that we had, and there were no real breaks, so it was very dense and full of material. The only downside is that I wish there had been some more time for discussion or questions, but that’s really a minor nit to pick.

I did get a new insight out of the webinar, and so I guess I’m ahead of the game. I had never heard of the concept of the “burning platform” before, especially as applies to projects. The story goes that there was an oil rig in the North Sea that caught fire and was bound to be destroyed. One of the workers had to decide whether to stay on the rig or jump into the freezing waters. The fall might kill him and he’d face hypothermia within minutes if not rescued, but he decided to jump anyway, since probable death was better than certain death. According to the story, the man survived and was rescued. Happy ending.

The instructor observed that many projects are like burning platforms, destined for destruction unless radically rethought. In thinking back, I immediately thought of 2 projects I’d been involved with that turned out to be burning platforms.

The first was a situation where a design team was trying to reverse engineer an asynchronously designed processor in order to port it to another process. The motivation was that the processor (I think it was an ADSP 21 something or other) was being retired by the manufacturer and this company wanted to continue to use it nonetheless. We were called in when the project was already in trouble, significantly over budget and schedule and with no clear end in sight. After a few weeks of looking at the situation, we decided that there was no way they would ever be able to verify the timing and functionality of the ported design. We recommended that they kill this approach and start over with a standard processor core that could do the job. There was a lot of resistance, especially from the engineer whose idea it was to reverse engineer the existing processor. But, eventually the customer made the right choice and redesigned using an ARM core.

Another group at the same company also had a burning platform. They were on their 4th version of a particular chip and were still finding functional bugs. Each time they developed a test plan and executed it, there were still more bugs that they had missed. Clearly their verification methodology was outdated and insufficient, depending on directed tests and FPGA prototypes rather than more current measurable methods. We tried to convince them to use assertions, functional coverage, constrained random testing, etc. But they were convinced that they just had to fix the few known bugs and they’d be OK. From their perspective, it wasn’t worth all the time and effort to develop and execute a new plan. They never did take our recommendations and I lost track of that project. I wonder if they ever finished.

As I think about these 2 examples, I realize that “burning platform” projects have some characteristics in common. And they align with the 3 key elements of a project. To tell if you have a “burning platform” on your hands, you might ask yourself the following 3 questions:

  1. Scope - Are you spending more and more time every week managing issues and risks? Is the list growing, rather than shrinking?
  2. Schedule - Are you on a treadmill with regards to schedule? Do you update the schedule every month only to realize that the end date has moved out by a month, or more?
  3. Resources - Are the people that you respect the most trying to jump off of the project? Are people afraid to join you?

If you answered yes to at least 2 of these, then you probably have a burning platform project on your hands. It’s time to jump in the water. That is, it’s time to scrap the plan and rethink your project from a fresh perspective and come up with a new plan. Of course, this is not a very scientific way of identifying an untenable project, but I think it’s a good rule-of-thumb.

There are other insights that I had from the webinar, but I thought I’d only share just the one. I don’t know if this particular webinar was recorded, but there are 2 more upcoming that you can attend. If you do, please feel free to live tweet the event like I did, using the #RTMConsulting hash tag.

But please, no “flaming” :-)

harry the ASIC guy

Harry’s SEO Homework

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

William ShakespeareAs I’ve mentioned before, I live in California, the state with the 46th best elementary school system in the country. Thank you California Lottery! So keep that in mind as you read the rest of this post.

One of the more challenging homework assignments my 3rd grade daughter receives regularly is to write a short story using a list of the week’s dozen or so spelling words. For instance, this is one that she received not so long ago:

Write about a time when you worked very hard to learn something. Tell what the experience was like. Use spelling words from the list.

And the list was:

coach    blow    float    hold    sew    though

sold    soap    row    own    both    most

She wrote about the time she learned to play the piano at summer camp. I won’t embarrass her by posting the story here, but suffice it to say that it was pretty forced. Don’t even think about asking how she got the word “soap” into the story!

So, this evening, whilst walking the dog, I was listening to this week’s episode of Leo Laporte’s This Week in Tech podcast (aka TWiT). On the podcast, someone mentioned a site called Wordstream. On this site, you can enter a keyword and it will tell you the most common search terms that includes that keyword. The idea is that, if you want to increase your SEO (search engine optimization), you should use the words that are most common in searches and the search engines will send people to you.

I immediately thought of my daughter’s homework assignment. The users of this site must feel like her, trying to weave the words generated by this site into their prose. I wondered how odd that would be. So, I decided to try it, just so I could get a taste of what my daughter went through. And also, because I thought it would be kinda fun.

Being “the ASIC guy”, what word other than “ASIC” could I have entered. After entering my keyword and my email address, I received an email with the 10,000 most common search terms that include “ASIC”. I decided to focus on the top 50 search terms, separating them out into individual words and listed them on a sheet of paper.

Now, without further ado, is Harry’s SEO Homework:

 __________

The alarm rang.

I lurched up out of bed, already in a panic, staring at the clock to see what time it was.

11:00am. Damn!

I took care of the basic biological necessities, then threw on my jeans, a T-shirt, and my brand new ASIC Gel-Kayano running chaussures. At least the company I worked for didn’t have a dress code and they didn’t care what shoes I wore. Designing ASICs and FPGAs is much easier when I’m comfortable.

I had been assigned to the verification team. My job was to search for bugs and to wrestle them down. Thankfully, I was able to use Verilog and System-Verilog for this project. Not like those VLSI design days, when I, and so many of my fellow engineers, had to wear a tie to impress the boss and had to use VHDL because they made us . A language by any other name is better than VHDL. Sure, VHDL is more structured. But, Verilog is a whole lot easier to use.

I’d been searching in some DCT4 code for one particular bug that had eluded me for 15 days. It should have been implemented in analog, but some Einstein decided digital logic was easier to design, so here I was.  It was me vs the bug. And the bug was winning!

Then it hit me. I was looking at the wrong register!

I felt a surge of power as I unlocked and modified my testbench. The combination of sleeplessness and Mountain Dew made me delirious. For a moment, I thought I was wearing a women’s dress and Onitsuka ASICs while playing volleyball in a prison cell. Gotta stop hanging out with those guys from the UK who watch Monty Python all the time.

I acted quickly, changing an “lt” to a “gt“, invoking the recompile flow on the new code, and kicking off the regression sim.

The simulation worked and I breathed a sigh of relief. My boss had threatened to bring in some hotshot design services company that he’d found on a website if I couldn’t find this bug. The nimbus that had been floating over my head for weeks was gone.

Now I could keep my job.

And now it was time for the layout guys to sweat!

__________

Phew! That was a lot harder than I thought. (Especially since those ASICS running shoes get a lot more hits apparently than the ASICs I usually write about). But now that I wrote and published that story, I expect I’ll be #1 on Google Search in the morning:-)

To be fair, I think there is certainly some value in understanding how people find this blog through various search terms. It helps me to understand what kind of information they are looking for and that helps me choose better topics to write about. But, taken to the extreme, if I write content for the search engines instead of all of you (my readers), then I’m in trouble. You may find me, but you won’t like what you find. And that would be much worse.

If anyone else wants to give this a try just for grins, just go to Wordstream and try it out. Just let me know where to find your “masterpiece”.

harry the ASIC guy

Are Sales People Really Needed?

Monday, November 30th, 2009

SalesmanMy former-EDA-salesperson friend had just finished his lunch when he leaned back in his chair and said:

“Listen. You’ve been on both sides, in EDA and a customer. Lemme ask you a question. Do you think sales people are really needed?”

At first, I was really shocked to hear this question, especially from someone who had been in EDA sales for the last 10 years. After all, you don’t hear plumbers asking if plumbers are needed. Or doctors. Or auto mechanics. Even folks in professions that are experiencing job losses, such as journalism, hardly ever question the value they bring.

I let the question sink in for a few seconds, which seemed like minutes, and answered the only way I could. With another question, “how do you mean?”

As it turns out, my friend was not really having a deep identity crisis. He was just trying to understand why EDA companies, including his former employer, seem to view direct sales people, especially him, as expendable costs, easily replaced with inside sales, marketing campaigns, and online sales methods.

Put that way, it’s an interesting question to consider. Although I have never been a “bag carrying” sales person, I did spend the better party of 14 years on the EDA side in some sort of sales support or semi-sales role. And I still have many friends in sales or applications engineering roles. Were my friends and my old jobs becoming obsolete? Are new technologies, ones that connect customers with companies directly (blogs, forums, etc.), making sales people unnecessary?

On the other hand, I’ve spent the last 3 years of my career back on the other side of the fence, in the customer world. I’ve had the opportunity for many interactions with folks whose shoes I used to wear. Certainly, some of these folks do provide value, marshaling corporate resources to address a tool issue or providing methodology assistance for a new technology. There are also the dirty parts of the job. Without sales people’s efforts, many opportunities would die an early death in the hands of lawyers, accountants, and purchasing reps, or at least they would not occur as quickly as they do.

At the same time, we cannot deny that technology is replacing the need for sales people in many of our other daily purchases, especially consumer electronics. We do all of our research online. We compare product specs on web sites. We seek out product reviews by trusted tech gadget bloggers and ratings by actual customers. We compare prices online and make our purchases with a click. No sales person in the loop.

You’d be correct in pointing out that buying an EDA tool is not like buying a digital camera. Still, there are changes going on in EDA as well. This blog and those of many of my colleagues are now considered product research resources. The work I’ve been doing recently with Xuropa has been aimed at moving part of the sales process, specifically product evaluations, online.  And forums such as TechBites are springing up to provide independent opinions. So maybe there is some cause for my friend’s concern.

As I’ve had time to consider this question since our lunch, I’ve come to feel that salespeople are still needed and will be for some time to come in EDA. Good salespeople know how to find customers, to manage sales campaigns, to manage complex issues, and to ultimately “close the deal”. However, many of their up-front functions will be taken over by other methods, driven by thechnology. As a result, the salesperson will increasingly encounter a more educated customer, one that knows he has alternatives, and one that feels more in control of the sales process than before. Salespeople will have to adapt to that type of customer.

We finished up our lunch and our discussion without reaching any definite conclusions. On the way to our cars I asked him, “mind if I blog about it?”

“Sure.”

So, what do you think? Are sales people really needed?

harry the ASIC guy

Writing a Fan a $439 Personal Check for a Bad Game - Priceless

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

To hear long time fan Tony Seminary tell the story, he was embarrassed by the Oregon Ducks performance when they lost to Boise State on the opening night of the 2009 college football season. Not only did they play a sloppy game, gaining only 152 total yards, making only 6 first downs, and committing 2 turnovers, but the whole nation got to see one of their star players punch out a Boise State player on the field after the game.

So what did Tony do? He wrote an email to new Ducks head coach Chip Kelly asking for him to reimburse him for the cost of his round trip from Portland to Boise.

So what did Chip Kelly do? He wrote an email back asking “what’s your address?” A few days later, Tony received a personal check from Chip Kelly for the $439 that Tony had requested.Chip Kelly Check

This happened a few weeks ago, but it just hit the news this week and has gone, dare I say the word, ‘viral’. Among the results of this are the following:

  • Customer Loyalty - Tony Seminary sent the check back and has been quoted as saying “I think of Coach Kelly as a totally different person now, I have a different bond with him now thanks to what happened. Let’s just say he lost every game as an Oregon coach. You would never hear me calling for his head. It just wouldn’t happen. The guy showed an incredible amount of class”.
  • Team Loyalty - Said Seminary, “I now know why his kids would run through a wall for that guy, because who does what he did, right? That is simply amazing.”
  • Personal Reputation - In blogs and articles all over, Chip Kelly is being hailed not only for doing what he did, but for doing it quietly without drawing attention. As one blog said “Chip Kelly, a man of his word.”
  • School Reputation - I don’t have any evidence of this as yet, it’s too early, but certainly some of this will rub off on the University of Oregon, in a good way.

The good news was that Oregon had put in charge a man with integrity and they gave him the freedom to respond as he saw fit. But how would most schools and companies have handled something like this? It would have probably gone something like this:

  1. Coach receives email and forwards it to the legal department.
  2. Lawyers craft a carefully worded response indicating that Oregon regrets the loss but it is not responsible for incidental damages according to the relevant terms and conditions on the ticket that Mr. Seminary tacitly agreed to and should have read.
  3. Mr. Seminary vows never to go to another Ducks football game again. He then goes online and tells hundreds of his friends who are Ducks fans the story.
  4. One of his friends writes a Oregon Ducks blog and posts the story and the text of the Oregon response email. ESPN picks it up and shows it on Sportscenter.
  5. Hundreds of Ducks fans come to the next game with signs saying something like “Win, or give me my money back”.
  6. Top recruit hears the story and decides that he’d rather not go to Oregon. Chooses USC instead.
  7. Athletic Director resigns.

No matter what business you are in, hire good people with good judgment and give them the freedom to make the customer happy. That kind of service is “priceless”.

harry the ASIC guy

The Accidental Blogger

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

As a kid, I always dreamed of being interviewed after hitting the game winning homerun or jump shot or throwing the game winning touchdown pass. Well, at this point in my life, the likelihood of those dreams is pretty much zilch. But, fortunately, I’ve been able to achieve something almost as great. A one-hour interview on Dee McCrorey’s Big Dreamers! The Reinvent Success Show.

Dee McCrorey

So, after a full weekend of watching college football and then NFL football, and listening to those other guys getting interviewed after the game winning touchdowns, you can sit down at 6pm PDT, and unwind as Dee McCrorey, Risk Guru, Innovation Catalyst, and Business Coach asks me about my career from no-name engineer to “Harry the ASIC Guy”. You can always listen to the recording afterward if the time is inconvenient, but if you tune in live you can actually call into the show and ask questions, make comments, remind me of the $10 I borrowed for lunch and never gave back, whatever.

Honestly, I’m both flattered and embarrassed to have this opportunity. I met Dee just this past July at DAC in the Synopsys Conversation Central booth and we hit it off right away. Even after the sessions were over, Dee stayed and continued to ask questions trying to dig deeper and get at the core the topics we were discussing. She really has a desire to get to the essence of things which is a great asset for an interviewer, so I’m looking forward to some tough questions. She also has a thriving consulting business helping professionals reinvent their careers, both within corporations and individually, so I’m looking forward to working with her professionally as well.

For more information on the show, you can go here. I hope you can join me.

harry the ASIC guy

Two Blog or Not Two Blog?

Monday, September 7th, 2009

I got an email last week from one the readers of this blog that observed “it would be interesting to learn how to manage both blogs while doing justice to your readers.” He was of course referring to my new blog on Xuropa that I write in addition to this one.

Indeed, this was a concern of mine that I had considered carefully before embarking on the other blog … or so I thought. The other day I wrote a new blog post about how designers want to actually use tools hands-on rather than just listen to product marketing pitches, or webinars, or podcasts. I originally wrote the post for this blog, then decided that it made more sense for the Xuropa blog, and ended up publishing it there (here’s the link). But it could have really gone on either one with small adjustments. I can see that this is now going to be more difficult than I thought.I did a little research online to see how other bloggers are handling writing multiple blogs. One of the suggestions was to set down the objectives of each of the blogs so I could be more clear in my mind and to the readers. I think that’s a good idea. So here goes:

  • The Xuropa blog will be focused on ways that EDA companies can do more with less, like cloud computing, online tool access, and software-as-a-service. It will also be written for an audience of EDA sales and marketing professionals. If you are in EDA, you’ll want to subscribe to that blog.
  • The harry the ASIC guy blog will include lots of other content and is hopefully valuable for people in all aspects of the semiconductor industry. I’ll discuss general engineering trends, quarterly reports from EDA companies, technical topics, and industry news. If you are a designer, you’ll want to subscribe to this blog.

I’m guessing that many of you will be interested in both topic areas and so it is OK to subscribe to the Xuropa blog and subscribe to this blog. You have my permission. After some time you may find that you are only interested in one of the blogs. That’s OK too, just unsubscribe to the one that doesn’t meet your needs.

Another suggestion was to set realistic expectations for how frequently I’d be publishing a new post. I think that is a good idea as well. I will continue to post on this blog roughly once per week as I have in the past. For some time I was actually closer to 2 posts per week but I have fallen back to once a week and that is about what I can handle now. The other blog is shared with some other folks from Xuropa so I will probably publish there every other week. We’ll see how that goes.

I’d like to ask you each a favor as well. Please help me keep to my commitment. I’ve already made this commitment of public record here, so that alone will provide some pressure. But if I start to post too infrequently or the quality slips or goes off track, let me know. Leave a comment or send me an email.

I would also like to make this blog a little more fresh and collaborative. I’ve said in the past that I learn more from you folks than you learn from me. You are working in hundreds of companies with thousands of years of collective experience. I’d like to see if we can tap into that for all our benefit. So here’s the deal:

  • If you have an idea for a blog post, let me know. Leave it as a comment or send me an email. I’ll make sure I give you full credit (unless you want to be anonymous) and link back to your website or LinkedIn profile.
  • If you’d like to write a guest blog post, I’m open to that as well. The more viewpoints the better.

Of course, not every suggestion will be used and not every offer of a guest blog post will be accepted. I’ll still make that decision to make sure the content is of high quality. But I won’t censor anything just because I disagree.

Well, I guess that’s it. We’re going to try this 2 blog thing and see how it goes. Wish me luck.

harry the ASIC guy

Who Ya Gonna Trust?

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Joe Isuzu - You Have My Word On ItOur summer has been pretty hectic and full of uncertainty, so we put off planning a short vacation until just this past weekend. We usually go up to Big Bear and stay at this one place that is dog friendly and has a pool for the kids and is close to town. We’ve stayed there 3 times before and have always been very happy.

This past Saturday morning, I Googled the name of the resort in order to get the web address when I noticed that there was a Trip Advisor listing for the place. So, I thought I’d check it out. Much to my surprise there was a slew of negative reviews. I dug a little further and found that many of these reviews were placed around the same date (since we had been there last) by people who only rated this one place and who had very similar complaints. These reviews seemed suspicious, but who knew, maybe some had merit. These could be legit or they could be someone posting them on the behalf of competing resorts to discredit their competitor.

As I surfed a little more, I found comments on some other pages indicating that this sort of negative posting on rating sites had become epidemic for Big Bear. Who knew that the lodging industry in this cozy little town in the mountains was so cutthroat? It’s a good example of a lose-lose strategy. Now I can’t trust any of the ratings!

In the end we ended up booking at a different resort, mostly due to other factors, but admittedly also due in part to the FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) caused by these reviews.

On Sunday morning I came across an article  that describes how one PR firm allegedly hires interns “to trawl iTunes and other community forums posing as real users, and has them write positive reviews for their client’s applications.” Now, I knew that this sort of mischief happened, but I thought it was all amateurish behavior on the part of overzealous business owners and their fans. I did not realize it was an actual service one could select from a PR firm. How brazen!

On the other hand, maybe this article I read was actually secretly sponsored by a competing PR firm in order to discredit the PR firm being decried in the article. Who is to believe whom? Hmmm…..

Before you say that I am naïve about all this behavior, I’m not. The verification methodology survey I posted back in February was vandalized by VMM and OVM fans. And more than a year ago, someone copied a blog post of mine onto comp.lang.verilog for the sole purpose of posting in response a personal attack on my credibility. I’ve seen this stuff first hand.

A big part of the problem is anonymity and impunity. When someone uses a fictitious name and email address to post such a review as the one described above, we never know who that person is and he never suffers any consequences. After all, who is Vactioner287 after all? However, let’s say that one could only leave a comment by using his LinkedIn profile. I bet that would kill 99% of the issues right there.

(Actually, it would probably result in a proliferation of fictitious LinkedIn accounts, but then you could tell pretty well from those accounts that they are fakes since they’d be very bare. To some extent, like metastability, you can never totally get rid of the problem … you can only make it less likely.)

Most websites that accept reviews require registration. Although the hassle of registration deters some legitimate people from leaving legitimate comments, it also beneficially deters those with malicious intentions to a great degree. Almost all the online communities in EDA require some sort of registration, the Synopsys blogs being the only one that I can name that does not.

So, who ya gonna trust?

Personally, there are 3 types of people who I trust on the internet and they are as follows:

  1. People I already know and trust - These are people who I know personally. Maybe they are current or former colleagues or customers or suppliers or partners or friends. I have reason to trust them because I know them.
  2. People I’ve come to trust - These are people whom I have come to know through the internet who have demonstrated over a period of time that they are trustworthy. Maybe it’s a blogger who has proven to be right most of the time. Or whose advice rings true. Or who provides me with valuable information and insight. Hopefully, I am one of those people for you.
  3. People I’ve been told to trust by others I trust - This is where social capital and influence come into play. If someone I trust links to someone else, then I gain trust in that person to whom he is linking. If he’s on his blogroll. If he’s a guest blogger. If he’s written a book that is referred to. Not that everyone that is referenced is automatically trustworthy, but it helps.

If you were to look at my Google Reader and see who I subscribe to, they pretty much fall into the 3 categories above. That gives me plenty to read.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t help too much with the situation I originally described, because Vacationer287 doesn’t fall any of these categories. What do you do then? Ask yourself the following:

  1. Did he write anything else under this name or did he just join to post this one review. If the former, then he may be legit (you need to look at what they wrote). If the former, that’s suspicious.
  2. Did he use a real name? Vandals often hide behind fictitious and non-descript names.
  3. Does it pass the smell test? I can smell bad milk without a lab test and you can too. Does it all make sense or does some of the writeup just seem too good or bad to be true?

I don’t know if this post helps you or confuses you more. Probably, it confuses you because now you have to consider why and how you come to trust some people and not others on the internet. That’s good. From reconciling confusion comes understanding.

Trust me, you have my word on it.

harry the ASIC guy

DAC Theme #1 - “The Rise of the EDA Bloggers”

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

Harry Gries at Conversation Central

(Photo courtesy J.L. Gray

Last year, at the Design Automation Conference, there were only a couple dozen individuals who would have merited the title of EDA blogger. Of those, perhaps a dozen or so wrote regularly and had any appreciable audience. In order to nurture this fledgling group, JL Gray (with the help of John Ford, Sean Murphy, and yours truly) scrounged a free room after-hours in the back corner of the Anaheim Convention Center in which to hold the first ever EDA Bloggers Birds-of-a-Feather session. At this event, attended by both bloggers and traditional journalists, as John Ford put it, us bloggers got our collective butts sniffed by the top dog journalists.

My, how things have changed in just one year.

This year at DAC, us EDA bloggers (numbering 233 according to Sean Murphy) and other new media practitioners took center stage:

  • Bloggers were literally on stage at the Denali party as part of an EDA’s Next Top Blogger competition.
  • Bloggers were literally center stage at the exhibits, in the centrally located Synopsys booth, engaging in lively conversation regarding new media.
  • Atrenta held a Blogfest.
  • There was a Pavillion Panel dedicated to tweeting and blogging.
  • And most conspicuously, there was the 14-foot Twitter Tower streaming DAC related tweets.

Meanwhile, the traditional journalists who were still covering DAC seemed to fall into 2 camps. There were those who embraced the bloggers as part of the media and those that didn’t. Those that did, like Brian Fuller, could be found in many of the sessions and venues I mentioned above. Those that did not, could be found somewhere down the hall between North and South halls of Moscone in their own back corner room. I know this because I was given access to the press room this year and I did indeed find that room to be very valuable … I was able to print out my boarding pass on their printer.

Here’s my recap of the new media events:

I had mixed feelings regarding the Denali Top Blogger competition as I know others did as well. JL, Karen, and I all felt it was kind of silly, parading like beauty queens to be judged. Especially since blogging is such a collaborative, rather than competitive, medium. So often we reference and riff off of each other’s blog posts. Still, I think it was good recognition and publicity for blogging in EDA and one could not argue with the legitimacy of the blogger representatives, all first-hand experts in the areas that they cover. Oh, by the way, congratulations to Karen Bartleson for winning the award.

Conversation Central, hosted by Synopsys, was my highlight of DAC.  It was a little hard to find (they should have had a sign), located in a little frosted glass room on the left front corner of the Synopsys booth. But if you could find your way there, it was well worth the search. I’m a little biased since I hosted conversations there Monday - Wednesday on “Job Search: How Social Media Can Help Job Seekers & Employers”. The sessions were a combination of specific advice and lively discussions and debates. I was fortunate to have a recruiter show up one day and a hiring manager another day to add their unique perspectives. I think that that was the real power of this very intimate kitchen table style format. Everybody felt like they were allowed to and even encouraged to participate and add their views into the discussions. This is very different from a very formal style presentation and even panel discussions.

Unfortunately, I was not able to clone myself in order to attend all the sessions there, many of which I heard about afterwards from others or in online writeups. I did attend the session by Ron Ploof entitled “Objectivity is Overrated: Corporate Bloggers Aren’t Journalists, & Why They Shouldn’t Even Try”. Interestingly enough, no journalists showed up to the session. Still, it was a lively discussion, the key point being that bloggers don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk, and therefore bring to the table a deeper understanding and experience with EDA and design than a journalist, even one that was previously a designer.

I also attended Rick Jamison’s session on “Competitors in Cyberspace: Why Be Friends?” which attracted several Cadence folks (Joe Hupcey, Adam Sherer, Bob Dwyer) and some Mentor folks. Although competitors for their respective companies, there was a sense of fraternity and a lot of the discussion concerned what is “fair play” with regards to blog posting and commenting. The consensus was that advocacy was acceptable and even expected from the partisans, as long as it could be backed up by fact and kept within the bounds of decorum (i.e. no personal attacks). EDA corporate bloggers have been very fair in this regards in contrast to some rather vitriolic “discussions” in other industries.

The Atrenta Blogfest sounded very interesting and I was very disappointed that I could not attend because it conflicted with my Conversation Central discussion. Mike Demler has a brief summary on his blog as does Daniel Nenni on his blog.

Late Wednesday, Michael Sanie hosted a DAC Pavillion Panel entitled “Tweet, Blog or News: How Do I Stay Current?” Panelists Ron Wilson (Practical Chip Design in EDN), John Busco (John’s Semi-Blog) and Sean Murphy (his blog) shared insights into the ways they use social media to stay current with events in the industry, avoid information overload, and separate fact from fiction. Ron Wilson commented that social networks are taking the place of the socialization that engineers used to get by attending conferences and the shared experience reading the same traditional media news. John Busco, the recognized first EDA blogger, shared how he keeps his private life and his job at NVidia separate from his blogging life. And Sean Murphy gave perspective on how blogging has grown within EDA and will continue to grow to his projection of 500 EDA bloggers in 2011.

Last, but not least, there was the Twitter Tower, located next to the Synopsys booth. Previous conferences, such as DVCon attempted to use hashtags (#DVCon) to aggregate conference related tweets. The success was limited, attracting perhaps a few dozen tweets at most. This time, Karen Bartleson had a better idea. Appeal to people’s vanity. The Twitter Tower displayed a realtime snapshot of all tweets containing “#46DAC“, the hashtag designated for the 46th DAC. If one stood in front of the tower and tweeted with this hastag, the tweet would show up within seconds on the tower. How cool is that? Sure it was a little gimmicky, but it made everyone who passed by aware of this new standard. As I write this, there have been over 1500 tweets using the #46DAC hashtag.

If you want to read more, Sean Murphy has done the not-so-glamorous but oh-so-valuable legwork of compiling a pretty comprehensive roundup of the DAC coverage by bloggers and traditional press. (Thanks Sean!)

harry the ASIC guy

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

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