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Analog isn't dead, says industry vet

Posted: 18 Apr 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:analog design? robert pease? analog university? trial and error? op amp?

Pease: We all learn from our mistakes, and I have proven that in the past 40 years of my career.

Working as a staff scientist at National Semiconductor Corp., Robert Pease is dubbed as an analog guru by his peers in the industry. Pledging four decades of unwavering commitment to the analog realm, he now knows almost every trick of the trade. "I had to do analog because I never do digital," said Pease. "Besides, when I started working, the prevailing technology then was purely analog-centric, so there's not much of a choice. I designed a flip-flop once, but that was years ago and I'm not doing that anymore."

Being an analog veteran, Pease still finds doing analog design and solving the issues that surround it as fun and exciting as the very first day he graduated from school and entered the analog field. "We have amazing problems in the analog world but, sure enough, we have amazing solutions for them," he said. "It's both challenging and interesting, that's why it's fun. If you're not having fun, then there's something wrong."

Pease's vast experience in analog design has helped many in the industry who sought advice on solving engineering problems. "People would call me and ask if I could help them with a particular problem," said Pease. "I help them with whatever it is they have in mind for a design. And if I can't do it, I'll go find some of my friends who can help them."

Not complicated

An analog enthusiast since his younger days, Pease finished his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1961 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His first stint was at George A. Philbrick Researches, where he stayed until 1975, designing op amps and analog computing modules. He joined National Semiconductor in 1976 where he was able to obtain 21 U.S. patents and design 24 analog ICs, including power regulators, voltage reference products and temperature sensors.

Many of the circuits he designed decades ago are still in high-volume production. Pease is highly regarded for his work on bandgaps, a type of semiconductor circuit used in voltage references and power supplies.

Aside from being a staff scientist, Pease is also dean of National Semiconductor's Analog University, an online university helping students, engineers and ordinary people solve analog and system design problems by offering on-the-job education and training. "We don't teach rocket science here," said Pease. "This virtual academy is proof that analog design can be fashioned in simple terms. It's pretty challenging, but it's not that complicated once you know what you're doing."

Pease says that, on a weekly basis, there are about 10,000 Website visits coming from Asia, and these readers come mostly from top semiconductor markets such as mainland China, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Clearly, the numbers speak of how proactive ODMs and OEMs are in beefing up their design activities in the region.

But why teach analog when everything is heading toward digital? "Not everything is going digital," Pease refuted. He shoots back the question, "Have you ever heard of an amplifier that's going digital?" The answer is "no." Audio amplifiers are smooth, linear and well behaved, he said, and there are more and more products that interface from the digital to the real world that are analog in nature. "Some people say analog is dead, but we analog guys never say digital is dead. We just say, we should help digital guys get things done."

"Our goal in the university is to solve problems in the shortest time possible," said Pease. The problem with most designers is that they think of everything as a complicated design, which they should not. The more they feel pressured in solving the problem, the more they get stuck somewhere. "It's really straightforward stuff. If you can name the problem, then you can most definitely solve it."

Taking challenge

For design engineering rookies, life in the analog environment can be intoxicating. Pease advises that they should focus on solving the problem and avoid being overwhelmed by the complexity that surrounds it. For the analog veteran, the number of challenges in the laboratory simply equates to a fun and exciting experience. "There are a lot of interesting analog circuits you can tweak nowadays, and you're going to have fun and will be challenged every day," Pease added.

There is no secret formula to becoming the best analog design engineer. If ever there is, Pease thinks it would be a mix of hard work, dedication and a couple of other positive traits. "Today's companies look for bright, curious and versatile engineers who can take on projects that they've never seen before. I've seen some wise and smart students who have joined analog companies, and they would attest that it is indeed fun."

Of course, there will be a few disappointments and failures along the way; even the best designers on the block experience failure every so often. "We all learn from our mistakes, and I have proven that in the past 40 years of my career," Pease said.

This may have been the inspiration that Pease had when he wrote his book titled "troubleshooting Analog Design." Over 1,000 ways of "how not to do things" were candidly shared by Pease in this book, which is now selling over 37,000 copies in different translations worldwide.

National Semiconductor even produced Pease's own TV show titled "The Bob Pease Show"a reality Web-based TV program dedicated to engineers&mdashthat features a mix of on-demand news and information on how to solve the latest analog design issues. For Pease, the combination of video and Web is the most powerful form of media available for learning how things are done. And despite how serious troubleshooting issues can look in the real world, Pease makes it a point that his monthly show will readily provide healthy, interactive, informative and entertaining solutions for his clients.

For most analog design engineers, the thrills and spills of implementing a typical circuit design can be summed up in three wordstrial and error. But for Pease, trial and error should be seen in a more positive light. It may be a rocky path to take, but Pease knows it is the way that may lead every aspiring design engineer in the right direction.

- Rey Buan Jr.

Electronic Engineering Times-Asia

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