a. Arduino/Raspberry pi related workshops
b. Autocad for inventor 2013 workshops
This is a repost of my answer on Quora .
Whether its hardware or software or any product, spend lot of time and energy in customer development . Finding out what users want and think they will pay for is more critical than what we think will be cool for them.
Since HW involves lot of capital, you need to get the above part right.Once you have it, you would need to figure out the device/product environment conditions aka environment limitations, regulatory restrictions/guidelines/requirement whatever you call and very likely you will be changing the product spec or operating conditions to match the new reality.
Then come up with product design (look and feel), in layman terms, the product casing or how users should feel like when they see the product. Very likely because of the product casing/packaging, you will very likely revise your spec again..
Next, from the spec you came up with talking to users etc, figure out what it translated to technical components. Like how many HDMI ports , VGA, optical . USB ports etc, what network interfaces you support, what will be the capacity of hard drive and whether it should be SSD etc..
In case of Apple-TV for example, you might need to video encoding/decoding etc, you need good video decoder…check who sells video decoder chips (probably ARM or imagination tech) , also depending what addln functionality you need, you will also need main CPU processor, so figure out if its going to be ARM or MIPS or Intel Atom ..While you are figuring this, also check the embedded OS you want the device to be running and then check if the compatibility of OS with HW at device driver level…
Check all potential vendors for each component and many times they give you sample pricing (typically in volume of 10K pricing …some times they might give you pricing for 1K pieces as well )
Once you have selected vendors, figure out the power consumption and see if the power budget makes sense.Figure out if you want to your device to be running both in Africa and Siberia ..Accordingly revise your power budget and therefore you will change product spec and/or product casing etc..
Next implement the design spec using platforms from upverter etc and simulate the design. Next select the PCB vendor who can do the design and manufacturing for you…Board design/packaging might impact lot of factors starting from Design spec all the way to casing etc..So this is important..
Add all the pricing and get the BOM (bills of materials) ..Check if the BOM makes sense for the price range you are planning to sell..If your initial BOM at this stage is for example 25$ , triple that number because you are still missing pcb design and manf, board packaging , yield, lab bring up , compliance testing , QA and other NRE costs…Now check if you are still making money for the price that your customer is willing to pay …If you initially planned to sell for 50$, but your BOM is around 75$, you are loosing money and unless you have lot of money where you can afford losses initially to gain traction, you might have to change your spec again..Most likely you will remove some components and/or reduce some components..for example you might say I will only add 2 HDMI instead of 4, you might reduce processor speed from 1GhZ to 750MHz etc…
Now go back to your customer and convince him that what you are still delivering is lot of value to him and you are still solving their pain points and only removing the nice to have features…If they agree, proceed further..
While you are doing all this, start your embedded and SW development process in parallel using developer or emulator prototyping boards…Have this ready first so that you can do the demo to potential customers/investors on how the product will perform once HW is done …Show them once manufactured, its plug and play ..get their reactions/feedback..very likely you might change your spec totally or part of it…Once you do this 2-3 times and feeling confident, accelerate your PCB board design and manufacturing and get the prototype out…As a start up ,never go for manf without getting SW/Embedded part ready ..Its more like a lean start up development model for hardware..
If you are building a ASIC like Apple does for their Apple-TV , its different on lot of other aspects and I wont recommend it unless you can raise 10-20M$ easily and can hire 10-20 HW engg team …Of course not every product needs an ASIC or even an FPGA and don’t have to rely on leading manf technologies….
As as others have commented , you need to worry if you are infringing IP or if you are creating IP, make IP protection as part of your design thinking and strategy process..You can start with a provisional patent to buy you time and give you a opp to figure if you still want to go ahead after the feedback from SW demo/product demo..
BTW, try to use opensource technologies and customize it where you can…especially the design tools..Some tools are very expensive…Some vendors give their tools free for folks using their IC platform…Another good advice is try to limit vendors as much as you can, it will save you lot of headaches on lot of areas…
I might have left lot of other pieces, but this should give you a good idea of the process involved..If you need details or clarifications, feel free to ping me..
I was just looking at some of the latest anouncements and the prototypes at the recent CES show and if you look at the trend and the products that consumers are crazy about, and if you want to sum it up..The market is all about how much personalization can the users do in the product. Every consumer wants to see himself/herself in the product..so what does this translate it to for the Semi-Conductor industry folks.. “ Personalization of Silicon “..
Look at the famous Apple IPOD ..Many see it as the symbol of the youth…So the closer the silicon is to the hearts the consumers, the better are the chances for product success…But this personalization all comes with a price…Everyone knows pricing is one key element which determines the reach and sucess of the product .
So, the big question is , how can the IC industry reduce its IC design and packaging (I mean chip packaging and not feature/product packaging ) costs and yet be profitable? The answer partly comes from the EDA industry. Automation of the design flow. It is the degree of automation and the accuracy of the results which it can deliver over a short span of time . Multi-million transistors ( 10M+ transistors) and SOC’s are becoming common and the TTM is becoming shorter day by day. For example, with-in few days/weeks of the Apple’s IPHONE announcement, LG released a similar competetive product with almost the same functionality as IPHONE. Imagine how fierece the competetion is. Each single day counts.
How can the design teams manage this pressure ? Marketing teams often wants to add new features in the last minute. People involved in the IC Design knows what this translates to. It is not a matter of simple ECO . Sometimes a small feature addition can lead to couple of weeks delay. I know a customer who has to do go through the entire design cycle twice as marketing asked them to add 2 more new features each time and this effected their tape-out schedules by 6 weeks..Not every Semi-conductor company can afford such a delay ( especially folks operating in Consumer Electronics market segment ). So , the solution doesnt come by adding few more engineers or simply delaying the product launch.. You need design tools which are smart enough to detect the incremental changes anywhere in the flow and automatically do the appropriate steps in the design flow with no or minimum intervention from designer.
Not many EDA companies are recognizing the importance of the automation and their perception of automation is awefully wrong. I would say in years to come, the company which manages to bring the true “automation” of the design flow to the industry will emerge as the real winner.
If your customer makes money, you make money. It is as simple as that.
BTW, You need engineers to find smarter ways to design and bring “true” personalization of the silicon
It is a long post (you are warned !!
I have been recently asked by someone as what it takes to be sucessful application engineer . So, I thought why not blog about ..Though much of it is written from EDA industry perspective, it applies for appln engineers in other industries as well. So, here it goes ….
1. Technical expertise : You have to be atleast good if not proficient in the domain..for example, lets say, if you are application engineer for a formal verification product, you need to have expertise in the FV techniques and good understanding as what logic/physical synthesis tools do in terms of optimization. Just mere tool knowledge will not suffice..
2. You should be a like a double edged sword ..You need to be able to understand the hardware design…be it RTL , Scan insertion , P&R or CTS and at the same time , you should be able to understand how the algorithm (tool) behaves (from software perspective..)..If you dont understand both, you will not be able to understand what the HW designer is trying to accomplish and at the same time, you will not be able to find out if the tool is missing any feature or is it a limitation of the technology and finally if it is a bug …one more important reason is , you might need to translate the designers intention into a feature speficiation and direct your R&D.
3. Business Sense : I think this is very important component for an Appln engineer. You need to be in constant touch with the customer and get feedback on the product. You should be able to sense the impact derived from that feedback. Whenever there is a oppurtunity to promote a new product, you should do so immediately and let your marketing/sales team know about it immediately. Just being technical is not enough.
Application engineer without good business sense can negatively impact the company he represents.
4. Pre-Sales : Ability to benchmark against the competitor and convince him about your products technical merits. Depending upon the competetion and product and domain in which you operate, this can be very intensive and grilling. Failure is not an option . A true winning aptitude and to do whatever it takes is absolute must. No compromises.
I’m not exagaretting , but it might involve some sacrifices like working during xmas or thanksgiving . Pre-Sales campaigns can very stressful and can burn a person. So, if you cant work under pressurized environment and have strict rules about your work timings, then you might not like this role. Believe me there are some customers who keep evaluating for very long time or they evaluate now and then re-evaluate after couple of months and there are reasons why they do like this ( first and foremost reason is to check the quality of the tool ) . So it is tiresome and it requires willingness to walk that extra mile to win the benchmark is a must.
5. Post-Sales/Deployment : A succesful tech campaign and business(pre-saleS) win is the starting step. The 20/80 rule applies here ( 80% of the business comes from 20% of your customers). So, sucessful deployment of the product across the depth and breadth of the company is key . It will also gives Sales folks a chance to push other products
into the company. Dedicated and fast support is one of the strategies. Providing support for their first tapeout with your company’s product is another key. A sucessfull deployment also means to work with the design methodology groups,designers ( front end and backend ), understanding their design goals and issues ; resolving their issues . It might be necessary to come up a design methodlogy /flow either on a project basis or company wide . A constant interaction with the design team is a must . This also helps the appln engineer to see what is lacking and fill in the gaps either through scripting or getting R&D implement the missing features and enhance the product.
6. Evangelism : Not many folks know about this. Some people mix this with the marketing. This is virually non-existent in EDA/semiconductor industry. Marketing is more about the product , evangelism is creating a community around the product. Who else can be a better person other than the appln engineer to do this?
7. Customer Facing Skills : Only few people have this skill and like to be infront of customers. You need to have some thick skin and take all the yelling ..Imagine when you are presenting or giving a demo to a customer and your tool crashes everytime you invoke it , scary is’nt it? okk..lets ease up a bit, it crashes only few times, how can you face the customer now? You should be able to ease and control the situtation …I can list hundreds of scenarios like this . It also takes a great deal of energy to say NO to a customer. Believe me its not an easy situtation. You need to be diplomatic when saying so sothat relationships are’nt hurt . It all comes by experience and ability to dynamically change the situtation on the fly
8. Issue Management : Very important skill . Should be in constant touch with the customer , track down the issues and have a proper resolution to all their issues with a fix schedule . It is important that the customer acknowledges and is actually OK with the fix schedule.If the schedule is missed for any issue, customer should be informed immediately.
9. Time management : Ability to multi-task is a must.
10. Debugging Skills: If you are not good in debugging or cant debug fast enough, you dont fit to be an Appln engineer.
11. Attitude : Having a proper attitude and ability to learn things fast is necessary to suceed in the job. You might need to learn different technologies, products/tools to perform your job better.
12. Peer-Peer Commn : Try to maintain peer-peer communication. There is no book which teaches on how to debug faster or perform each of the above skills I mentioned sofar. It is only through peer-peer communication you can learn . You might have an experienced AE in your organization, who can give you pointers ; its not that you cant solve it , Its that the other AE has done it 100 times and so knows the common pitfalls . You can avoid doing the same mistakes and save your valuable time.
13. Product Strategy : This requires knowledge in competitors products and its features , different technologies , business sense. Only then you will be able to place the product strategically infront of the customer.
14. Licensing Model : It is not essential , but very good skill to posses and understand how the licensing works like what features can be licensed ( to understand this, you need to justify why the customer will pay for this in the first place ) . If you know of any other venues through which you can generate a revenue for your software, it surely helps the Sales organization. Remember sales fix everything
In short, appln engineer is best evangelist an EDA company can have. He is the face of the company , best knowledgeable (technical) person who can deliver solutions out of the box, best person who has access to people who use the tool and therefore can promote the product to real decision influentiers , best person to give feedback to the marketing and sales organization, drive the product usability in the field, enhance and validate the product ( and its features) ;
So sounds like fun job right!! Atleast I love it and I’m being constantly challenged with newer technologies , products, sales and marketing campaigns:)
I would appreciate any feedback or comments.
I have been hearing about the design/IP reuse from time to time. Today there was an article on EE times which can read by clicking this link Design-Reuse
I think many big companies have adopted the reuse methodology and realize the benefits of it. Even small-medium companies re-use the blocks or IP’s in most of their chips. So, I dont think there is any need to keep repeating the importance over and over again. Most of the companies cut down their design cycle time and costs using this reuse methodology. I think now one should look forward and see if they can get good prototyping flow . I recently worked on prototyping efforts and it correlated very well with 90nm , 130nm and 180nm. For 65nm and below, special considerations have to be adopted like taking the account of parasitic effects . With this flow, the time to achieve timing closure is significantly smaller as designer gets early feedback.
I would appreciate if anyone has any experience in developing/using the prototyping flow and can share their concerns. It will be very informative and good discussion.
I often see some startup companies especially EDA companies ,which have big aspirations of going for IPO sometime down the lane ( ofcourse every CEO with help from CFO talks about taking the company to IPO)….but if we analyze how some companies are run in terms of their strategies, it wouldnt take much time to realize that their goals are not aligned with their vision….these startup companies forge a relationship with biggies in their field as partners/alliance . They dont (dont want to ) compete with the big companies in terms of their product offerings..they offer complimentary products which go along with the main stream products…essentially they are nice to have and not must have…so how can these companies grow and build a good revenue stream??
For example, take four companies companies , startup company A, a relatively young company B which is still pre-IPO , some tier II company C ( normally categorized based on revenue) and a tier I companies D and E . Company A has many products which all might be integrated and sold as suite of tools or maybe point tools which can be sold seperately depending on how the sales folks want to … all/most of the products they offer work along with the products of C,D and E. The current situtation in the EDA market is, company A is building relationships with B,C,D and E and is positioning itself strategically sothat it has no competitors and it doesnt get biten by the aggressive Tier I or Tier II companies….But what company A is not realizing is..this way of forging relationships doesnt help the company in long run as they wont have much space to grow and they cant increase their revenue stream by just refining their existing products or adding nice to have features…Company shouldnt get lost or spend all of its energy on how to survive…it should rather formulate a strategy which helps the company to survive and generate revenue ( by having a cashcow product) and then it should be able to quickly have products which can differentiate itself from the rest and compete either alone or with the help of alliance it has formed earlier…
In our example earlier, If companies C,D and E cancel their partnerships and they start to offer the features which company A has planned, it doesnt take much time for the company A to look for potential buyers… Companies can forge relationships and alliances, but when creating strategies, it has to do it in such a way that it has space to grow and the alliance helps it in creating even more powerful products and has created uncontested market space…. To create that you need :
1. World class R&D team : From my experience, I see that customers prefer products which which cuts costs ,time or both if you are in EDA…There are many EDA companies whose value proposition lies in simple economic fundaes like reducing time and money spent on other main implementation based tools…there are about 10-12 startup companies operating in EDA space
with this value proposition..
2.Marketing ppl who can brandize the product, a good example is that of XeroX…When they entered India, they marketed it so much..ppl often refer Photocopying as Xerox..you can see Xerox machines everywhere ( not photocopying machines!!) …whatever you do, the customer
should be able to feel it…it should revolutionalize the way your customers think about it…Apple IPOD is one decent example,
3. Sales folks who can sell ice to eskimos and
4. Appln engineers : who can help customers and make them realize the product value ..thereby bringing more business/revenue to the company..remeber the 80/20 rule…80% of the revenue comes from 20% of the customers…so make these exisiting customers happy and bring in more customers by delivering the product value…
and Ofcourse, you need to have good CEO who has vision thats executable and backed by good executives who can strategize the business and take it down the straight path …path which leads to IPO…..
Cisco On-stage Telepresence : http://www.musion.co.uk/Cisco_TelePresence.html
Hand Cellular tech ad from QCOM ( its friggin cool) :
I’ll continue to update these links as and when I find something interesting in Hardware/Semiconductor space.
Check this link : http://www.nvidia.com/object/balancedpc.html and then scroll down and click “launch configurator”
Heres the config I came up with..its best among the given comb if choices..
Single chips have become a commodity and some chips just cost less than a dollar or some
consumer electronics centric chips like wireless/3g/ etc might cost less than 10$ depending on the volume…a can of coke seems to be more expensive than some components today, so in what form can the semi vendor can add value and get profits? where is the value chain now?
I believe the answer comes from the consumers itself. Many of the consumers now want a “system” which can do multiple things and not just specific functionality..If you translate into semi world, its essentially “system on chip” and ITS the Software which is driving this value chain and will continue for couple of more yrs I think..Look at product/architecture offering of picochip,Bitwave Semiconductors or Qualcomm MSM7200 ..they are not just chips ,they are already “systems” aka “chipsets” . All the configuration/reconfiguration etc is all done via software. More and more apps via SW are developed using the development platform these vendors provide, the real value that’s driving the innovation seems to be coming from SW…
May be I didn’t have enough coffee today yet , but if any of the readers disagree or has anything to share, I would love to hear your perspective as well…