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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.

Mark Gilbert: White coat, White hat, Big fish

June 30th, 2016 by Peggy Aycinena

Exuberance and Optimism:
the only two words required to describe EDA-Careers’ Mark Gilbert – even after 20 years in the trenches sorting out the who what and where of just about everybody in the EDA industry. Yes, he self-identifies as the fun guy in the white suit, seen hither and yon wherever the EDA Nation chooses to confab, but in reality he’s the good guy in the white hat who’s going to tell it to you straight, about your career and your goals.

Also by his own description, Mark Gilbert is “the big fish in a little pond” who serves as the leading head hunter and career counselor extraordinaire of EDA.

I was lucky enough to speak with Gilbert by phone this week. As he and I were both on the East Coast, coordinating the hour of the call was easy. Our conversation started with the usual query: How did you get started in this business?

Gilbert answered cheerfully, “A very good friend of mine convinced me, after I sold a previous business, to get involved in the EDA world. At the time, I was VP of marketing for an Internet company when the Internet was just coming into play. Bob said I could make good money working in EDA, and also have some free time.”

Laughing, Gilbert said: “Little did I know it was going to be a 50-to-60 hour work week all of these years since!”

I asked Gilbert about his background prior to EDA.

“I was always in sales and marketing,” he said, “that’s been my forte. Before that, I was president of my own company, something I started when I was 19 years old.

“I’ve always loved technology, and even then had a network of computers and workstations in my office. I was also developing software.

“So as my career evolved and the opportunity came to be involved in this thing which looked at the time like it might, or might not, take off – the Internet – it was [natural] to get into EDA following that.”

“Although,” he added, laughing, “I found EDA to be a world unto itself. Particularly in the first four or five years as I was learning the technology and the acronyms.”

Obviously those early years of hard work paid off, because today Gilbert says, “I consider myself the kingpin of the EDA world!”

I asked him how that particular world is doing these days, and he responded with candor: “It’s a frustrating world.

“You develop good relationships with a client from a recruiting perspective, and then within a year, or two, or three, the client gets sold and there goes the relationship.

“Also, the EDA industry today is driven by three main players, and those three players consistently make it difficult for the startups to do business. A startup has to have a relationship or synergy with at least two of the three players to have any kind of success.

“And even then, the lawsuits that accompany the EDA world make it a threatening [environment] for startups. They can’t afford to defend themselves against conglomerates that have so much money, so usually what arises as a result of the lawsuit is an acquisition.

“Nonetheless, quarter after quarter, year after year, the EDA business stays strong, with a decent growth rate.”

“Of course,” he added, “looking back at the [early years of the Internet], we were all very spoiled. Companies like Yahoo were going up 50 points in a day. Suddenly we were seeing rates of growth that had never been seen in business before.

“Unfortunately, that distorted the true value of EDA – an industry with consistent growth, consistent innovation, and consistent reliability year and year.

“For instance, you don’t typically hear of really big layoffs in EDA, even in the Big Three. If there are layoffs, it’s because a new technology has been acquired and the old technology is no longer needed, or there’s an internal realignment. But layoffs are never as a result of negative growth.”

Even without layoffs, people do move around a lot in EDA. I asked Gilbert how he gets clients, whether they be employers looking for new employees, or employees looking for new employers.

Again he was candid: “A lot of people know me. I’m constantly calling on all of the principles in all of the companies. I know many things about the industry, the companies and their histories.

“There’s a saying: Better to be the big fish in a small pond. Here in EDA I’m the big fish, so when I talk to somebody, I know what I’m talking about.

“Although it’s normal for a company not to want to pay recruiting fees, in this day and age it’s near impossible to find good people. But when an opportunity presents that matches the profile of a [potential candidate], I am able to reach out to them.

“Which is why I stay in EDA. When I have to go out and find recruits for a job, I know the candidates to call.”

“People think recruiting is such an easy business,” Gilbert noted. “It’s just: Here is the candidate’s HDL skills, coding skills, and so on. But it can take weeks, if not months, to find a candidate for a company.”

As a result, Gilbert added, the companies have learned at last to hold on to valued employees.

“In the past,” he said, “Cadence for instance ran such a horrible ship. People were in and were out. There was a new manager every 6 months, and that was the case for years and years. But as the recession hit, Cadence got smarter and started figuring out that they needed to keep their people.

“Overall of the three big companies, Mentor has done the best job – they don’t lose people – and Synopsys is second.”

“Now [it’s harder than ever] to find employees. Companies like Altera are calling and asking for my help, it’s so hard for them to find good people.

“And it’s hard for me. I do my advertising and reach out, but people just aren’t leaving their jobs [like they did in the past].”

“You have to remember,” Gilbert expounded, “as opposed to IoT – where if you want a Java or Ruby developer, there are billions and billions of them, and billions of companies who employee them – in EDA, if you’re a place-and-route developer, where are you going to find [employment]? There are only the Big Three or ATopTech.

“And if you are in formal verification where there used to be at least ten companies, now there are so few.”

“Nonetheless,” he continued, “employers insist on narrowing down the reqs for a candidate, as do the candidates, so it’s very difficult to make a marriage. Everybody is so particular on both sides.

“The candidate says, I want $20,000 more than I’m earning at my current job. But within a few dollars, for each candidate I can tell you what the guy can get. It’s difficult enough to get the good companies to pay a recruiter [let alone pay substantially higher salaries] than industry standards.”

Where are the opportunities currently in EDA, I asked. What subset of the industry is hiring?

Gilbert replied, “There are no companies calling me up today and giving me 10 requisitions for new employees. It’s always just this analog company needs an additional Spice expert, or that company needs a strong SystemVerilog writer who also knows C++.

“These days, it’s always just one req here or two reqs there. No technology area is really hot – the companies are only hiring on an as-needed basis.”

In such an environment, I asked, is it necessary to have a Masters or PhD to succeed?

Gilbert responded, “I would say the majority of my candidates have Masters with X numbers of years of experience, or a PhD.

“Companies today say that they would consider a new PhD, but if instead there’s a candidate with a Masters and 10 years’ experience, [the latter] would be preferred.”

“And,” Gilbert added with emphasis, “they want relevant experience!

“Many times, I’ll have a back-end guy who says they can do front-end work, they’ll learn it, and they’re probably right. But from the hiring company’s perspective, they don’t have the bandwidth to dedicate to the training required.

“Alternatively, a candidate [who does have the proper skill set] is afraid they might betray the group at their current company by moving to a new opportunity – but that’s not true.

“The hiring company wants somebody who can come in and understand immediately what is going on. That doesn’t mean [revealing] trade secrets from a previous employer, but having the skill set to understand what the new employer is doing.”

“Being out of the industry for a period of time,” Gilbert noted, “is also a problem for candidates.

“Many times people will tell me they want to get back into EDA after a hiatus of a year or two, and that’s difficult. If it’s been 5 years, I say just forget it. For the hiring companies it’s all about how current you are, what you can immediately offer a company – offer immediately!”

So hold on to the current job to get that new job, I asked.

Gilbert conquered: “That’s right, and there’s more. When someone approaches me about a job change, I always ask them why they are unhappy with their current job. Why do they want to leave?

“If they say because maybe they can make more money, I always reply – No, never leave a job for more money! If you’re going to make $140,000 rather than $120,000, that will not change anything.

“You may not like your new boss any more than your last, and the company may not succeed. The grass is always greener, so NEVER leave a job for money, ever.

“Only move to a new job when [it’s part of a plan] to work on long-term goals!”

What if the goal is to leave EDA entirely, I asked, not to put too fine a point on things.

Gilbert replied, “That’s a different issue, the exit from EDA.

“The situation today is not as dramatic as it was 10 years ago or more, when the Internet came and the social media explosion started. Then the exit numbers were dramatic – people just wanted out of this boring industry.

“By most explanations, EDA is a boring industry with very limited room for creative marketing. How exciting can you make a new simulator, for instance. Not a lot of sizzle there to help bring in new grads, or keep support people or programmers interested enough in the industry to stay.

“Also, before there were stock options – employees got a nice bonus when the company was sold, but [even those opportunities have lessened].

“Nonetheless, the mass exodus out of EDA has slowed down as most of those other industries have also matured somewhat and the possibilities out there are not as great.

“So fortunately, the number of people trying to get out of EDA is not nearly what it was a few years ago. Our industry has somewhat stabilized, the people who want to do this type of mathematical work will stay, while those looking for the bright lights may still [want to leave].”

So where will this industry be in 10 years, I asked.

“You know,” Gilbert acknowledged, “I have talked to both Aart de Geus and Wally Rhines about this. Where do we go from here?

“Half the fun of being in EDA was the startups, but now there are so few of them. Remember the old DAC footprint where it took a full day to get across the exhibit hall, there were so many companies?”

“How do we make it that way again?” Gilber asked, and answered. “That’s the challenge.

“Clearly, Aart or Wally or Cadence aren’t crazy about more startups, so [not surprisingly] we’re not seeing an influx of new companies coming on board.

“You do see more design services, and more companies working to use EDA methodologies for different applications, but if the guys in the Big Companies don’t see a way to create an environment for startups …”

Gilbert left his sentence unfinished, and said instead, “These guys don’t buy smaller companies because they’re nice guys, but because they’re interested in what’s going on in those companies. And that’s why they should be encouraging startups!”

“And the startups,” Gilbert added, “should be doing more collaboration work between themselves. They should be coming together and figuring out how to offer a bigger piece of the pie.

“It’s very clear they’re enhancing the flow, so how they value themselves versus the really big companies is something they should be working together to [establish].

“None of the big companies are going to look out for them, so the small companies need to figure out how to partner with each other.”

Clearly Mark Gilbert’s concern for the industry is that of someone who knows everyone involved, at the big companies and the small companies. I asked him if, at this point, he has talked with just about everybody in EDA.

He laughed and said, “Actually, it’s almost embarrassing, I’ve talked with so many people. But when you’re as old as I am, it’s not surprising!”

“Although,” he said, again laughing, “it’s getting harder to remember when I see somebody: Is this guy a developer? Front end? Back end? Apps?

“But through the years, I have talked to a heck of a lot of people and it has been so much fun!

“It’s just fun to be a leader in an industry where you’re that big fish in the small pond. Knowing every company that’s doing business in EDA, the principles in the company, the space they’re competing in, and who’s competing against them.

“This is why I don’t leave EDA, and why I don’t plan to retire until I’m 86 – if there is still an EDA industry at that point.

“Again, though, every year it scares the crap out of me, because I lose one or more customers to acquisitions!”

So about that white suit, I said. Why?

That got the biggest laugh out of Gilbert: “It’s actually a great story!

“Probably 10 years ago or more, when DAC was still really big, it was Sunday night and I went to lay out my suit and iron my shirt, but it turned out I had grabbed the wrong outfit. All I had brought with me was an old tuxedo that was really disgusting.

“But it was already 11 pm and I had an appointment first thing the next morning. So I put on a white sports jacket that I had brought with me, and a pair of jeans, and went to my appointments the next day in that outfit instead.

“Immediately they started to call me ‘Miami Mark’ – and I simply capitalized on it.

“Since that time, at every appointment in the Valley, at every trade show, no matter where I am, I always have a white sports coat on. People know me as the guy with the white sports coat. It’s a real identifier.

“I’ve marketed the crap out of being noticeable. It’s the best mistake that ever happened in my life.

“And it goes to prove something I really believe. You can be destroyed by your mistakes, or learn from your mistakes. With my white coat, from the minute I walk into DAC, every few minutes people hail me: Hey Mark!

So you’re from Miami, I asked Miami Mark.

He laughed again: “The guy who got me involved in the industry was from the Valley, but moved to Miami. We became really good friends there. Eventually I got involved in his company, and the rest is history.

“Of course, I probably could not have done my business from here, but for the emergence of technology – the ability to email and look things up on the Internet.

“Today, it doesn’t really matter where you are.” he laughed. “I could be sitting on the beach and still be doing what I do!”



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