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Saying good-bye at EE Times

Posted on | June 29, 2007 | No Comments

What follows is the last column I wrote this week for EE Times, after spending 15 great years there. (I posted a little about last week and expect more in the days and weeks to come).

Fifteen years ago, I joined EE Times, taking a job as business editor. I knew it was a great publication and I vaguely understood that semiconductors and software was fascinating stuff that I should know about. I figured technology was the place to be, and working for EE Times was like covering Hollywood for Daily Variety.

What I failed to appreciate at the time was just how much electronics design was about to transform the world.

While I covered murder, mayhem, politics, sports and various other industries in my pre-EE Times days, what struck me about this industry was its (italics) industry, (end italics) first, and its passion. The number of chumps I’ve met in the past two decades I can count on one hand; the number of people who have gone out of their way to inform and educate me and, by extension, you, incalculable. I cannot repay that debt.

Steve Weitzner, now CMP Media LLC’s CEO, hired me – I think on whim—and Ron Wilson took me under his wing in our Silicon Valley bureau. I learned how to think critically by trying to absorb their astonishing intellect. For years, Richard Wallace was my boss. He was also the soul of EE Times, so passionate and energetic that he left it on the field after every day’s work — and so did everyone else because to do less, we understood implicitly, was to fail not Wallace but our readers.

And I learned from every one of the fantastic people who were or are with EE Times. It’s the best lineup the electronics industry has ever seen. Some of them you know; most you don’t but they’re this paper’s secret sauce.

Yet it was the people in the Valley—whether “the Valley” was in Texas, Oregon, Boston, Shanghai, Tokyo, Munich or London—who really opened my eyes to the heady mixture of technology, risk and optimism.

Jeff Katz, formerly of Atmel, John Greenagle, now with the SIA but then with AMD, the late Bernie Vonderschmitt of Xilinx and the late Rodney Smith of Altera, Stan Baker, Wally Rhines, Gene Franz, Tom Hart, John East, Gordon Moore, Chris Rowen (and his dad!), Wilf Corrigan, Aart DeGeus, Jack Harding, James Truchard, Naveed Sherwani, Wolfgang Ziebart, Ralph Schmitt, John Daane, David Hu, John Deng, Dan McCranie, Ed Begun… I can’t name them all. Everyone had something better and more important to do than to talk to me about technology and business. Yet they didn’t. This (italics) was (end italics) the most important thing to them. Part of it was because they had an avenue to you; but part of it was because they just love the business and technology and all the possibilities. The passion among these guys is more intense than any other industry I’ve covered.

The best part of the job? Interviewing people. Two of the best: Cypress CEO T.J. Rodgers and Joe Costello, former Cadence CEO. A lot of people think T.J. is all about PR and bravado. What they don’t realize is he can talk about the industry all the way from transistor design to immigration-policy issues and with intense granularity. Costello could frame complex issues in EDA like no one’s business. That Joe isn’t in the industry and the industry is struggling is not coincidental.

The other best part of the job? Writing for you. It’s the best audience in publishing: Smart, articulated, thoughtful and opinionated. Many of you are outstanding copy editors. Others would make great story editors. Richard Myers, a reader in Denver, might be a distant relative: He responded to a column I wrote by informing me that I was “a jackass.” I framed that email, and told him that he wasn’t the first with that insight.

We—all of us engaged in this industry—are different than we were in 1992. But the changes the industry is undergoing now are different than those of the past. From the 1960s to the late 1990s, new technologies exploded out of your minds almost like acid trips, transforming science fiction into packaged products on store shelves and arcane concepts into household words. The cultural conversation shifted from “it can’t be done” to “what can’t we do?” And few people had answers for that question.

Electronics design is now a victim of its own success. As a culture, we expect electronics everywhere, but the problem for the creators of technology is we demand your solutions to be simple and low-cost. That’s as it should be. Semiconductors and systems are now a baseline—the steel framing—of business innovation that is leveraging cheap or free software.

The challenge for engineers who want to remain well paid and competitive on a global scale is to evolve the profession into areas like the biosciences and alternative energy. The Chinese scare everyone, but it’s never as bad as it seems. They are fantastic low-cost designers right now and will improve with time. But we’ve seen recently (pet food, tooth paste, and rubber tires to name three) that not everything China touches turns to gold.

The other challenge is that the design of electronics systems will be in the hands of your neighbor in 10-15 years, and your neighbor won’t need an engineering degree to do it; just a nimble mind. Ridiculous? Not at all. Ten years ago people didn’t understand what creative enablement the Internet plus open-source software would bring.

You got into this business to solve problems; you’ll solve these problems as well. I got into this business because it was something I didn’t know and wanted to learn about. It’s been the best and longest stretch of my career to date. It’s time to move on and search out new unknowns to learn about. Thanks for the opportunity to write and report for you. It’s been a privilege.


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No Responses to “Saying good-bye at EE Times”

  1. Mike Santarini
    June 29th, 2007 @ 5:37 pm

    You are a class act, Brian. Best of luck! Keep on keep’n on

  2. John Graff
    July 2nd, 2007 @ 1:47 pm

    Brian, the role you played in shaping the industry, the players and the personalities should not be overlooked. It was truly a pleasure to work with you. And I hope when you next get to Austin, we can grab some good Texas BBQ! Best of Luck!!

  3. Michele
    July 4th, 2007 @ 5:13 pm

    Steve and Rich cast long shadows to be sure – but you were never overshadowed by them. You underestimate your contribution… you always did.

  4. Anonymous
    July 24th, 2007 @ 11:02 pm

    Brian, it has always been a pleasure to read your witty articles. I’ll miss the time when all the senior editors were working together to make EET a really good publication…However, the time has gone, and the industry is changed…

  5. Ronnie Vasishta
    August 1st, 2007 @ 3:43 pm

    Brian, I will miss your insight, openness and the potential to meet you on more panels. I hope that our paths cross and that you will also find a way to still contribute to this great industry….Ronnie.

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