I received this missive from my contacts at Maxim. It concerns aspects of playing football — clearly a team sport — and designing ICs that contain analog functionality. Here are their thoughts:
This Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens will square off for the NFL Championship. Have you ever noticed how many ways football is like analog integration?
Much like a football team needs to perform on both sides of the ball — offense and defense — an integrated IC must usually perform both analog and digital functions. The digital functionality may take the form of calibration, control, communication, or signal conversion, but it has to perform in lock step with the analog functions to have a winning IC.
One of the worst things a design engineer or football player can do is become overconfident. It makes one ignore the basic foundations of the game. For example, in electronics, a clean power bus and ground are essential, and real experience with decoupling capacitors and proper power and ground planes is necessary. In football, experience practicing on a wet, icy, slippery field is important. These are not things one just reads about — one must experience it to appreciate its impact.
In the playoffs (or a new IC market), it's win or go home. For an IC company designing an integrated IC for a specialized market like smart meters or financial terminals, there is only one chance to get it right. Respins can take months, and missing a customer's design cycle can cost a year or more. “Just wait until next year” is as hollow for an IC design team as it is for the fans of a defeated football team.
If your blocks aren't working, you're bound for defeat. Having an effective running game in football takes more than a great running back like Adrian Pederson. Most of the players on the field have precise blocking assignments they must execute. An integrated IC typically consists of blocks too. If all the blocks don't perform well, the IC won't be very effective.
Expect the unexpected. A well-prepared coach like Coach Harbaugh will have his team ready for the corner cases, such as a muffed hold on a field-goal try, a dropped pass bouncing off the receiver's foot and into the air without touching the ground, or the ol' fumbleroosky. Likewise, a circuit must have a robust design to manage surprises, like a power glitch that happens just as a signal is sampled, or a processor that latches. Handling the unexpected gracefully is critical for success.
Remember the 60s . The first Super Bowl was played on January 15, 1967. The first integrated analog ICs were also invented in the 1960s. See Integration: Old but New for details about the uA702, uA709, and uA741, introduced by Fairchild starting in 1963.
It takes a large, multidisciplinary team working seamlessly together to win. The team on the field relies on coaches, and personnel who work with customers, recruiters, equipment techs, management, even the travel department. The same is true for IC designers. According to AP writer Rachel Cohen, “When the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl [in 2009], every single one of their full-time employees got a ring — but they didn't necessarily receive the same gaudy ones as stars like Ben Roethlisberger.”
So enjoy this great American tradition on Sunday with your favorite football foods and malted beverages, and take pride in the fact that what you do isn't that different from guys like Ray Lewis and Colin Kaepernick.