Contributing Editors: Peggy Aycinena, Richard Goering, Geoffrey James, Gary Smith
Editor-in-chief: Gabe Moretti
|vol.3 / issue 1 September 6, 2007|
The Class of 2007: Workshop for Women in Design Automation at DAC
by Peggy Aycinena
The Workshop for Women in Design Automation, held each year in conjunction with the Design Automation Conference, welcomed six graduate students from four universities to the June 4th event in San Diego, thanks to the generous support of Cadence Design Systems, Magma Design Automation, Mentor Graphics, and EDA Confidential.
The sponsorships covered workshop registration, plus travel and lodging for those students who came to San Diego from out of town. Representing the University of Pittsburgh, Stanford University, U.C. Berkeley, and U.C. San Diego, these students are working across a range of research areas including circuit design and simulation, low power, reconfigurable computing, lithography and DFM. I had a chance to chat by phone with each of them recently, to talk about their work and their impressions of the Women’s Workshop and DAC. It was a pleasure to speak to every one of them.
Sponsored by Cadence, Gayatri Mehta and Swapna Dontharaju both traveled to San Diego from the University of Pittsburgh, where Dr. Alex K. Jones is their advisor. Mehta is going into her final year of grad school, while Dontharaju just defended her thesis in July. It's a huge accomplishment to complete a Ph.D., as all doctoral students know, and Dontharaju is delighted to be done. "The last few weeks of work and writing were very stressful, plus the defense,” she said. “Many people say the defense of your thesis is just a formality after so many years of work and supervision from your advisor, but you never know. You still have to be very well prepared. Now that I'm finally done, I can start to do things at my own pace. I'll be working as an automation engineer at Intel in Oregon. The work will be challenging and very different from my research, and I'll have to learn a lot of things quickly. But I’m excited about the learning, taking on new responsibilities, and making a difference in my new group."
Gayatri Mehta still has a year to go for her Ph.D.. Her research is in reconfigurable computing with a focus on the architecture and modeling of energy-efficient coarse-grained reconfigurable fabrics for embedded computing: "My area is mainly low power, which is one of the critical design concerns for mobile applications. I‘m not working at the circuit level, but at a higher level of abstraction. I’ve designed a low-power parameterized fabric model and am using it to explore the architectural space in detail. I am also developing a tool to fully automate the design space exploration flow that will generate the fabric architecture based on the needs of the applications."
Since she’s working on reconfigurable systems, I asked Mehta about the ‘battle’ between FPGAs and ASICs. "There are a lot of tradeoffs involved, so it depends on the application,” she said. “Perhaps in 10 or 15 years, FPGAs might replace ASICs in a lot of applications, but for now they have higher power consumption and are a lot less desirable for mobile applications. A lot of research has been done over the past several years in this area, but it’s going to involve a lot more effort to come up with power saving ideas for FPGAs."
Sponsored by Magma, Lynn Wang, came to San Diego from U.C. Berkeley where her advisor is Dr. Andrew Neureuther. Wang is a second-year graduate student working in the area of design for manufacturability. She said, “I’m basically doing CAD for lithography effects, trying to bridge the gap between the design houses and the foundries using EDA tools. When I arrived at Cal, I came in as a CAD student and looked at traditional research topics such as logic synthesis. Then a friend of mine working in industry suggested looking at DFM as a new CAD topic. I talked to Dr. Neureuther, who is one of the few people at Cal doing a lot of work in lithography. An earlier student of his developed a tool that bridges design and layout, spotting hotspots which cause printing issues. After graduating, that student founded a company based on his Ph.D. thesis, CommandCAD, and sold it to Cadence. So after talking to Dr. Neureuther, I joined his group and things are going well. I think we are doing good research and discovering new algorithms and applications.”
Wang added, “There is a lot of industry interest in this area, so by the time I finish I think I won’t have to worry about having career opportunities. If anyone perceived that EDA was slowing down, DFM has turned that around. A lot of companies are looking for new people to join their DFM groups. It’s a blessing for the EDA industry that DFM came along and I feel very fortunate to be involved.”
Coming from Stanford, Moon Jung Kim attended the Women’s Workshop in San Diego courtesy of Mentor Graphics. Kim is a Ph.D. student working in the area of analog and RF circuit design, with Dr. Thomas Lee and Dr. Bob Dutton serving as her advisor and associate advisor, respectively. After finishing her degree, Kim intends to go into industry to continue working in circuit design. Between her undergraduate work in Korea, her graduate work in the U.S. and several industrial internships in Germany, Kim is a terrific representative of the global nature of the electronics industry today.
Ling Zhang and Rui Shi were sponsored at the Women’s Workshop by EDA Confidential. They are both graduate students at U.C. San Diego, where Dr. CK Cheng is their advisor. Rui Shi is in the final phases of her Ph.D. program, doing research in the area of transistor-level circuit simulation. "We are applying ideas to circuit simulation that were originally used in physical simulation," she said. "Then we can reduce algorithm complexity to speed up the calculation and improve the performance of the simulator, while also working to maintain good accuracy. It's always a tradeoff in simulation between accuracy and performance. In our work, we are trying to maintain both."
Ling Zhang came to UCSD having already earned an MSEE in China, and is now working on a Ph.D. in logic design and optimization. She hopes to work for a design company or an EDA software company after finishing, as well, but for now is concentrating on her research, having just passed her qualifying exams. Zhang said, "Before last year, I was working in a different technical area, but last year I changed topics, which was a little difficult because I had to do additional study to come up to speed. Now I think my research project is very interesting and represents a very novel idea -- current-mode differential logic that can achieve both high operating speed and low power consumption. We are using HSPICE to do various simulations on our design, and are looking for an opportunity to fabricate the chip to do further research. As CAD and EDA funding is getting a little tight these days, fabrication can be a challenge."
During my post-DAC conversations with the students, it was interesting to hear their impressions of the Workshop for Women in Design Automation, as well as the Design Automation Conference itself. Although several of the students had been to DAC before, it was the first time any of them had attended the Women's Workshop.
[Please note: The keynote at the Women’s Workshop was given by Dr. Terri Fiez, IEEE Fellow and EE Department Head at Oregon State University. The panel included firstRain President & CEO Penny Herscher, Qualcomm Vice President Daphne Huckaby, Gary Smith EDA Industry Analyst Daya Nadamuni, and Javelin Design Automation President & CEO Diana Feng Raggett. Cadence Senior Vice President Jan Willis was awarded the 2007 Marie Pistilli Woman of the Year Award during the workshop.]
For Rui Shi, the Women’s Workshop at DAC was her first experience attending this type of event. "I thought it was great," she said. "In the past, I have only attended technical workshops, so this was the first time I have heard about other people's stories and their careers. It was also the first time I saw that there are so many women working in this area, and they are so successful, which was very encouraging for me. I was also glad to meet and talk with other Ph.D. students at the workshop, plus the keynote and other speakers at the workshop were very helpful."
Lynn Wang is currently president of Women in Computer Science and Engineering (WICSE) at U.C. Berkeley: "I thought the workshop was very inspirational, meeting all of the women who spoke on the panel, plus the other women who attended the workshop. Everyone had quite a story to tell, and it showed that success doesn't come easily. You have to work hard for it, but it's definitely doable."
For many students, Wang said, it's tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel. "Being in grad school, you quickly realize everyone around you is a perfectionist, and then you end up being very hard on yourself when you don't meet your own goals," she said. "It's such a long process that just seeing people who have made it out successfully, like the women at the workshop, was definitely encouraging. It was also very special hearing about the ups and downs that people have been through, particularly Terri Fiez. Hearing her talk about her career, how she had been criticized off and on by people who said she didn't deserve her position, was really educational to me. I am not sure if my future is in academia or industry -- I'm not sure I have the stamina to do research and teach at the same time -- so hearing Terri Fiez was very inspirational. All of the speakers at the workshop showed me that there are a lot of sacrifices you have to make to have your dreams come true." ”
Wang also noted that the workshop encouraged networking: "The group at the workshop was small enough that it discouraged isolation. In fact, if it could be organized just a little differently or there was a little more time, everyone could actually get around to every table and meet everyone else."
As far as DAC was concerned, Wang said, "At times, the conference seemed pretty ‘trade showy' and more than just research." She acknowledged, however, that the commercial aspects of DAC probably provide an important counterbalance to the technical aspects of the conference.
Swapna Dontharaju has been to DAC several times before. This year she enjoyed being on the exhibit hall floor and working in the University Booth. "My work at Pittsburgh has been in design automation for low-power RFID tags,” she said. “So, I looked at the companies at DAC where people are doing work similar to the different components of my research. I was also happy to be able to attend the Women’s Workshop. I started to see the ups and downs in the careers of the speakers, and thought it was a very inspired meeting. The questions and answers during the panel discussion were particularly interesting, plus I took a lot of notes during Terri Fiez's and Jan Willis' talks. I can't wait to put some of their career advice to good use at my new job."
This was not the first time that Gayatri Mehta has attended DAC, either, although this was the first year she presented a poster at the SIGDA Ph.D. Forum and a demo at the University Booth on the exhibit hall floor. She also attended all of the keynotes in San Diego, including the Monday keynote on automobile technology. "Even though automobiles are not in my technical area, I enjoy learning new things,” she said, “Particularly when the topic is a critical issue or part of an emerging technology. I also enjoyed Jan Rabaey's keynotes, the one on Thursday and his talk on Monday evening at the Synopsys/Sun University reception. Even though both talks were dedicated to Dr. Richard Newton, they were very different talks and both excellent."
Overall, the bulk of Mehta's time at DAC was spent in the University Booth, where she learned about different tools being commercialized by the industry. "If a company's tool is of interest to you,” she said, “You might actually want to bring it back to school so that you can use it for research or for coursework."
Also, by working in the booth, Mehta had a chance to meet a lot of people: "Being on the exhibit hall floor gave me a good opportunity to network with many people, both from industry and academia. I'm interested in doing research, but I am not sure if that will be in industry or in academia, so I'm keeping my options open at the moment. By presenting my work on the floor, I learned new and exciting things and had a chance to talk to representatives from various companies as well as other students and professors."
Mehta added that meeting people was also the best part of the Women's Workshop, but she also thought the Monday-morning workshop was too short. "I didn't have a chance to talk to at least half of the people at the workshop," she said, and noted a full-day event would give attendees a chance to meet everyone in the room.
Ling Zhang said she enjoyed the Women's Workshop at DAC, as well: "The workshop was special because most of the other attendees were women, which gave me a chance to know what other women in the industry are doing. Almost everyone I work with in my technical environment is male, so it gave me more confidence to see that the women at the workshop are succeeding in their careers. As I get closer to finishing my degree, I am beginning to think about these things."
This year was the second time Zhang has attended the Design Automation Conference. She said, "I think DAC is a wonderful conference. You can meet a bunch of people in a short amount of time, and get to know many students and learn what others are doing in their research. I went to the Ph.D. poster session this year and saw what other people are doing in transistor modeling. As I'm doing some delay analysis in my own work, that was very interesting to me."
Zhang noted that next year she will be close to finishing her degree, so attending DAC 2008 in Anaheim will be important to her: "I will need to look for a job and going to the conference will give me chance to meet more companies. But that is next year. This year, I'm just working hard on my research and concentrating on that."
Finally, Moon Jung Kim said the Women’s Workshop was very interesting and, in particular, she enjoyed the keynote and panel discussion: “Female engineers are so few in the industry, it was good to hear about the experiences of others. At Stanford, I sometimes attend seminars given by groups like the Society for Women in Engineering and believe these meetings can helpful to students who are often in the minority.
“When I was an undergraduate, I was the only woman out of 50 students in my class. However, I was such an extreme minority in that situation, I was not treated any differently, but was actually treated just like all of the other students. At Stanford, as many as 20 percent of the students in my classes have been women, so I have not felt any isolation there either. It’s different for every individual, however, and often depends on a person's personality. When a woman is in an engineering class and there are no other women, that student can feel very isolated and a technical women's groups can be a big help."
The 2007 Committee for the Workshop for Women in Design Automation is very grateful to Cadence Design Systems, Magma Design Automation, Mentor Graphics, and EDA Confidential for the funding that brought these bright, marvelous graduate students to the event in San Diego. It is the hope of the committee that this year’s proof-of-concept sponsorship program will continue to grow going forward.
Thanks, as well, to the Class of 2007 for sharing their impressions from San Diego.
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist covering the EDA industry.