Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at www.aycinena.com. She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.
CEDA Panel: Covering new ground at DAC 2016
June 9th, 2016 by Peggy Aycinena
Up until 7 o’clock on June 5, 2016, a conversation about career perspectives was such a non-technical topic, it could only be found in Marie Pistilli’s beloved workshop, a venue where work/life balance, Academia vs. Industry, and how to promote your brand within the organization were thoroughly discussed every year for 15 years at DAC.
Now IEEE’s Council on EDA, CEDA, has made the bold decision to pick up where Marie’s workshop left off, sponsoring this week’s event and broadening the audience and the appeal.
Joyner had four people on his panel, a generous two hours to hash out various universal questions, and enough of a sense of humor to offer to wear the necktie he’d brought with him to add gravitas, or not to wear the tie to appear hipster and cool. He quickly decided to go without the tie, and the ensuing conversation went something like this.
Bill Joyner: Millennials with an EDA background face an abundance of career choices. Which one fits best: Join a large company? Stay in academia? Join a hip startup? Become a consultant? Making a conscious career choice is certainly not easy.
The panelist of this session come from different EDA-related jobs and are in different phases of their careers. They will provide a glimpse into their worlds and lifestyles, insights that will help the next generation in deciding on a career path.
Our panelists include Dr. Zhuo Li, Physical Design Manager at Cadence; Pranavi Chandupatla, M.S., Physical Design Engineer at ARM; Dr. Zaher Andraus, CEO of Reveal Design Automation; and Dr. Bei Yu, Assistant Professor of CSE at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. They will start by telling us something about themselves.
Zhuo Li: I was with a startup when I first came out of school, then at IBM, and then started at Cadence in 2014. Currently I’m working in high performance, low power and skew. I’m a big fan of Bruce Lee and will paraphrase him: ‘I fear not the man who practices 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has done EDA for 10 years.’
Pranavi Chandupatla: I’ve been at ARM for two years, working in synthesis to GDS, doing timing fixes, low-power design, and making chip area as slim as possible. I also had a chance to study at MIT for a semester, and that has helped with my work.
Zaher Andraus: I got my Bachelors at the Technion and my PhD at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. I started the company because of the opportunity given to me by Michigan and my PhD advisor, Prof. Karem Sakallah, and support from the local community. It was an excellent way to leverage my technology expertise into innovative products that serve the semiconductor market. It was also exciting to go through an entrepreneurial experience that touches many aspects of the business, from innovation to product development to customer development to team building to funding. The intellectual and personal challenges were very appealing.
Bei Yu: My mom was a teacher and was always concerned I had stayed in school too long, but finally I finished my PhD. Now my friends and wife think I work amidst wires and chaos, but in truth I just work all the time on my laptop.
Bill Joyner: People in this room do not work on Wall Street, although maybe they would like to be. Did all of you consider Industry after you came out of school, even if you ended up in Academia?
Zaher Andraus: I always wanted to be part of an entrepreneurial experience once in my life, so I started with a startup as soon as I finished school. When you start a company, the VCs think you’re doing fund-raising, and your employees think you’re doing product development, but you’re really doing all of it. It’s emotionally exciting – the fund-raising, product development, talking to the customers. And EDA [is a special industry], a set of tools and services that provide good for your customers. Starting a company is doing something worthwhile while also doing something risky, but in EDA small companies produce the innovation.
Bei Yu: I wanted to join Cadence right after graduation, but I went to ICCAD and there decided to try Academia for one year. My wife agreed and said just do it. Plus, I liked the broad subjects available in Academia versus the smaller choices in Industry.
Bill Joyner: Pranavi, why did you decide on Industry?
Pranavi Chandupatla: Industry problems are more specific. I am a physical design engineer and want to explore many different things. Once I was confident in what I was doing in my job, I thought my choice was a good one. And new architectures are a part of my work, which is exciting.
Bill Joyner: Zhuo, did you always want to be at Cadence? Did you consider Academia?
Zhuo Li: I did consider Academia and had an offer to teach, but in research you’ve got to write papers, be on committees, seek patents. Instead I wanted to learn how to work with thousands of people at a big company, plus meet the requirements of the customers. [Laughing] First, however, I started in a startup, which was acquired by Mentor Graphics in 2009. At a startup you do many things; I learned to compile in five different versions of Linux. Now at Cadence, I’m in a small group in a big company doing really interesting stuff, and what we’re doing all comes from internal innovation. Plus I don’t have to worry about the customers or sales. Of course, what I’ll be doing in the next 10 years I just don’t know.
Bill Joyner: One of the problems of working on the cutting edge of CAD is never knowing who will get the axe, plus the risks of offending colleagues. Once I insulted a [high-profile name in EDA] and he didn’t speak to me for 5 years.
Zaher Andraus: Yes, there are high risks, but also high returns with entrepreneurship.
Zhuo Li: We are also high risk, high reward. And although I’m probably too young to talk about it, not everyone can be CEO. You could be the tenth employee in a startup and still not make a fortune. And if you look at the top 25 companies regarding employee satisfaction, Cadence is listed above LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Plus Cadence is paying really well.
Zaher Andraus: [You are remind us that] you can take somebody out of EDA, but you cannot take the EDA out of the person.
Bill Joyner: Do you aspire to be a manager?
Pranavi Chandupatla: Yes, but I always want to be part of a technical team, and not make [career moves] that would take me away from the technology.
Zaher Andraus: The NSF and DARPA can give you a head start, it’s a loop and these grants can help you get in the loop. One of the beauties of EDA, you have choices – provide mature technology to customers and make 1-to-2 million dollars, or build a company with lots of products and make lots of money. The IP in my company was from my PhD thesis, but [commercializing] that IP can take 6 months or 3 years.
Bill Joyner: Is the goal to make a product that can be sold, or a company that can be sold?
Zaher Andraus: The goal is to affect as many lives as possible.
Bill Joyner: Zhuo, is it harder to go from Industry to Academia or the other way?
Zhuo Li: It’s actually hard to say, because EDA is a little unique. If you’re on the path of solving problems you might go back to Academia, but most do not.
Bill Joyner: How about Work/Life Balance, is it possible?
Pranavi Chandupatla: The first couple of years you are at a job are the most important, and require a lot of effort to determine which direction you want to go – particularly if you want to transition between companies. If you love your work and are excited, that’s not a problem. It’s been really great for me at ARM. [Laughing] Plus I live alone and don’t do that much outside work.
Zaher Andraus: If you work so hard that the company becomes a higher priority than health and family, [something’s wrong]. But working hard is also about convincing your team to work really hard. It’s not just about you and your family, it’s about your team and their families.
Zhuo Li: Originally when I was in the startup and working 16 hour days, I probably needed better Work/Life balance. But if you’re not married, you can go on and on fixing that little bug, even though you really should just close your computer and go outside. Now I’ve learned two things about work and life. You can’t change who you are, and even if you are a hard-working person you won’t do something that doesn’t fit you.
Bill Joyner: Although I’ve never been in Academia, it seems exciting to be directing students to pick up a project. But what about the constant search for funding?
Bei Yu: Before I joined Academia I hated teaching, but now I really love it! [laughing] And I always prepare one joke for each lecture.
Bill Joyner: Are there topics of research that are better for Industry or better for Academia?
Bei Yu: You should always look at the higher level [of the problem], not just the topic for one paper, but something that looks at the bigger picture – whether in Industry or Academia.
Zaher Andraus: Academia always tries to push you toward the hot topics, because that’s where there’s government funding.
Bill Joyner: Do you think that Industry always admires innovation adequately?
Zhuo Li: It depends. Industry can admire innovation, but if it will take some years to commercialize, you can always do a simpler product and make it salable. And then move to more innovation.
Not only was the CEDA panel compelling, the food was marvelous. Many thanks to the organizers and speakers for an excellent evening and kick-off to DAC 2016.
Tags: ARM, Bei Yu, Bill Joyner, Cadence, CEDA, Chinese University of Hong Kong, IBM, ICCAD, IEEE Council on Electronic Design Automation, Mentor Graphics, Pranavi Chandupatla, Reveal Design Automation, Semiconductor Research Corp., SRC, Zaher Andraus, Zhuo Li
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