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An Industry Under Siege

Bumping elbows…where there are any.

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The coronavirus is taking a big toll on the semiconductor industry’s unquenchable thirst for new information. The longer it lasts, the more the industry will have to resort to technology — some new, some old — to continue moving forward.

Over the past couple weeks, conferences and trade shows have been postponed or outright canceled. Synopsys, Cadence and Intel pulled out of DVCon at the last minute. And an increasing number of scheduled conferences, such as DATE, have announced they are going virtual.

For those conferences still being held, attendance has been eerily sparse over the past couple of weeks. At the recent SPIE conference in San Jose, the convention center parking lot was so empty it didn’t look like a conference was in session. At other gatherings in Silicon Valley, the vast number of seats inside of large ballrooms were unoccupied. And if that wasn’t enough to make one question the wisdom of attending, badges handed out at registration often were accompanied by a small bottle of hand sanitizer.

Long-time colleagues this week began greeting each other with an elbow bump rather than a handshake. And anyone coughing was eyed suspiciously and given wide berth.

Amid all of this, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines for mass gatherings. Some of those are useless. It recommends setting up an emergency operations plan, complete with disposable face masks if someone becomes sick. The only problem is those face masks are unavailable at the moment. The agency also recommends sending out messages discouraging anyone who is sick from attending events. Unfortunately, many sick people are symptomless and contagious, at least in the early stages of the virus.

How long this continues, and what comes next, is far from clear. But for the semiconductor industry, the potential toll is far greater than a short-term revenue loss. Due to rapid changes in technology, keeping track of all of these shifts is essential to remain competitive. Moreover, those changes occur on a global scale, involving the latest process nodes, progress on different ISAs, new security threats, and market-specific changes in assisted driving or advanced packaging.

Obtaining that information electronically is slower, and it doesn’t provide the insights that people frequently pick up at conferences. Questions asked at the end of a presentation often are far different from what the presenter has talked about. For the presenters, as well as other attendees, that opens up some interesting new avenues of thought and potentially additional exploration. With this conduit closed off, it certainly will be more difficult to obtain that kind of information, and people will have to work much harder to stay on top of the latest trends and developments.

But the tools do exist for at least keeping up with the basic trends. As long as the infrastructure holds up, and as long as everyone still has phone service, e-mail and Internet access, then sharing of information and across a company, an industry, and the globe is still very possible. And interacting with some remote offices that get very little attention when everyone is scrambling to catch a plane or attend the next conference may have long-term dividends that go well beyond an elbow bump.

So in case you’re wondering what to do while the coronavirus continues to spread, pick up the phone or set up a videoconference with some of your colleagues and customers and suppliers. It may not be as efficient as seeing everyone in one place, but it’s a necessary interim step. The learning must still continue, even if it requires more effort.

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