The kindred spirit of an Olympian

By smckinne

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus, but hopefully I’m returning to a more regularly scheduled program.  Consider it like the Olympics that has interrupted your regular TV programming for the last 2 weeks to show you people who have committed their lives to their passion.  I enjoy it – some of those people do amazing feats often risking life and limb to be the best in the world at what they do.

The common thread in all of the Olympic athletes is that they strive for perfection.  To be the best in the world, you have to perfect at what you do (along with the heart and the stamina to succeed).   I think about how many engineers I know and to some degree many of them have the same heart and stamina.  It’s obviously a bit different, but at the same time, there is a kindred spirit there.  How many times have you been in the office for 12+ hours day-in and day-out, trying to make sure your design is ready to go to fab.  Or how many times have you taken that extra step on your own time to investigate a minute detail of your design, just to understand it and tweak it to make it a little bit better – to squeeze every ounce of performance out of it.  And when it’s finished, those are the things that make you proud, that bring a smile to your face.

Unfortunately, the reality of the business world kicks in at some point – you’ve got to ship the design whether you were able to look at everything you wanted to or not.  This isn’t how you wanted it to be, but this is how your hand was forced.  And then the next design comes, and it happens again.  At some point, it becomes a bit disheartening because you’re never really able to work on the cool things that you get excited about, the things that spark that flame of your Olympic spirit.  What if I told you that it’s possible to turn it around?  Would you be willing to hear it out?  To have a chance to love what you do and have a passion for it again?  And maybe even develop a new passion in the process?  (We’re talking PCB design here by-the-way – I can’t be your therapist)

Take a second and evaluate where you spend most of your time in your design.  If I throw out some rough approximations (which you may or may not agree with), lets say 15% spent of your time is spent on part selection, 15% on schematic, 25% on layout, 35% lab time, 10% administrative.   Between lab and layout, you’ve got ~60% of your time.  What if there were a way to reduce that to give you more time for the fun stuff (the lab can be fun, but it can be a pain too)?  Have you ever thought about doing simulation early in your design?  Develop some routing constraints early in the design process to drive the layout?  You’ve heard managers talk about it.  You’ve heard EDA vendors talk about it.  But have you really listened?  Have you really thought about how it could actually benefit you?

Most designers look at it as just another thing that they have to cram into their schedule and they don’t have time for it.  It’s true, it does add something else to the schedule, but it is also taking other things out.  For example, if you can spend 1 week doing simulation and you are able to remove 1 layout change and board spin, plus the 2-3 days it took in the lab to find the problem, don’t you think it might be worth taking a look at doing?  1 week of simulation just saved you about 2.5 weeks worth of a headache.  I know I don’t like headaches, and so far I haven’t met anyone else that likes them either.  There’s another benefit here as well – you’re potentially learning something new, expanding your skill set, and making yourself more marketable as a designer (something extremely valuable in a very tough economic climate).

To me, that’s one of those things that gives me that new fire – to be able to learn something new and experiment.  It’s the engineer in all of us – we want to know how things work and why they work and then try it out to see if it really does work.  Both you and your design can benefit from this change in your design methodology.

I challenge you to find that inner Olympian spirit that I know resides within you and really challenge yourself to see if it makes logical sense to try this design approach (simulate before you even start routing to develop design constraints).   If you give it a try, I assure you that you’ll be pleased with the outcome and maybe even be a little bit more energized about your next design with more time to do the things that you love about your work.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at