In a multipart interview we examine the world of EDA and verification through the progress of Prakash Narain, the founder and CEO of Real Intent.
Prakash Narain did his undergraduate work at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, India and always had an interest in pursuing further studies in the US.
Narain got to the US in 1986, and studied computer architecture, VLSI design, algorithm analysis, and programming at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The confluence of a bachelor's degree in electronics and a master's degree in algorithms led Narain to EDA and, with some prodding from Jacob Abraham at The University of Illinois, Narain found himself doing a Ph.D. in test under his guidance.
Narain says he still finds EDA to be complex, fascinating, and intellectually satisfying but at the same time a little painful.
From high-level algorithms targeting gate-level test, Narain's thoughts turned to functional test and this was the starting point for his interest verification. At around the same time, equivalence checking was making its first breakthroughs, particularly in programs inside IBM. This is where Narain got his first job, although still in the area of test.
Unfortunately the Endicott region in New York where IBM was had no employment opportunities for Narain's wife and so they moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and he got employed by Advanced Micro Devices in its EDA group. This was a change from everything being done using internally developed tools at IBM to work based on third-party tools and commercial languages such as Verilog.
Narain's thinking started to range widely from synthesis, to simulation, from RTL entry to silicon. Narain says: "Through all of this I wanted to understand the user's perspective. I wanted to understand why one option was better than another. I didn't have that perspective and I needed to build it. What were the constraints on the customers that we were trying to serve?"
Then an opportunity came seeking Narain and he moved on to a microprocessor design project at Sun Microsystems. He came to realize that engineers are the people who fill the gaps between the tools and between what needs to be done and what the tools can do and this requires a lot of creativity. For Narain, that completed the cycle from algorithm developer, through tool and flow development, and on to being a tool user.
At this point, I will let Narain tell the story in his own words.
There was still a hunger to do something new, something different. At each step in my career I had moved outside of my comfort zone and moved into a new space where I was not the big guy on the block and had to invest in myself. I decided to leave Sun and move back into EDA. A combination of youthful exuberance, ego, a sense of preparation, and a belief that I was good at what I did led me to think that I would be successful. But I was naive -- you need more than that.
The combination of my background and my experiences led me to a perception of opportunity in verification. We started with the idea of building a scalable, automatic, formal analysis solution that would be very valuable and would be able to dominate the simulation market. Now remember, this was also the dotcom days when everything seemed possible. I felt that it was the right time in my life to do something, to start my own company and that company was Real Intent.
In the second part of this CEO portrait, we will explore the early days of Real Intent and how the company evolved over time. Meanwhile what has inspired you or made you want to start your own company? Is it technology or business?