Featured Engineer

Interview with Dave Rich

Dave Rich

Dave Rich - Design Verification Technologist; Mentor Graphics Corporation

How did you get into electronics/ engineering and when did you start?

I had a very early start and knew long before I started college that I wanted to be a computer engineer. My dad was an electrical engineer for Grumman, working on the video electronics for Apollo’s Lunar Lander. When I was around 10, he started an audio/visual business where I helped him install and repair AV equipment. I continued with a similar job with our student A/V center in college.

My first introduction to computer hardware was in the 1970s. CBS Labs donated a pair of Digital PDP-8’s to our high school. My introduction to programming began by toggling the switches on the front panel flash and making the lights flash in funny patterns. In college, I had a summer job as a graphic computer operator digitizing PCB and IC layouts into a CALMA system and helping to create netlists that fed into a simulator. That made me well prepared for my first job after college writing custom hardware simulators at Data General in Massachusetts in 1981.

What are your favorite hardware tools that you use?

About the only hardware tools I touch these days are computer keyboards. I still have a Fluke 8000A multimeter that I use to fix things around the house, as well as test boxes of batteries used in all the toys and electronics by my four boys.

What are your favorite software tools that you use?

Questa, of course PERL comes in a close second. PERL is the glue of the software tool world.

What is the hardest/trickiest bug you have ever fixed?

I don’t have any one in particular.

Most of my job requires me to find bugs in our customer’s designs, or in our own software. The hardest part is when customers cannot disclose, or have difficulty explaining what their problem is. All they say is that it just “doesn’t work.” Sometimes it takes weeks of wordsmithing to get to the root of their problem. Usually there is some race condition that shows up one way in our tools and another way in our competitor’s tools.

What is on your bookshelf?

“Soul of a New Machine” by Tracy Kidder. My first job out of college was at Data General just prior to the release of this book. We all thought it would get turned into a movie and had fun guessing who would play whom. Too bad that never happened. The technology in the book may have changed, but after 30 years, the life of a young engineer is the same. So it’s still a very relevant book today.

Do you have any note-worthy engineering experiences?

My favorite and most note-worthy experience was to be a part of the team at Gateway Design Automation that developed the Verilog Hardware Description Language. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time in the industry and in my life. It’s a great feeling to know that almost every piece of consumer electronics today started out with a line of Verilog code. If your toaster has an LED display, that probably counts too.

It’s rare to be a part of a technology that has such long shelf-life. I was also part of the development of SystemVerilog, which should add a few more decades to the life of Verilog.

What are some new technologies you are working on at Mentor?

Hardware verification is becoming a software design problem. SystemVerilog takes many concepts from the Object-Oriented programming world and makes them available to the hardware verification engineer. We find that many of these engineers do not have a background in software methodologies and we at Mentor are working to help them adopt and debug these advanced verification methodologies. Our RTL simulation tools are also advancing beyond the typical waveform analysis and signal tracing displays to provide many of the debugging features in the software world.

Can you tell us about the development of Superlog?

Superlog was originally designed to be a complete remake of Verilog using more modern programming concepts. My role as the company’s first application engineer was simply to convince people to use it. However, after working at four different Verilog start-ups, I realized how important it was to support legacy code and that migration to a new language must come in the form of evolution, not revolution. So we changed the design of Superlog to be 100% backward compatible with Verilog, as SystemVerilog is today.

What challenges do you foresee in our industry?

One of the biggest challenges I see in our industry comes from our educational system. We may think that the next generation of engineers is more technology savvy than the previous, but that’s not the case. There’s a big difference between being exposed to technology as an end user of a smartphone versus understanding the basic principles needed to design it. Our schools systems, in the US at least, are teaching subjects like math and science to meet standardized tests and do not have the resources to go beyond that when they are required to bring every student up to the same level at the expense of keeping the students back that want and need to go further. On top of that the schools are forced to make budgetary cuts in arts and other trades which would develop the creative skills needed by engineers to solve the problems of the next generation. This is not just a problem for developing engineering students, but for any career that needs more than a one-size-fits-all education.

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