The Bigger Picture

It’s no longer enough to define yourself just as a verification or RTL engineer.

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The pace of change in system-level design is no longer confined just to technology. It now hinges largely on whether enough engineers can make the leap from RTL or synthesis or verification or any other specialty to systems engineer.

This is no small feat. It requires re-tooling and learning of modeling and other concepts that until now have been largely at the architectural level. It may even require an understanding of software. But the biggest hurdle may be getting engineers to recognize that modeling and high-level synthesis actually work and can save them extraordinary amounts of time.

While TLM 2.0 may be fine in theory, the application hasn’t been essential for most engineers working on SoCs even at 65nm. At 45nm and beyond, power islands are becoming a reality and so is the integration of complex blocks and clusters of blocks. Some of this stuff simply can’t be done by hand—at least not in the market window available to engineering teams. There are too many gates, too many possible interactions, and way, way too much complexity for verification.

While that doesn’t preclude engineers from continuing to use spreadsheets, it does limit what they can accomplish on those spreadsheets and how quickly. And while it doesn’t mean designing testbenches in analog blocks will change, how those blocks get integrated will change. And perhaps more important, the complexity of software and the inclusion of software engineers in this whole process now means that engineering managers cannot afford to keep them idle until chips are fully designed and taped out.

For the first time in memory, the pace of change is not being limited by the technology available to engineers. It is being limited by the ability of the engineers to comprehend the changes, ramp up their skills, and cross into new areas that were previously the domain of different experts. At future nodes, those walls need to be defined and then redefined, and it’s up to engineers to figure out where they want to fit in the new order.

–Ed Sperling