The rolling hills of Northern California are preternaturally green today. With wild abandon the camellias rush to bloom. But the siren song of spring, urging the grasses to grow and the tulip magnolias to flower deep in the midst of winter, belies the veil of sorrow that shrouds the highways and byways of the intellectual and entrepreneurial community here.
At this writing, it has been 7 days since U.C. Berkeley's Richard Newton slipped away. A great man has died and a light has gone from the world. It is a time of lamentation and loss. A time of inconsolable sorrow.
I talked to U.C. Berkeley Professor Kurt Keutzer today. He was a great friend of Richard Newton's. Dr. Keutzer told me that “Richard was that rare friend that one is blessed with only once or twice in lifetime. He was someone with whom you could discuss a new start-up idea, quote Shakespeare, discuss the future of electronic-design automation, take a serious hike in the woods, debate whether the Internet would be good for the third world, or just sit and meditate. He was among just a few friends that I looked forward to growing old with."
He added, "And Richard was in his prime. He was becoming more inspired with each passing year. He had a vision that challenged the world, and he had the personality to communicate that vision. Richard had been evolving in this regard over the last 20 years, with each year being better than the last. In fact, in these last few years, all of my conversations with him involved his talking about what is good for the planet, for humankind, for the world. That's a very unique perspective for an engineer, and particularly for someone who was at Richard's level of influence as the Dean of the School of Engineering at a major university like Berkeley. That is what I will miss, and our entire
community will miss intensely."
Emeritus Professor Ernest Kuh was Dean of the School of Engineering at U.C. Berkeley in the 1970's and, like Dr. Newton, received the Phil Kaufman Award for significant contributions to EDA. I spoke with Dr. Kuh yesterday about Richard Newton and EDA. He said, "I met Richard 30 years ago when he arrived as a graduate student to study under Don Pederson. We have been very close ever since. Richard was a towering figure in EDA, in the university, and in society."
"There is no doubt that Richard did outstanding work in circuit simulation, and later in timing analysis and software development. However, I believe his most important contribution to EDA was to help start many companies – more than a half dozen, including Cadence and Synopsys. In that sense, he essentially identified the companies that became the giants in the industry. It was a great contribution. But Richard made other contributions which were even broader and will have an even bigger impact over time."
"Richard was absolutely one of the very best deans across the country, and he had this very unusual ability. He could work with anybody. He encouraged people in their work – faculty, students, and colleagues. He excelled at fund raising, alumni relations, and building the campus. After he became dean, five and a half years ago, he began to change his technical interests. He developed so many different things, not just new areas of study. He founded the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society at Berkeley, CITRIS, which is one of the four major research centers in the U.C. System today. It is a multi-disciplinary center which looks at energy, health, and
transportation, as well as the needs of the poorer countries."
"With CITRIS underway, he also became very interested in synthetic biology and talked about doing something to develop ideas in that area. He also made a huge impact internationally. He developed ties between the University of California and China, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, and so forth."
Dr. Kuh added, "And Richard Newton was a wonderful person. At his memorial service last Saturday in Zellerbach Hall on campus, many people spoke. The Governor sent a letter, Richard's two daughters sang beautifully, and his wife spoke eloquently. Zellerbach Hall was filled. It was an amazing turnout. Everyone spoke about Richard's vision, his entrepreneurship, and his abilities. How he encouraged people to think and accomplish things. Certainly, Richard was an outstanding dean and made an impact in engineering, but it is his impact on society as a whole, his vision of a progressive, inclusive future for humanity that will be his greatest legacy."
"Richard Newton was a brilliant person. But more importantly, he was absolutely charming. We have all suffered a terrible loss."
Kurt Keutzer said today, "Richard really does leave a legacy. For one thing, he has a legacy of graduate students who have gone on to accomplish great things. Srinivas Devadas, for instance, was one of Richard's students and is now Associate Head of EECS at MIT. Res Saleh, founder of Simplex, was also one of Richard's students. Richard's legacy of graduate students alone would have been enough for an ordinary mortal professor, but he had many achievements in other areas, as well."
"Richard was the first director of the Gigascale Systems Research Center at Berkeley, one of the largest funded research centers on campus. If he hadn't outdone that achievement with the CITRIS center, the Gigascale Center alone would have been a crowning achievement for any mortal professor."
"Also, Richard worked with Professor Eric Brewer, Tom Kalil, and others to establish their Peace Corps-like project that is helping to bring technology to the third world. This is more than just a theoretical problem presented to students in a course. The group has raised the funds and sent students out to actually do the work. Again, enough for any mortal professor, but not for Richard."
"He has had a long-standing interest in synthetic biology, and it was literally his dying wish that a Berkeley Institute of Synthetic Biology be established. For most people who went through the suffering that he endured over this past several months with his pancreatic cancer, the wish would been to get people behind cancer research. But not for Richard. He just kept re-emphasizing the importance of synthetic biology, and at this point there's no doubt that's going to happen. There's a ground swell of support for such an institute, with Paul Gray and others spearheading the effort on the Berkeley campus."
"All of this was part of Richard bringing altruism forward as a perfectly legitimate enterprise. To have someone of Richard's intelligence and stature pushing an altruistic agenda forward, that was an amazing thing about his life – particularly in these last few years. At a time when concerns about money and personal gain appear to be at the forefront of students' minds, he made it seem perfectly natural, as a matter of course within engineering, to be concerned about the rest of the people on the planet. A memorial to Richard doesn’t require hyperbole, but honestly, when I think Who else could do that?’ the only name that comes to mind is John F. Kennedy. Many of us
thought that Richard would expand his sphere of influence into politics in the years to come."
"And," Dr. Keutzer added, "Richard reflected that same sense of commitment in his personal life. At the party for his 50th birthday, there were a series of toasts. It was striking to me that person after person said, 'If there was only one person I could turn to in a pinch, it would be Richard Newton.' The altruism that Richard felt for the planet was also demonstrated in his commitment to his friends. He was a person of unshakable personal loyalty."
"Of course, at times I used to rib him: Yeah, yeah – founder of Cadence and Synopsys. Sure."
"So one day, he actually brought in the original incorporation papers for Solomon Design Automation to show me that his name was there. As you know, Jim Solomon's company eventually merged with ECAD to become Cadence, so I stopped ribbing Richard about it. As far as Synopsys is concerned, you should really call Aart de Geus and get that story straight from him."
I took Kurt Keutzer's suggestion and spoke with Synopsys CEO & Founder Aart de Geus about Richard Newton and the beginnings of Synopsys. Dr. de Geus told me, "Rich Newton was at Berkeley at the time, working on a variety of EDA things primarily in simulation. He had built up an industrial relations program where various EDA people from industry would come to Berkeley and fund research. In addition, Rich and his mentor, Don Pederson, would go out and visit industrial locations."
"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.
You can find the full EDACafe event calendar here.
To read more news, click here.
-- Peggy Aycinena, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.