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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.

Ajoy Bose: The Man Behind the Microchip

March 10th, 2016 by Peggy Aycinena

You would probably have learned more about Ajoy Bose
by reading his biography than by attending Jim Hogan’s gentle exercise in collegiality on Tuesday night, March 1st, in Silicon Valley. The conversation between these two giants of EDA, hosted by EDAC as part of DVCon week, was consistently unstructured, whimsical and seemingly without outline.

The next day, I sat in a coffee shop and struggled to find a handle with which to write a coherent summary of the previous night’s random access memory album. But that handle would not reveal itself.

Then I happened to glance over to a nearby table where another caffeine addict was buried in a book: The Man Behind the Microchip. I asked the addict who exactly was the subject of the book and the answer came back: Robert Noyce.

So Robert Noyce is the man behind the microchip, I pondered. The only man behind the microchip? Like Steve Jobs invented the iPod/iPad/iPhone? Or Thomas Edison invented the electric light?

No wonder, I realized, it was hard to get a handle on the previous night’s Hogan/Bose interview. They didn’t do anything. Robert Noyce did it all. And without help. Hogan and Bose did nothing, and ergo had nothing to offer their audience.

These two were not part of a vast conspiracy of contributors, all adding their particular drips and drops of innovation into the trickle of technology, that rolled into a small creek of creativity, that ran into a moderate-sized stream of science-turned-engineering, which poured into a roaring river of real change, which crashed into a seething sea of twenty-first century digital life.

Of course, that’s nonsense. Robert Noyce did not do everything, and Hogan and Bose did not do nothing.

A week went by, and it felt increasingly wrong to leave the March 1st event unaddressed. So I revisited my notes from the evening, typed them up to examine them for fundamental truths, and took comfort in knowing that Graham Bell video-taped the dialog for posterity.

After all, my notes were only a snapshot of that unstructured, whimsical and seemingly without-outline conversation between Jim Hogan and Ajoy Bose. I may not have understood the random walk of their random access, but there have to have been fundamental truths expressed there.

And once typed up, it was clear; the fundamental truth was clear. Thousands and thousands of Hogans and Boses have contributed to the current instantiation of technical life. True, not all of them are lionized [foolishly] as The Man Behind the Microchip, and many thousands of have not contributed to an extent that warrants beings showcased on a stage in Silicon Valley.

But Hogan and Bose fall into neither of these categories. They have indeed contributed, and are worthy of being showcased. They’ve been part of the process of progress, yet have also been refreshingly candid about the unscripted nature of their contributions to the craft of business, technology, and creativity. They do not lay claim to fundamental truths, just stories and results – some successful and some not so much.

And that’s the reality about The People Behind the Microchip.


1 March 2016 …

Jim Hogan: I really respect this man. Tonight we will showcase several data points in his life. Record his knowledge. Let’s start, Ajoy, with your dad. An engineer, right?

Ajoy Bose: Yes, he was an engineer in a steel plant in India. Back then, there were just five IIT campuses in India, now there are 15. After WWII, however, India realized the [power in technology] and began to invest in engineering education.

Jim Hogan: Yes, back in the days when India was aligned with the Soviet Union.

Ajoy Bose: I came to the U.S. to do my PhD at UT Austin and fell in love with barbecues. I also learned the rules for American football [and fell in love with that too].

I didn’t have a clue at the time what EDA was, but I stumbled on a professor who introduced me to the technology – Steve Szygenda. He absolutely sold me on the glamour of EDA. Here 40 years later, I don’t just like EDA, I love EDA.

I also still love everything Texas, barbecues and football. I’ve been a Longhorn, and a fan of the Dallas Cowboys ever since.

[Laughing] In fact, when I first went looking for Office space, Roger Staubach – retired from football – was working in commercial real estate. I used his firm to get the Gateway Place office. I met Staubach several times, and even have a football autographed by him.

Jim Hogan: Hence, the Atrenta kick-off at Levy Stadium?

[Jim acknowledged that legendary SPICE author Larry Nagler was in the audience.]

Ajoy Bose: Yes, I worked with Larry a lifetime ago at Bell Labs. I went there in 1977 [drawn by the fact that] it’s where the transistor originated with William Shockley and John Bardeen.

Jim Hogan: Industry doesn’t do those types of research labs anymore. And we can’t rely on government to do that kind of work either.

Ajoy Bose: Yes, [back in the day], you worked on something in the lab and then saw it get used. But it’s not possible for companies to fund those kinds of labs today. Boards of directors [have squeezed corporate budgets] and made it impossible to continue.

Today, the best research is being done in academia. We’re depending on them [to continue the critical research], backed by the power and support of industry.

Jim Hogan: So your story takes us from India, to Texas, to New Jersey, to Boston and Gateway [acquired by Cadence in 1989].

Ajoy Bose: [Remember that] the proliferation of Verilog was built on two major thrusts. Compaq and Motorola were constantly on Cadence’s case to attend to SPICE and timing.

It was a lot of work [after we were acquired]. EDA tools were very glamorous [at the outset], but there is more than just a little grinding away at the details to make it all functional. So I decided to leave Cadence, particularly because I was getting interested [in the dynamics associated] with startups.

When I first was at Bell Labs, it was the largest non-governmental organization in the world with 1 million people. Then I went to Cadence with only 2000 people. From there, I went to a startup with only 2 people. But by that point, I had figured out how [things] really worked.

I started Interra in 1995 – bootstrapped it — and learned [the requisite skills for running a startup] via association with colleagues in Silicon Valley. But we had cash flow problems and so liquidated it quickly. [But out of that] grew Spyglass and Atrenta. And in all of this, I had only one mission in life – to build great EDA tools.

Through all of this, I also had two mentors, a technology mentor in Hermann Gummel, the first Kaufman Award winner, and a business mentor in Mike Hackworth from Cirrus Logic who recently won the Morris Chang Medal.

Mike was the one who taught me how to create and run a business, how to meet the people [who could help make a company successful], and most importantly – how to sell.

Jim Hogan: Always at a Board of Directors meeting you have three kinds of people – the tech founders, the VCs, and the ‘outside’ guy. The Board needs the technology founders, needs the investors, and definitely needs the ‘outside’ guy who will play [the devil’s advocate] in conversations.

Ajoy Bose: Yes, and someone with the knowledge about how to move the product across domains and platforms. As industries work up to these changes, it helps companies – it helped our company – to see growth momentum.

Jim Hogan: Okay, so your best advice to people in this room who are considering doing a startup?

Ajoy Bose: Be aware where the industry is going, and recognize opportunities as they show up. Know that you’ll never quite get it right when you build a business. The process is about building a technology, it’s not about ever being done and finished.

Sell the company quickly. Perhaps we waited too long to sell Atrenta, but we [wanted to grow] it to a decent size. A company that we would be remembered for after we are gone. Of course, if you don’t need a lot of money, you can take your time.

Jim Hogan: Yes, the founders can work for free for a few years – however long it takes to turn $4 million into $40 million.

Ajoy Bose: Also, decide carefully between building a great product and building a family of products. There will never be the same return [on a family of products] as on a small number of successful products. You’re never going to have a good ROI on everything on your platform, so you sometimes have to take a hard look at decide [what to eliminate].

Big is not always beautiful. Sometimes, small and quick is beautiful.


Epilogue …

Many years from now, no one will remember an evening in March 2016 when Jim Hogan interviewed Atrenta founder Ajoy Bose. No one will remember Atrenta was sold to Synopsys, or the companies in Bose’s life that came before Atrenta, his research, contributions to technology, or even remember Synopsys for that matter.

What they will remember, however, is the growth of technology. How one thing led to another, how tubes led to transistors, which led to integrated circuits, which lead to VLSI design, miniaturization, high-speed computation, email, the Internet, personal computing devices, the Cloud, the growth of Big Data and Big Data storage, WiFi, tablets, smart phones, a universe of mobile devices, and eventually the IoT.

Nope, nobody will remember the players, but they’ll sure as hell remember the plays.


Read more …

The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley
by Leslie Berlin [2005]

Buy on Amazon

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation

by Jon Gertner [2013]

Buy on Amazon


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