My friend Mike Santarini, publisher of Xcell Journal at Xilinx just told me of the passing of Peter Alfke. Peter was one of those industry experts who almost everyone got to meet at one time or another. For me, it was when I was gathering material for my book The Design Warrior’s Guide to FPGAs. I flew out to visit Xilinx where I was introduced to Peter, who took a lot of time out of his day to give me unique insights into the world of programmable logic.
In fact, Mike wrote an article Pull up a chair, Peter Alfke that was posted on Programmable Logic Designline when Peter retired a couple of years ago. Below is a copy of the write-up that was posted internally on Crossroads (the internal Xilinx employee website):
Last week we learned from one of Peter Alfke’s family members that Peter passed away on July 17 after a long fight with cancer. Peter had retired in September 2009 after a remarkable 21.5 years at Xilinx – his mark on the company and electrical engineering has been profound.
Peter grew up in war torn Germany and was a young teen when WWII ended. After receiving an EE degree from the Technical University in Hannover, Germany in 1957, he married and moved to Sweden working in telecom and computer design with LM Ericsson and Litton Industries. In the mid-1960s, he immigrated to the United States, where he worked at Fairchild, Zilog and later AMD. He is credited as being the first person to implement a FIFO in an integrated circuit, a task he accomplished while working at Fairchild in 1969.
Peter joined Xilinx in January 1988 (employee 109) as the director of Xilinx’s applications engineering group where he quickly established himself as an expert in programmable logic and a talented communicator and educator of practical engineering.“Peter was a member of my staff and although he didn’t design the FPGAs themselves, as an engineer who used the devices and worked with customers every day, he certainly had a great influence on what went into the designs,”
said Bill Carter, retired CTO of Xilinx. “Peter had a great talent for finding new ways to use FPGAs and implementing functions in FPGAs that we hadn’t thought of when we designed them. He was a real engineer’s engineer.”
Carter said that Peter’s greatest talent was not simply that he was an FPGA expert but that he could communicate very technical content in a very practical and concise way.“He was very proud that he came from a long line of educators,”
said Carter. “His ability to take complex ideas and communicate them very clearly was really quite remarkable, especially when you realize that English was his second language. He liked to share his wisdom and never did it in arrogant manner. He was a fabulous diplomat, very approachable, very welcoming…a true gentleman.”
In 1988, Peter, with the help of his daughter, Karen, published the very first issue of Xilinx’s quarterly magazine, Xcell Journal, to keep Xilinx users informed of the latest developments in Xilinx technology and to share design experiences with peers.
Peter’s talent as an FPGA expert and educator led Xilinx to eventually appoint him the Director of Technical Applications at Xilinx, where he was responsible for technical customer support, documentation and software QA. He was later given the title of Distinguished Engineer at Xilinx.
Throughout his many years at Xilinx, he became an active spokesperson and champion of Xilinx, regularly delivering technical presentations at conferences and seminars and authoring the very practical "User Guide Lite”
series of articles for each new device family. In his later years at Xilinx, he also wrote many blogs, led many discussions on Xilinx’s customer forum and became a regular contributor to the comp.arch.fpga FPGA user group on Google.“Peter had performed many roles before he came to Xilinx, but he had an amazing ability in technical marketing,”
said Austin Lesea. “He could be marketing a product one moment, and then instantly morph into an engineer. This amazing ability gave Peter the ability to make a technical, performance, or marketing claim, and then immediately provide incontrovertible proof that he was correct.”
It was this level of credibility that upon hearing news of of Alfke’s retirement in September of 2009, one comp.arch.fpga
member commented, “I use Xilinx because Peter Alfke told me to!”
Peter got a kick out of that comment.
At lunchtime at Xilinx, Peter always drew a crowd of admiring friends to his table and there was always room for more. It was not uncommon to find 10 or more people sitting at a table built for 4 listening to Peter’s advice and sharing stories about all things under the sun.
Alfke is survived by his wife, son and daughter and two grandchildren. He was 79.
From left-to-right are Juanjo Noguera, Patrick Lysaght,
Peter Alfke, and Marc Defossez their 2008 trip to CERN
Here are some remembrances from his some of his close friends at Xilinx.A number of years ago, my older brother (13 years my senior), Ron Lesea, came to visit me at Xilinx, and we wandered over to Building 4 to have lunch. It was fun to impress him with our cafeteria and the quality of our food.
But what really impressed him was when Peter wandered over and asked if he could sit with us. Now anyone who knew my brother (or even perhaps knows me) will understand that total silence is not what one expects (any meal with the Lesea's is a competitive speaking event!).
So, Ron was very quiet that day at lunch and just listened. A few days later, I receive a phone call from Ron:
Ron- "How often do you get to eat lunch with Peter?"
Austin- "Most of the days of the week."Ron- "You are the luckiest guy in the world."I knew Peter was well respected by many engineers in Silicon Valley, but I had no idea he was revered!
Peter was a scholar and a gentleman and a positive role model for any engineer who he ever met. We miss him.
--Austin LeseaBecause Peter was such an effective teacher, he was frequently called upon by Xilinx marketing to explain our product features and benefits in a way that engineers would quickly grasp the value - and not get turned off by the stream of “buzz words” and “pie charts” that are so prevalent in that world. Peter quickly recognized that engineers want to know “what’s going on” and that they wouldn’t get it from multicolor ads and presentations alone. To that end, he was tireless in continuous reinforcement of messages extolling the virtues of programmability, and explaining how flexible and forgiving FPGA technology is.
He attended countless technical conferences around the world, and jumped into every discussion where Xilinx’ message could use clarifying and always kept a bright cheery attitude, even when the spears began to fly from competitors.
Unknown to many Xilinx customers and employees is Peter’s obsessive attending to the previously obscure “CompArch.FPGA” blog site, which is a continuous stream of exchange among industry insiders, consultants and simply customers seeking more detail. His name pops up more often than anyone else’s on this blog, which still rattles around on the internet today.
--Jesse JenkinsPeter was the guru of metastability. It was a topic he understood well and patiently explained to every new generation of EEs. I also remember Peter in the early days, would scan the trade literature (which came only on paper in those days) and would cut out every board photo that had a Xilinx chip on it. The Xilinx logo was very easy to spot. Peter posted those on his bulletin board. I remember that bulletin board getting very, very crowded. Of course, eventually, it became too crowded. Xilinx became so pervasive that it was impossible to post them all.
--Steve TrimbergerPeter has been credited with the first implementation of a FIFO in 1969, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FIFO
. This subject was one of the very many subjects that Peter really knew everything about. He could design, apply and explain a wealth of intriguing circuits. He was a pleasure to work with and always explained clearly using fundamental concepts. I had the pleasure and honor of really understanding FPGA technology in a matter of a few lunches with Peter. He was a unique person, a pleasure to be around. He had great stories of his travels as a young German fellow on his bike in the Netherlands just after the second world war ended. He wisely ‘re-flagged’ himself as a Canadian with Flag on his bike, and spoke mostly English. You can imagine that Germans were not the best friends in the Netherlands, directly after 5 years of war-time occupation. However, even as a young man Peter must already had a charming nature. This served him well, and he later on became a truly global citizen. He could explain technology in a very clear manner and often defused tense technical situations with clear thinking and charming initiatives.I worked with Peter on first Xilinx presentation for Hot Chips in 2005. See http://www.hotchips.org/archives/hc17/3_Tue/HC17.S7/HC17.S7T2.pdf
. As usual Peter caught on rapidly, and became a great promoter of our technology to a new mostly processor oriented audience. We worked on the presentation in 2006 together, see http://www.hotchips.org/archives/hc18/2_Mon/HC18.S4/HC18.S4T1.pdf
. Just before Peter retired in 2009 he gave another good presentation at Hot Chips, where he was the sole author, see http://www.hotchips.org/archives/hc21/3_tues/HC21.25.700.FPGAs-Epub/HC21.25.7300.Alfke-Xilinx-Virtex6-Spartan6.pdf
.It was an honor and pleasure to have been his colleague.
--Kees VissersPeter regularly represented Xilinx at international conferences, especially some of the larger academic conferences such as FPL. He was especially well liked and respected and was one of the few industrial speakers who could bridge the gap with academia effortlessly. His huge intelligence and natural kindness shone through in all his communications and gave him a credibility that few speakers ever achieve. When Peter spoke for the last time at FPL in Prague in 2009, a packed audience of more than 220 academics, industrialists and graduate students from more than 40 countries around the world rose as one to give him a standing ovation. It was a great tribute to Peter and to Xilinx.
If you found this article to be of interest, visit Programmable Logic Designline
where you will find the latest and greatest design, technology, product, and news articles with regard to programmable logic devices of every flavor and size (FPGAs, CPLDs, CSSPs, PSoCs...).
Also, you can obtain a highlights update delivered directly to your inbox by signing up for my weekly newsletter – just Click Here
to request this newsletter using the Manage Newsletters tab (if you aren't already a member you'll be asked to register, but it's free and painless so don't let that stop you [grin]).