SAN JOSE, Calif. — Sundari Mitra wants to change the way SoCs are designed with her new interconnect startup, NetSpeed Systems. Unlike her company, which is just emerging from stealth mode, in some ways female executives in the semiconductor industry are always under a spotlight.
"In the initial part of my career, it took double the work to prove I could compete with the men who dominate this industry. Once you demonstrate that, people don't forget you," said Mitra, a 25-plus-year veteran of the semiconductor industry. "There are so few of us in this industry -- I am an Indian woman executive -- that I don't have to do much for people not to forget me."
It's a double-edged sword. "Being a [chief] sales person for my company, it's a great advantage. They don't forget anything I do." However, "I always have to deliver and be correct."
Mitra started her career in the 1980s as an analog and mixed-signal chip designer on the Intel 286. Later she spent 12 years at Sun Microsystems, where she moved into management. When the company fell on hard times, she took an exit package and considered her next move.
"I was sitting in Silicon Valley and had never done a startup," she said. "It was like living on the beach and not going in the water."
Her first outing did well, despite the one-in-10 success ratio of the startup world. Prism Circuits, a designer of serial memory products, grew to 50 people with $11 million in revenue and was acquired by Mosys, where she was mentored by the industry veteran Len Perham.
Wanting to "do something different," Mitra reflected on the lessons of her career. They centered on intractable issues in SoC design. "I must have done 10 tapeouts in my career, all facing the same set of problems. Timing closure was always a challenge. Bugs always came out a week before tapeout or sometimes after tapeout, needing lots of fixes. It was not right."
The idea emerged for an on-chip network that could be configured in ways that understood circuit timing and placement issues to optimize designs for power, performance, or area. She applied lessons from the synthesis tools of the 1980s, which used IC design constraints, and the networking systems of the 1990s, which modeled traffic flows to avoid congestion.
This resulted in a set of configurable interconnect and power-management blocks now in the hands of a diverse set of five unnamed customers. The proof points will come this fall, when the customers are expected to try their first tapeouts for designs. They have already been running the designs in emulation systems for as long as a year.
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