My reading in the summer of 2021 included a book by Patrick K. O’Donnell entitled “Indispensable: The Various Sailor Soldiers Who Formed the Country, Formed the Navy, and Rowed Washington Across Delaware.” The book tells the fascinating and largely forgotten story of fishermen from Marblehead, Massachusetts, a city 20 miles north of Boston, and their crucial role in the War of Independence.
Most of us who grew up in the U.S. get to know the iconic picture of George Washington crossing the Delaware River, unaware of the “Heathers,” as they are known, ferrying him across the river under cover of darkness in grueling conditions. This and many other acts of courage helped the upstarts of the United States of America win the War of Independence.
I can’t help but draw a parallel between the indispensable Marbleheaders and the extraordinary community of developers from the community of electronic systems designers and their tools that have supported the semiconductor industry since the 1970s. Of course, the developers of hardware and software design chips have not faced difficult conditions, lack of proper tools, starvation or financial collapse. For our community, our tools are indispensable and continue to be through every evolution (not revolution). They help catalyze innovation and technical breakthroughs, and, like various sailors, our diverse global community has helped shape the modern semiconductor industry.
A good example is Lucia Lanza, managing partner of Lanza techVentures, a member of the ESD Alliance, who often describes the transition from custom chips to semi-custom chips in the 1980s as a game change. Despite strong criticism, the transition to semi-custom design as a result of the efforts of pioneers in electronic design automation (EDA) Daisy, Mentor and Valid has expanded the range of design tools and engineering expertise. The expansion of the design space through the inclusion of semi-custom chips has led to the creation of a new community of engineers who have proven that they do not need to be experts to develop chips. It has also created a new market segment.
Another dramatic example is the introduction of logic synthesis technology in the late 1980s, the transfer of design from the transistor level to the gate level, then to the register transfer level and further to the abstraction level. The ability to design at higher levels of abstraction opened the door to a new kind of chip designers who had no experience designing circuits. It doesn’t take much imagination to determine which electronic device markets have benefited from this particular progress.
Other advances, too numerous to mention, are part of the ecosystem history of electronic system design. Today, especially the latest developments in semiconductor processes and new applications benefit from the creativity, ingenuity and tremendous talent found in the electronic systems design ecosystem – where electronics begin. Dean Draco, President and CEO of IC Manage, a member of the ESD Alliance and a member of our governing board, is passionate about the system design sector, which includes IP. He, like many of us, believes it is the greatest thing in the world because it is a combination of hardware and software design. “You need some of the smartest people in the world … because you need to know both hardware and software.”
The electronic system design ecosystem continues to provide powerful automation tools and a rich stock of semiconductor intellectual property important for complex chip design. Compared to the $ 500 billion semiconductor market, the electronic systems design ecosystem seems small – about $ 10-15 billion. However, like Marbleheaders, it plays a major role in chip development and also supports the development of new semiconductor processes.
The design automation and IP vendors are working closely with semiconductor foundries to develop the design platforms needed to support new cutting-edge processes, just as Headers did with General Washington and his senior lieutenants. This cycle of collaboration is well established and necessary to advance the semiconductor industry with new innovations in the process.
Appendix: One of us – Nanette Collins – grew up in Marblehead, which is considered the birthplace of the US Navy. Although she is originally from Chicago, she considers herself Heather. Ask her about the history of the city ever or if you visit Boston, ask her to show you around.
Robert (Bob) Smith is the CEO of the Electronic System Design Alliance. He previously served as Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Uniquify. He began his career in high technology as an analog engineer-designer who worked at Hewlett-Packard, and spent more than 30 years in a variety of positions, working in startups and early-stage companies including IKOS Systems, Synopsys , LogicVision and Magma Design Automation. He was a member of the IPO teams that brought out Synopsys Public in 1992 and Magma public in 2001. He received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from UC Davis and a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from Stanford.