January 15, 2007
Lamentation & Loss
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Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor

by Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor
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"Among the places they visited was General Electric, where I was managing the advanced EDA group. One of the things we were developing at the time was synthesis, dynamically creating netlists from high-level descriptions. That was the first time I met Rich Newton. I had dinner with him, Don Pederson, and Ron Roher, who was my advisor and originator of the SPICE program."

"Rich was very intrigued by synthesis and believed that it would be the next big thing. When it became clear that we were going to start Synopsys, Rich got involved. I realized that both Rich Newton and [U.C. Professor] Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli were the engineers in the industry, so having them involved was a good thing."

"Rich helped to crystallize the vision and helped connect us up with funding. He also connected us with some of his graduate students, including Deirdre Hanford who joined Synopsys. She moved up the ranks in the company over these 20 years, and is currently running all of our support and services on a worldwide basis. Rich had an influence on many people who have had an impact in EDA."

"I think Rich really hit his stride in his role as Dean at U.C. Berkeley. It was the place and time for him when everything came together – his love for academia and engineering, his love for Berkeley, his ambition for a school which is as diverse as any place in the universe. He felt completely at home there, and brought his entrepreneurial intensity and experience to his role as dean. His ability to manage research, to raise funding, to advocate for the school on a worldwide basis – in his position as dean, his work was a culmination of all of his previous preparation."

Dr. de Geus added, "Rich Newton had a life energy that was fantastic. He took on absolutely everything with enthusiasm. In looking back over the years at Synopsys, particularly during some of the tougher times, I now wish I had been more capable of going into all of the exciting discussions that I might have had with him. But often we were just too busy, day to day, toiling away at the reality of implementation, while Rich was rushing headlong into life."

"When Rich's wife spoke at the memorial held in his honor last Saturday, she said in her closing comments that even she had had difficulty at times engaging with him because his energy and enthusiasm were that overwhelming."

"I feel deeply sad at Richard's passing, but I know that each of us takes something from him, consciously or unconsciously. Ultimately that is what is called a legacy, the change the one can bring about in others that has a lasting impact. His passing reminds us all that time is precious."


After I spoke with Dr. de Geus, I also had a chance to chat with MIT's Srini Devadas about his advisor and friend, Richard Newton. Dr.Devadas told me that in his current capacity as head of Computer Science at MIT, he has had a lot of interactions in recent years with Dr. Newton, particularly at various dean's conferences around the country:

Professor Devadas said, "Richard was a true and articulate visionary. A real superstar among the deans across the country. Perhaps the best dean who has ever served at any time at any school. And he was gifted in more than just leadership. He was technically very deep. He could synthesize from his many observations of what people were doing in academia or industry, and then pick out what would be the most important technology going forward."

"Certainly, Richard saw the promise of synthesis when it was emerging during the era of schematic capture. And although some of the things that Richard identified as important may seem obvious now, at the time it took a true visionary to see the value. He really was amazing."

Dr. Devadas began as a graduate student in Richard Newton's lab in Cory Hall on the Berkeley campus in 1985. He told me that in that era, the group of young graduate students working under the direction of Dr. Newton and Dr. Sangiovanni-Vincentelli had the best of all possible worlds. They had inspired leadership from two of the giants in EDA, and were all mentored in an open and stimulating environment where everyone worked hard together in a true spirit of collaboration.

"In those days," Srini said, "Richard and Alberto had set up a beautiful environment for all of us. We had open cubicles where we could hear other people arguing around us and could jump into the conversation at any time with an idea. Richard and Alberto were around all the time, even working late into the night with all of us when we were on deadline. I always felt they were there to help me."

Dr. Devadas said that in the recent years, as Richard Newton moved into the realm of superstar, people watched him in awe. No one could predict what his next accomplishment would be. In fact, Devadas said that many thought Richard Newton would be a spectacular chancellor, or would even run for public office. "Richard had the ability to excite people," Dr. Devadas said. "It was a gift."

Srini Devadas himself is no stranger to this driving, high-energy lifestyle, but he recounted a story of his early days at Berkeley when he realized what it really meant to work hard. He had only been in Richard Newton's lab for a few months when he was working late on a Thursday night on a paper that he and Dr. Newton were submitting for consideration for DAC 1986. Late that evening, he went to see Richard Newton and asked him to review the paper because it had to be posted in the mail early the next morning.

Richard Newton asked Srini why he was using the mail, and not using FedEx. Dr. Newton said, "We can send this Saturday night via FedEx and it will get there in plenty of time. You can work on this for two more days!"

Srini Devadas had only recently arrived from India and said he had no idea what FedEx was. When he asked Richard Newton to explain, Newton said, "FedEx allows us to work hard on something right up to the last minute, and still submit it in time to meet the deadline."

Dr. Devadas said that he learned something crucial when Richard Newton then said, "In fact, if any of us are not using FedEx, we're not working hard enough!"

Now more than 20 years later, Srini Devadas said he continues that tradition in his own work and leadership style at MIT. And, he said his affection and admiration for Richard Newton have grown even deeper over the twenty-some years since they first met. Professor Devadas told me that Richard Newton's passing away has made him realize all the more that there is so much to do in life, and far less time than any of us could imagine in which to accomplish it all.


Kurt Keutzer also had a final message about time in the closing moments of our conversation this morning. He said, "It's a cliché we have all heard that no one on their death bed wishes they had spent more time at the office. That was certainly true in Richard's case. I’m certain that if he had had gotten a reprieve from his illness, he would have spent his time catching up with his own life and his family. Richard's death has got me looking at the balance in my own life."

Dr. Keutzer ended by saying, “Berkeley is a campus of many talented people. People will come forward to fulfill Richard's vision and life will go on. But no one can fill the hole that he has left in the lives of his family. Or in the lives of those many of us who were counted among his friends. I cannot imagine that he is gone."


Peggy Aycinena is Editor of EDA Confidential and Contributing Editor to EDA Weekly.

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-- Peggy Aycinena, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.

Review Article
  • Thanks January 15, 2007
    Reviewed by 'Michael Williamson'
    Thanks for taking the time to help us all reflect on what really matters. I was a graduate student in EECS at Berkeley and got to see Richard Newton in action there, and later I joined Cadence, one of the companies he founded. And I observed with interest his dynamic style as he took on the role of engineering dean. But through your portrait of his life and impact, as inspiring as those are, you also help us to remember the personal loss to those who were his friends and loved ones. You remind us all that no matter what our achievements, great or small, our lives are fleeting, and those achievements must be put in perspective and left behind as we go to meet our maker.

      3 of 3 found this review helpful.
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