Vectors of Change

The long-term effects of downturns and globalization.

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Downturns have a way of changing things forever—sort of like the earthquake of 1812, which permanently re-routed the Mississippi River in three places. And while the common thinking is that things will go back to where they were before, they never do.

 

For one thing, the trend isn’t just smaller, faster, cheaper. It’s also shorter development cycles. Incredibly complex chips now take 12 to 18 months to design, verify and produce, versus three years a decade ago.

 

The only upside is that the basic designs sometimes last longer before they become completely obsolete. Moore’s Law is slipping, if it even applies at all. Trying to fit the formula into multicore chips and, in some cases, stacked die, is a stretch. And many companies have abandoned the Moore’s Law approach altogether, saying that older process nodes are sufficient for getting the job done.

 

Another change that is irreversible is globalization. There are more opportunities, more markets, and more trained people around the globe. The downside is more competition for skilled engineers at all levels—and that trend will only grow.  What used to be done in the United States, Europe or Japan can now be done using global teams.

 

The silver lining is that the cost of labor is less of a deciding factor. Global companies are paying the same wages around the globe for top talent. Instead of being reduced to the lowest common denominator, some companies are paying top dollar for engineers no matter where they are. IBM is a case in point. Experts say that will become more common over the next few years.

 

That also will fuel new market growth in some densely populated areas, such as India and China, where the opportunity for growth dwarfs the market for every piece of electronics that has ever been sold. 

 

In the system-level design space, where engineers live and breathe complexity, that also means the creation of new approaches and tools. While many companies still develop their own tools, best of breed is becoming a necessity rather than an option. And black-box strategies, such as TLM 2.0 and IP-XACT, will become necessary evils among engineers who were trained to understand every step of every action they take. And like the other irreversible trends, once these are tried and implemented there is no turning back.