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U.S. designers still the best (for now), CEOs say

Posted: 07 Feb 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Dylan McGrath? chip designer? EDA?

U.S. chip designers are still the best in the world, though how long they can hold that position as India and China continue to produce hordes of engineers in the next few years remains an open question, according to EDA CEOs participating in panel discussion at California last week.

John Bourgoin, CEO of MIPS Technologies Inc., said U.S. chip designers are unquestionably still the best on the whole, though he added that the degree to which that is true varies by specific applications. But with China now graduating an estimated 700,000 engineers per year, Bourgoin said, the situation is likely to change.

"Within a few years we will see this gap close," Bourgoin said.

Michael Fister, president and CEO of Cadence Design Systems Inc., said that intellectually there is not much difference between engineers in the U.S. and their counterparts in other parts of the world, but that experientially there is currently a big difference.

This is bad news for the U.S., Fister said, because, "It won't take long for some of them to bridge that gap."

Walden Rhines, chairman and CEO of Mentor Graphics Corp., disagreed somewhat. Rhines said that there will always be a shortage of good engineers in the world, no matter how many are produced.

Rhines argued that while U.S. companies have been outsourcing manufacturing in order to take advantage of less expensive engineering labor costs in places like China and India, the outsourcing of design activities has been focused more on harnessing a larger pool of skilled designers. The salary gap between U.S. engineers and their foreign counterparts is already closing rapidly, Rhines said.

The huge number of engineers being trained in China and India will ultimately be good for the whole industry, Rhines argued, because it will result in more good engineers.

Aart de Geus, chairman and CEO of Synopsys Inc., said state-of-the-art design in India is approaching the quality of state-of-the-art design in the West. He said a wave of Indian designers who have lived and worked in the U.S. are also returning to their native country to take advantage of budding entrepreneurial opportunities, which should improve the overall quality of India's design capabilities.

Without mincing words, de Geus also took the opportunity to slam U.S. immigration and H1-B visa policy in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Though he acknowledged that controls needed to be tightened following the attacks, de Geus suggested that the U.S. has gone too far.

"When a country closes its doors to intellect, it's dumb," de Geus said.

Though what passes for optimism in the EDA industry has likely changed following years of anemic growth, CEOs nevertheless sounded an upbeat tone Thursday at the EDA Consortium's annual CEO forecast panel. Though the panel lacked bold predictions of high growth for the coming year, panelists suggested that 2006 could be a comparably good year for EDA.

Rhines said, as he has previously, that 2006 could be a good year for EDA because companies have more R&D money to spend on three-year contract renewals than they did in 2003.

Rhines, who is also chairman of the EDA Consortium, said the EDA industry could grow 6.5 percent in 2006 and an additional 8 percent in 2007. He added that he expects higher growth in future years.

"Life will get much better for all of us," Rhines said.

Rhines announced that panelist John Kibarian, CEO of process integration technology provider PDF Solutions Inc., has been elected to fill an open position on the EDA Consortium's board of directors.

- Dylan McGrath
EE Times

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