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 What Would Joe Do?
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

EDA: Not so good in the ‘hood … or is it?

December 10th, 2015 by Peggy Aycinena

If Wednesday night’s EDAC event at their headquarters in San Jose
is any indication, things ain’t so good in the EDA ‘hood. There are no investors, no startups, no energy, no room for innovation, no luster, and ergo no young people.

Although, Jim Hogan – who shared the evening’s stage with Ansys/Apache VP & GM John Lee – said that if you think EDA’s bad, you should look at Google. According to Hogan, the luster’s gone at Google as well, buses transporting techies from Silicon Valley to their habitats elsewhere are running half empty, and nobody wants to be there anymore. The Google glam is gone, per Hogan, even though the overpaid youngsters he knows who work there are regularly pulling in salaries of $500k and holding an additional $500k in stock.

Hogan had no answer for how EDA was going to match those perks, but both he and Lee agreed that everything’s cyclical and therefore if everybody can just hold on for another 5 years, EDA will be back in fashion.

Meanwhile, it still ain’t so good in the EDA hood … or is it?

Lee on fire …

Lee was on stage with Hogan because he’s got a success narrative that the audience wanted to hear.

With prompting from his host, Lee talked about his early years as the son of a professor in Cincinnati, and his family’s move to South Korea when he was 9 so his father could help stimulate that nation-state into better times. Lee spoke about his schooling in Korea, his struggles to learn the language, and his eventual academic salvation through math – ‘numbers are the same everywhere’ – and an excellent education at a small private high school where his mother was a teacher.

There, Lee participated in a variety of sports and theatrics, and enjoyed a thoroughly well-rounded experience, including superb mentoring from a counselor who encouraged his to apply to a place called Carnegie Mellon in order to pursue a degree in engineering.

That led to Lee spending 9 years at CMU, which translated into a BSEE, an MSEE, and a PhD in EE. With EDA-legend Ron Rohrer as advisor and Life Coach, Lee and several other fellow students started a company before they were even done with grad school, an enterprise that built on their wave-simulation expertise.

Unfortunately, per Lee, they were evangelizing a technology 5-to-10 years too early, the computer environment to support it was not yet available, and perhaps most troubling: the group didn’t have a business plan.

Following a round of laughter in the EDAC auditorium, Hogan responded to Lee’s admission: “First you need technical validation and then a business plan.”

Lee countered that the startup moved on, produced an extraction engine, and “suddenly we were bought by Avanti.”

That triggered another round of laughter in the room, and another response from Hogan: “Even after the nightmare of the lawsuits [around Avanti], there were things we all could learn from Jerry Hsu. Jerry had a way of looking at things that was truly amazing!”

Lee agreed: “He was the craziest person I’ve ever worked with, and I had a lot of respect for him. He could think of things we had never thought of. He was never afraid to change, and was always ready to shoot and then aim.

“Jerry was also a great student of culture and management. He wanted to see ten CEOs come out [of their work experience] at Avanti. He created a culture, an attitude, a behavior, a style. Even today [those of us that worked there] all speak the same language.”

Hogan chimed in: “Yeah, you came to Avanti as a technologist and learned the business from Jerry Hsu.”

Lee continued, “So two years out of school working in our offices in North Carolina, we get raided by the FBI and Hsu called me. He says, ‘John, you have to move to California. Simplex is great and you need to move out [and help me compete with them] or I am going to have to buy them.’

“So we came to California with something to prove. We created an extraction tool, deciding along the way to write it from scratch, [but] Simplex was beating us at every turn.

“This is where Vivek said, ‘We need to simplify the code. Keep the code simple and good. Also, we will not [work at the] transistor-level, only system level.’ So we did, and we were able to grow from that.”


Let’s stop here. If you want to hear the actual transcript of this fascinating conversation between Jim Hogan and John Lee, give it a minute and EDAC will have the audio recording posted on their website. You’ll undoubtedly know the endless list of EDA players referenced in the exchange as Hogan coaxed Lee into telling his story, chapter by chapter.

It’s a tale full of insiders’ recollections of brilliant business visionaries and not-so-brilliant technology decisions that resulted in some really big wins and some really big losses. It’s a tale you already know, but should listen to and learn from nonetheless.

And you’re telling me this because …

By the end of the 90-minute Lee-Hogan ‘performance’ on the EDAC stage on Wednesday, you had gained one of two things, but not both.

You either had a deeper understanding of how what-you-know and who-you-know, luck and occasional dumb luck, can help you stumble into a successful IPO or lucrative acquisition of your EDA technology, team, and enterprise.

Or you had an even more forlorn sense that the glory days of EDA are so over it’s not even funny.

Folks in the audience – well known, long-time players in EDA – asked questions that suggested young people aren’t coming into the industry because there’s just no there there anymore, no money, no buzz, and certainly no ballsy moves to create opportunity or disruptive technologies.

The old guard’s too stuffy and enamored of the status quo to allow anything to change on their watch. Until they all go off to their retirement homes and let the edgier guys shake things up, EDA is just going to be nowheres-ville. And, by the way, legal nightmares like Nassda and Avanti will continue to haunt the survivors.

It just ain’t gonna be good in the ‘hood.

Wait a sec …

But then there was this persistent, optimistic messaging from John Lee that refused to embrace the Eeyore vibe.

“Yeah, I also thought EDA was dead,” he said, “so I started going to other conferences. I looked at an iOS developer’s course and realized there are a lot of smart people out there, and that DAC is very small by comparison. But I also saw that it’s hard to do a startup when you lack domain knowledge.”

So Lee thought again: “I said, why can’t I help EDA? I looked at the ways I would fix Cadence, Synopsys, and Mentor, and decided to start a company that way.

“Not the way VC guys look at things, but like Google looks at things. And [I decided] that they would say this is a Big Data problem.”

So he started with that and thought even harder: “The best EDA companies don’t attract young people because we [in this industry] are all older now. So how do companies outside of EDA do it?

“[They do it] by letting young people write code [the way they do it best]. Young people write code and get it out there fast. Plus there’s so much open source software out there, [why don’t we] flip things upside down in EDA?

“Our tools [historically] have been really hard to use and really crappy. Compare that to the map on an iPhone, for instance. It’s buttery smooth [and runs so beautifully].

“So [with that attitude] and just two guys, we started a company in Austin, a place where there’s a lot of great talent, plus companies like Samsung and Apple.”

And that’s what Lee did. And it all worked out.

Eventually, Lee’s company was bought by Ansys and then Lee was a big success, far richer than he had been before, and full of new responsibilities as a VP and GM of the Apache Business Unit at Ansys. As an indication, per Jim Hogan, Lee now even sports business casual instead of the t-shirts and cut-offs that characterized the earlier chapters of his life.

And that’s how everyone in the room came to understand that even though EDA is seemingly without luster today, it doesn’t have to be.

In fact, EDA will rally once again – hopefully within the next 5 years – because John Lee says things like this: “You get more value [for the technology you’re trying to sell] when you take more risks.”

A moral to the story …

You should have come to the EDAC event on Wednesday, December 9th. Everything before that seemed sad and tired. Everything after that seemed not sad, not tired, and definitely not lacking luster.

As we all filed out of the auditorium after the event ended, somebody asked me what I thought about it. I asked him what he thought about it.

“It was just fantastic!” he enthused.

I’m not sure the guy was talking about the on-stage conversation between Lee and Hogan, about John Lee’s success, or about John Lee’s persistent optimism. I suspect he was talking about all of the above.

Bio …

John Lee is General Manager & Vice President of the Apache Business Unit at ANSYS. Previously he was CEO of Gear Design Solutions (acquired by ANSYS in 2015) and a co-founder of Performance Signal Integrity (founded in 1992; acquired by Avanti in 1994) which led to Star-RCXT, and Mojave Design which led to Quartz DRC (founded in 2002; acquired by Magma in 2004). Lee held the position of General Manager at Magma Design Automation, and has been a board member for technology and non-profit organizations. John received his undergraduate and graduates degrees from Carnegie Mellon University.


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