March 05, 2007
Characterization – Altos Design Automation
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Design Automation is a startup that provides ultra-fast, fully-automated
characterization technology for the creation of library views for timing,
signal integrity and power analysis and optimization. The
Jose company has two products, Liberate and
Variety. Liberate is
a standard cell and I/O library creator. It generates electrical cell views for
timing, power and signal integrity including current source models (CCS, CCSN
and ECSM). Variety is an ultra-fast
standard cell characterizer of process variation aware timing models. It
generates libraries that can be used with multiple statistical timing analyzers
without requiring re-characterization for each unique format.
I recently had an opportunity to talk with Jim McCanny, CEO and co-founder.
Would you provide us with a brief biography?
been in EDA for my entire career. I
started my professional life as an EDA developer at Texas Instruments, working
internal tools: logic simulation, timing analyzers, Pcell editors, testability
analyzer. You name it and I probably put
my fingers on it. After about 10 years I
left there. I got an opportunity to move
out here to the Valley and join a startup called EPIC Design. I came out here in 1990 and was at EPIC
through its IPO. I stayed at EPIC for 6
years. At EPIC I started out working as
their engineering manger. Then I kind of
segwayed into being a developer on their transistor level timing tool, PathMill. From there I ended up working for the field
organization on major accounts. That
came about because as we tried pushing PathMill we found that the tool was very
much aligned with major accounts, firms like Intel, AMD and TI. I spent a lot of my time working with these
people. The situation became such that I
had to spend my time either with the accounts or spend my time with the
code. I decided to try something
new. I moved to the dark side as they
say and have been there ever since.
After EPIC I went to Ultima. I
joined their marketing department. After
being at Ultima for about a month the
CEO left and I was given the job of acting president of the company and also
running marketing. I did that for about
18 months. Then I teamed up again with
some of my old EPIC colleagues at CadMOS.
At CadMOS I was VP of Marketing.
About 3 years later Cadence acquired us.
I spent 4 years at Cadence as Marketing Director for Timing and Signal
Integrity. Then some of the CadMOS team
left to start up Altos. Six months later
they contacted me and said that they would like me to come on board as CEO. They were great guys. I knew them from a personal working
relationship. I was positive that they
had the technical skills to do something distinctive. Further the area they were working on was a
problem that was not getting much attention from the big players. It looked like a great opportunity, so here I
am. I have been at Altos since July
You said that you went over to the dark side. Which side was more interesting, more challenging, more satisfying?
have equal amounts of interesting stuff.
Having spent so many years on the technical side, it was interesting to
try something new but still be able to leverage what I had learned on the
technical side. On the technical side
you tend to be point focused on one customer, one user. You can add a feature or make a change that
helps one user and it is satisfying that that you are having an impact. But when you go into marketing, you can make
pretty broad strokes that have impact across a whole market. That was new, exciting and very fulfilling,
especially at a small company like CadMOS where we had to evangelize signal integrity,
which was a new issue. People would
rather ignore some of these issues that are coming along. You get some resistance. Not only did we build a successful company we
transformed the digital design flow.
They had to have signal integrity as part of the flow. We had a lot of influence on how signal
integrity was measured and how it could be dealt with in the design flow.
marketing side appeals to sort of the broad strokes. Occasionally you miss the one-on-one
connection with the end user, particularly when you get to Cadence and you know
you would be doing things on a broad scale.
But when you make contact with a customer, you never got to see them
through an entire project. At EPIC we
were working a lot with Intel and AMD, going down and spending a couple of days
a week, working onsite with these guys, seeing their issues and the progress
they were making on their big microprocessors.
That was very satisfying too. I
like both. The good thing about being in
a small startup is that you stay close to the technology without having to
spend all the evenings and hours writing code.
Once you start writing code, it sort of drags you down. You have to spend so much time thinking about
it. It can become very isolating after
some time. So I think the dark side has
its benefits in the sense that it is a little more social and you get to
interact with more people.
Large firms often acquire smaller
firms for their technology. This gives
the founders and the investors an opportunity to cash in. However, it would appear that a lot of
employees eventually drift away from the larger employers because of the
difference in environments.
Yes. I think the big companies are nice in terms
of the security and the hours are a better (not a lot but a little better). There are some more benefits but everybody
likes to feel useful. At times at a big
company like Cadence, you may work with a customer and then the sales guy will
do an all-you-can-eat deal. You have no
idea whether the little piece you worked on was important or not. You can’t relate what you do to the bottom
line. In small companies everybody is
involved. Everyone gets to experience
the highs and lows. They understand what
they do really matters. Once you have
had that kind of excitement, that drug, it is hard to give it up. You can wear yourself out in a startup and
then go spend a few years in a big company, make some good contacts and find
your feet again. Then you just feel like
it is time to do something new again, to get out there. At least that was it for me. I felt
that Cadence was very good to me. I had
no complaints. They had great people
there. There were interesting things to
work on but I missed the excitement of being at a smaller company, really
interacting with the customers and the developers, and working with a very
focused team. The reason EDA has so many
startups is not only the potential to get acquired. You can grow the company to a large size and
make good money. It is very exhilarating
to solve real problems for customers and work very closely with the technical
team. You feel like you are changing the
world a little bit.
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-- Jack Horgan, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.