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 EDACafe Editorial
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a contributing editor for EDACafe.Com

Ali Iranmanesh: pursuing quality on a global scale

August 9th, 2012 by Peggy Aycinena

Ali Iranmanesh is a busy man. He continues to head up the Silicon Valley Institute of Technology, the school he founded in 1997, and continues to lead ISQED, the conference he founded in 1999. Now he is also leading ASQED, the Asia-based spin-off of ISQED Iranmanesh founded in Malaysia.

I caught up with Ali in early August by phone. He was in Silicon Valley and had just returned from ASQED 2012 in Penang, Malaysia.


WWJD: What prompted you to start ASQED?

Ali Iranmanesh: It was a natural extension of ISQED, which I started 14 years ago. I decided to keep ISQED in Silicon Valley, and to create other conferences for different regions.

WWJD: Remind me how many ASQED’s have taken place.

Ali Iranmanesh: This is our fourth year, with the conference alternating between Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia. Our next event is scheduled for August 26th to 28th in Penang.

WWJD: Malaysia seems an unusual destination for a conference on design.

Ali Iranmanesh: Historically, there has been a lot of manufacturing in Malaysia, but not so much design. I’ve been working with the several government entities there, helping them to move up the value chain through training, and was able to implement the conference as part of that process. Now for the past few years, there has been design going on in Malaysia – the conference has done a great job helping with that.

When we started ASQED, there were only one or two papers submitted from Malaysia. But last year, we received over 60 paper submissions from Malaysia, with half of them being really excellent. There is more research and development going on now in Malaysia – some of it because of training through my school – in topics such as scientific techniques for design, and now we are seeing the fruits of our labor.

WWJD: If manufacturing has been the core competency for Malaysia, why move into design? And how can a technical workforce be retrained to move from one to the other?

Ali Iranmanesh: The Malaysians has seeing increased competition from China – they’re losing ground in manufacturing. So following the example of Singapore, and Korea they are trying to move up the design chain, which is more valuable. As far as our training is concerned, it’s not just through the Malaysian universities, but through the companies there as well.

WWJD: Where are the engineers in Malaysia studying?

Ali Iranmanesh: Some come to the U.S., some go to Europe and Australia, and many attend universities in Malaysia. There are a number of universities in Malaysia, some of which need to be improved. Our approach is to instill both training and confidence in the engineers there, an approach which has worked well.

WWJD: ASQED is offering motivation for engineers in Malaysia to go further?

Ali Iranmanesh: Definitely, yes. It’s a combination of training, showing engineers how to do design properly, and how to write good papers.

WWJD: All of this is great, but how many times per year do you have to travel to Malaysia?

Ali Iranmanesh: I go about three times a year – once for meetings with the local steering committee and all of the industry people involved, a second time to meet with the local coordinating entity to confirm the logistics, and once for the conference.

WWJD: How many hours is the flight?

Ali Iranmanesh: It depends on how you go. I usually go by way of Hong Kong, about 12 hours, and then Singapore, another 3 hours, and then 1 hour to Kuala Lumpur. I usually stop en route for other business meetings, so I break up the trip. There is a direct flight now from Los Angeles, however, which is only 13 hours. Either way, I admit it’s not an easy trip.

WWJD: I often attend the Sophia Antipolis Microelectronics Forum in Southern France, and know that to be a very successful regional conference with international participation. Would you consider ASQED to be a regional or a global conference?

Ali Iranmanesh: ASQED is definitely a global conference, with keynoters from the U.S, Europe, and Asia, and papers from all over the world. Of course, tomorrow we could take the conference to another country. In fact, we will be in Malaysia one more year, and then will move ASQED on to China. They really want us to bring the event there.

WWJD: Where in China?

Ali Iranmanesh: It’s not really finalized as yet. Hong Kong, or perhaps Shanghai. Although Shanghai is very expensive, so maybe Shandong.

WWJD: Won’t the folks in Malaysia be disappointed?

Ali Iranmanesh: People might begin to think ASQED is just about Malaysia, so it is important to take the conference to other venues throughout Asia. Malaysia has shown a lot of interest in the conference because it is consistent with their national goals, and they will be part of it even if held elsewhere.

WWJD: ASQED stands for Asia Symposium on Quality Electronic Design, so the name certainly does not restrict you.

Ali Iranmanesh: That was the intention.

WWJD: No one could stop the Malaysians from starting their own conference, a copy cat conference of sorts, which is the highest form of flattery.

Ali Iranmanesh: Of course they could, but I believe they want to keep supporting ASQED since it has a great reputation and is well established.

WWJD: Why not have a conference in Malaysia and in China?

Ali Iranmanesh: It’s strictly a matter of bandwidth, but that is certainly a great idea.

WWJD: What prompted the original idea for ISQED?

Ali Iranmanesh: I was working at Synopsys at the time and had come from a semiconductor background. I was also heavily involved in the quality movement in the 1990’s – TQM, SPC, 6 Sigma and all that – which was very effectively implemented in manufacturing. Because of the quality movement and quality procedures, we now may can manufacture 20-nanometer silicon.

At the time, however, EDA was not using any of this. There were problems with the software, a number of bugs in the tools, and a lack of user friendliness. You couldn’t even talk about quality to the EDA folks – if you looked for “quality electronic design” in Google, you got nothing. It was my idea to use the quality techniques out of manufacturing and apply them to EDA and the design process.

This is where ISQED came from, and now quality is everything. ISQED is where the idea for DFM came from. Design for manufacturing, design for reliability, design for test – these concepts are all initiated from ISQED. Of course we still have ways to go.

I want to give credit to Dr. Chi-Foon Chan [co-CEO at Synopsys]. Back in the late 90’s when I proposed ISQED, he was the only guy at Synopsys who understood its importance right away. Nobody else could understand what I was talking about. That’s why Chi-Foon has been an integral part of the steering committee from the beginning, and is now a Distinguished ISQED Fellow.

Quality was the motivation for ISQED. Quality in the design process, in the design data base, in the design tools, and design methodology, and even in designers!

WWJD: Between your institute and the conference, which came first?

Ali Iranmanesh: The training institute predates ISQED by a couple of years.

WWJD: And what prompted the classes?

Ali Iranmanesh: When I founded the Silicon Valley Institute of Technology, there was only U.C. Berkeley Extension offering classes. But there was nothing available to reach the skilled engineer moving from one career to another, from test to design, or from layout to design, etc. We studied the competition, and designed our classes in response.

WWJD: These days, U.C. Santa Cruz seems to offer a rich set of classes.

Ali Iranmanesh: Yes, and before Santa Cruz, San Jose State University has been trying to do the same, but it has not worked well out for them. Their focus is on granting degrees.

WWJD: Competition is good?

Ali Iranmanesh: Of course, but we don’t get any of the large amount of funding and support public universities receive from the government in various forms and shapes. Nonetheless, our students get better training.

Our courses are very intensive, up to 6 hours of training a week for 12 weeks, which is longer and more class hours than those offered through U.C. Extension courses. Plus our classes are quite small, 6 or 7 students at the most.

WWJD: Do employers pay the fees for their employees to attend your courses?

Ali Iranmanesh: It’s a mixed bag. Some are supported through their companies, some pay themselves, and some through grants. For example, IBM has enlisted us to teach classes in-house for 50 engineers at a time. People who are trying to change professions, however, from one area to another – often, they don’t want anyone to know they’re attending our courses.

WWJD: Hard working engineers studying on nights and weekend?

Ali Iranmanesh: Yes, our classes are typically 6 pm to 9 pm, two nights a week. It can be very tiring and take a lot of commitment. We have talked to our students about which times during the week they would prefer – daytime, weekend, evenings – and they seem to prefer evenings.

WWJD: Where do you get your instructors?

Ali Iranmanesh: They are all working engineers with 10 to 20 years of experience. Many engineers really love to teach.

WWJD: Which tool flows do you teach at the Silicon Valley Institute of Technology?

Ali Iranmanesh: We teach using them all – Mentor, Synopsys, Matlab, AutoCAD, Tanner, Altium, SolidWorks, etc.

Also, there is no shortage of EDA tools in Malaysia – they have them all, and we teach using them all. For example, we use popular tools for layout, Mentor tools for verification, and Synopsys tools for synthesis. We try to use the best tools, even if they are from competing companies.

WWJD: And do your students get a discount on the licenses?

Ali Iranmanesh: I want to thank Synopsys, Springsoft, and Mentor, specifically, because they provide their tools to our students free of charge. Not all companies understand this key concept – that the companies get a lot out of making their tools available to our students.

WWJD: Going back to your own career, what did you do at Synopsys?

Ali Iranmanesh: I was part of the Silicon Architect group which was acquitted by Synopsys in 1995, with my expertise being in ASIC libraries – memory, I/O, and standard cells. So I was in charge of all ASIC library design and development at Synopsys, and mapping the libraries into different processes.

WWJD: When did you leave Synopsys, before and after founding your school and ISQED?

Ali Iranmanesh: After, so I was working at Synopsys, starting the school, and then also founded ISQED.

WWJD: Do I hear a lot of caffeine in that?

Ali Iranmanesh: [laughing] I actually don’t drink coffee at all. But if I am just doing one thing, I’m drowsy. What really excites me is doing a lot of things simultaneously and luckily I’ve always been able to do that!


Ali Iranmanesh has an MS and PhD in EE and Physics from Stanford, and an MBA from San Jose State University. He has held executive and senior management positions at AMD, Fairchild, National Semiconductor, Synopsys, Anadigics, SVTI, ISQED, and InnovoTek. He is responsible for development of many generations of advanced semiconductor technologies and design methodologies, and holds 50 US patents.

Dr. Iranmanesh is also founder of The International Society for Quality Electronic Design (ISQED), a non-profit international organization devoted to innovation and quality in electronic design and engineering design education. In addition, he is founder of Silicon Valley Institute of Technology (SVTI), as well as InnovoTek – a Silicon Valley consulting firm, and Silicon Valley Design Force – an Analog IP provider. Iranmanesh is a Senior member of IEEE and the American Society for Quality, Chair of the IEEE Education Society in Silicon Valley, and Vice Chair of the IEEE Photovoltaic Silicon Valley chapter.


Note: Apropos to ASQED, Malaysian diver Pamg Pandelela Rinong won a bronze medal in diving today in at the Olympic Games in London.


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One Response to “Ali Iranmanesh: pursuing quality on a global scale”

  1. Monserrate says:

    Highly descriptive article, I enjoyed that bit. Will there be a part 2?

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