For Synopsys CEO Aart de Geus, running the electronics design automation giant is like being the leader of an orchestra. He gathers the right people, organizes them into a cohesive ensemble, and then leads them to achieve the best results.

De Geus, who helped found the company in 1986, has some experience with bands. The IEEE Fellow has been playing guitar in blues and jazz bands since he was an engineering student in the late 1970s.

Like improvising jazz musicians, engineers go with the flow in team meetings: one person comes up with an idea, and the other person comes up with ways to improve it.

“There are actually a lot of similarities between my passion for music and my other big passion, Synopsys,” says de Geus.

About Aart de Geus

Employer: Synopsis

Title: CEO

Member Level: Boy

Alma mater: Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne, Switzerland

Currently, Synopsys is the largest supplier of software that engineers use to design chips, with about 20,000 employees. The company reported $1.36 billion in revenue in the first quarter of this year.

De Geus is credited as the founding father of electronics design automation (EDA), which automates the design of microcircuits using synthesis and other tools. It was first applied by him and his team in the 1980s. Synthesis revolutionized digital design by taking a high-level functional description of a circuit and automatically selecting logical components (elements) and generating connections (netlist) to build the circuit. Virtually all large digital chips manufactured today are largely synthesized using software developed by de Geus and his team.

“The synthesis has changed the very nature of digital chip design, taking us out of the computer age.
id design (CAD) to electronic designautomation (EDA),” he says.

According to him, over the past three and a half decades, logic synthesis has increased the complexity of microcircuits by about 10 million times. For this reason,
Electric business magazine named him one of the 10 Most Influential Executives of 2002, as well as the 2004 CEO of the Year.

Creating the first circuit synthesizer

Born in Vlaardingen, the Netherlands, de Geus grew up primarily in Basel, Switzerland. He received his master’s degree in electrical engineering in 1978 from the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne, known as EPFL, in Lausanne.

In the early 1980s, defending his doctoral dissertation. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, de Geus joined General Electric at Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. There he developed tools for designing logic with multiplexers, according to a 2009 oral history held by the Computer History Museum. He and a designer friend created arrays of logic gates that combine logic gates and multiplexers.

This led to the writing of the first circuit synthesis program optimized for both speed and area, known as SOCRATES. It automatically created blocks of logic from functional descriptions, according to oral history.

“The problem was [that] all designers who graduated from school used Karnot maps, [and] knew NAND gates, NOR gates, and inverters,” de Geus explained in an oral history. “They didn’t know multiplexers. So designing with those things was really difficult.” Karnaugh maps are a method of simplifying Boolean algebra expressions. With the universal logical NAND and NOR gates, any logical expression can be implemented without using any other gates.

SOCRATES could write a function, and in 20 minutes the program generated a netlist that named the electronic components in the circuit and the nodes to which they were connected. By automating this function, de Geus says, “The synthesizer typically created faster circuits that also used fewer gates. This is a big advantage because less is more. Less ends up in [a] smaller area on the chip.

With this technology, circuit designers have shifted their focus from gate-level design to designs based on hardware description languages.

Eventually de Geus was promoted to group manager of GE’s Advanced Computer-Aided Engineering Group. Then, in 1986, the company decided to exit the semiconductor business. Faced with the loss of his job, he decided to start his own company to continue improving synthesis tools.

He and two members of his GE team, David Gregory and Bill Krieger, founded Optimal Solutions in Research Triangle Park. In 1987, the company was renamed Synopsys and moved to Mountain View, California.

The Importance of Building a Good Team

De Geus says he acquired his managerial skills and entrepreneurial spirit at a young age. During the summer holidays, he teamed up with friends to build forts, soap cars, and other projects. According to him, he was usually the leader of the group, a man with a rich imagination.

“An entrepreneur creates a vision for some crazy but hopefully brilliant idea,” he laughs. According to him, the vision determines the direction of the project, and the business side of the entrepreneur is trying to convince others that the idea is realistic enough.

“The idea of ​​why it might be important was kind of there,” he says. “But it is passion that catalyzes something in people.”

According to him, this was the case during the time of his construction of forts, and this is true today.

“The synthesis has changed the very nature of how digital projects are made.”

“If you have a good team, everyone contributes,” he says. “Before you know it, someone on the team has an even better idea of ​​what we could do or how to do it. Entrepreneurs who start a company often come up with thousands of ideas to come up with a common mission. I am fortunate to be a part of Synopsys’ 37 year mission.”

In the company, de Geus sees himself as “the person who makes the team cook. It’s being an orchestrator, bandleader, or maybe someone who inspires passion in people who are better versed in both technology and business. As a team, we can do things that cannot be done alone, and that, in the first place, has been clearly proven to be impossible.”

He says that a few years ago, the company came up with the “Yes, if…” mantra to combat the slow-growing “No, because…” mindset.

“Yes, if…” opens doors, while “No, because…” says, “Let me prove it’s impossible,” he says. “‘Yes, if…
takes us beyond the standard: “It should be possible.” There must be a way.”

De Geus says his industry is going through “extremely challenging times – technically, globally and business-wise – and “if…
part is the recognition of it. I found it remarkable that once a group of people recognize [something] difficult, they become very creative. We managed to get the whole company to accept “Yes, if…”

“Now it’s part of the company’s cultural DNA.”

One of the challenges Synopsys is facing is the end of Moore’s Law, de Geus said. “But don’t worry,” he says. “We are facing an incredible new era of opportunity as we moved from ‘classic Moore scale complexity’ to ‘SysMoore’ which unleashes system complexity with the same exponential ambition of Moore’s law!”

He says the industry is shifting its focus from single chips to multi-chip modules, where chips are placed close together on top of a larger “silicon interposer” chip. In some cases, such as for memory, the chips are stacked on top of each other.

“How to make communication between these chips as fast as possible? How can you technically get these parts to work? And then how can you make it economically viable to be production, reliable, testable and verifiable? Complex, but so powerful,” he says. “Our main goal is to make it all work together.”

Great time for an engineer

Engineering was de Geus’ vocation. Engineering was the intersection of two things he loved: bringing vision to life and building things. Despite the recent spate of layoffs in the tech industry, he says he finds engineering a great career.

“The fact that some companies have hired too many employees or refocused does not mean that the engineering industry is on a downward trend,” he says. “I would definitely say the opposite in the field of electronics and software, because the vision of “smart everything” requires very complex capabilities, and this is changing the world!”

According to de Geus, in the era of Moore’s law, technical knowledge had to be deep.

“You’ve really become specialized in modeling or designing a certain type of process,” he says. “In our field, we need people who are the best in their class. i like to call them
six-Ph.D.-deep engineers. It’s not just deep learning; it is scholastic and experiential deep. Now, with systemic complexity, we need to combine all these disciplines; in other words, now we also need engineers with six PhDs.”

To get that kind of experience, he recommends that university students get an idea of ​​several sub-disciplines and then “pick the one you like.”

“For those who have a clear vision of their mission, it is to fall in love and find their passion,” he says. But those who don’t know which field of engineering to choose should “interact with people who you think are fantastic, because they will teach you things like perseverance, enthusiasm, passion, what excellence is, and make you feel the miracle of collaboration.” Such people, he says, can teach you to “enjoy work, not just have a job. If work is also your biggest hobby, you are a completely different person.”

Climate change as an engineering problem

De Geus says engineers should be held accountable for more than just the technology they create.

“I’ve always liked to say that ‘he or she who has the brain to understand must have the heart to help’.” Now that the world is facing growing challenges, I add that they must also have the courage to act,” he says. . “I mean, we need to look and go beyond our field, because the complexity of the world requires courageous management so as not to be the cause of its own destruction.”

He notes that many of today’s complexities are the result of incredible engineering, but “the side effects – and I’m talking about CO2, for example – have not yet been accounted for, and the engineering debt must now be paid off.”

De Geus points to the climate crisis: “This is the biggest problem. This is both an engineering and a social task. We need to find a way not to pay all the debt. Therefore, we need to design fast technical transitions while mitigating the shortcomings of the equation. Great engineering will be critical to achieving this.”


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