Manager's Guide to Digital Design

Every manager needs this simple guide to high-speed digital design.

This article is for all those hardworking engineering managers who just want a simple, one-page summary of everything they need to know about digital design.

GROUND: mythical electrical object that absorbs unlimited quantities of electrical current. Ground exists in Spice but nowhere else. Radar engineers in the 1930s discredited the concept of ground as anything more than a good place to grow carrots and potatoes.

PARASITIC EFFECT: a mysterious circuit effect that persists despite your best attempts to either eradicate it or blame it on a previous designer.

RISE TIME: rate of ascent through management ranks. Rise time may be sluggish or, in the case of an overambitious candidate, subject to wild overshoot and gyration.

EQUALIZER: the Chuck Norris of serial-transmission circuits. An equalizer improves the odds of success for all good bits by knocking out the bad artifacts. Just saying you have an equalizer makes investors swoon.

ADAPTIVE EQUALIZER: Chuck Norris with brains.

DECISION-FEEDBACK LOOP: a critical management decision made, then retracted, and then made again in a repeating loop. This loop knocks productivity to zero.

HEAT SINK: a small metallic device attached to your CPU that, like the cooling tower at a nuclear-power plant, is the only device standing between safe, reliable system operation and total core meltdown.

NETWORK ANALYZER: an expensive piece of gear that always reports bad news. When interviewing new hardware-engineering candidates, always say that you have one. Later, if that employee misbehaves, threaten to make him use it.

INDUCTOR: a two-terminal component, which, like a financial derivative, causes huge spikes followed by systemic crashes. Avoid speaking with engineers for at least two days if they mention the words “inductor” and “Spice” in the same sentence.

DE-EMBEDDING: the insomnious effect of a difficult measurement problem that consumes copious amounts of overtime, often late at night, preventing normal sleep.

POWER-SUPPLY DROOP: a diminution in the output of a healthy power supply when engaged in vigorous activity. An insufficiently turgid power supply droops to the point of ineffectiveness. No pill cures that condition.

BOOT TIME: the interval of time between your decision, based on how slowly your product runs under real-life conditions, to fire your chief software engineer and the moment his feet hit the pavement outside your building.

SSO (simultaneous-switching-output) noise: a feature. IC manufacturers believe that only by skimping on the number of power and ground pins can they offer high-speed IC products in inexpensive packages, thereby transforming SSO noise from a problem into a feature.

ROHS (restriction-of-hazardous-substances) Lead-Free Solder Initiative: Evil plot by Luddites to rid the world of computers by first rendering all electronic products flaky and unreliable. The initiative may precipitate the collapse of Western civilization. Until then, just smile and go along with the scheme like everyone else.

VISUALIZATION: a mental process. More than any other group, hardware engineers must visualize a solution to every problem, which they do with their eyes closed. You may hear noises that sound like ordinary snoring but actually indicate a deep state of complete concentration. Never interrupt an engineer engaged in visualization.

The author visualizes his next great product, or is he just fooling?