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LEGOs and the EDA Profession

What do all EDA companies have in common? They probably have at least one employee who coordinates or participates in one of the most popular robotic competitions around. Why does that matter? Before I explain, let me give you a little background.

Ed Sperling and I were talking outside the show floor of the ARM Developer’s conference when who should appear by Yatin Trivedi, Director of Industry Partnership Programs at Magma Design Automation. Yatin also manages Magma’s world-wide University program.

Yatin was excited about the presentation that Bill Miller’s crowded presentation: FIRST Future Innovation Is Dependent on Inspiring the Youth.? Bill is Director of FIRST Robotics Competition. FIRST – For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology – is a long standing, not-for-profit group that finds ways to inspire students in engineering and technology fields. The organization is the foundation for the FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST LEGO League, Junior FIRST Lego League, and FIRST Tech Challenge competitions.

Yatin posed this rhetorical question to Ed and my self: Why wasn’t the EDA community more involved with the FIRST activities? Yatin believed that this would be an excellent way to inspire the next generation of engineers for the EDA world and the rest of the electronics industry.

I answered Yatin by first mentioning that my wife had organized a FIRST Lego League team while our kids were in elementary school. I helped in whatever capacity she needed, usually fixing the IR interface between the computer and the robot, or helping manage the team’s lack of experience in the area of interpersonal skills. They were only 7, 8 and 9, after all.

I pointed out that mechanically designing the robots and creating the visually-based software program which controls the robot was an excellent way to introduce kids to the joys and challenges of engineering. Perhaps equally important was that the experience (hopefully) taught the students to work in a team. No small accomplishment.

The three of us chatted for a few minutes more about the need and methods for inspiring the future generation of engineers before we had to leave. Later, though, it occurred to me that a number of other folks are involved with FIRST. For example, George Zafiropoulos vice president of solutions marketing at Synopsys, has managed a Lego Team for a number of years. In fact, his son’s team recently made it to the finals in Atlanta, GA!

I’m sure many other professionals in our EDA industry actively participate in such programs as the Lego League. Perhaps the problem isn’t that EDA professionals are not involved with such worthwhile activities, but rather that too few of our industry’s organizations really appreciate what its memebers are doing?

2 Responses to “LEGOs and the EDA Profession”

  1. harry the ASIC guy Says:

    Back at MIT in the early 80s, I competed in a similar robotic design competition known as the “2.70 contest”. This contest is credited with having spawned LEGO Mindstorms and FIRST. Even though I am an electrical engineer, I still refer back to the lessons I learned in this mechanical design contest, especially the value of prototyping and refinement.

    By the way … I lost in the first round and got a C in the class :-(

  2. Merredith Says:

    Nice post — and it’s true, the lessons that robotics contests (and other contests like them — MathCounts, National History Day, Odyssey of the Mind or whatever it’s called now) sprinkle lessons that kids go back to, like so many breadcrumbs in the forest.

    Every year I look forward to checking out the robotics entrants at a local show – DEMOGala. Last year, the students were trying to raise enough cash to go to nationals (they were college students though); and they said they’d gotten their start in exactly this type of program. But ironically, they were involved in a much more grownup discussion at the same time: who should own their IP? Them? Or the university? Because the inventions they were creating should have also been a source of income that could fund their ongoing work.

    I found it ironic that the contests — which came from a pretty innocent source of passion, zeal and interest — should end up in a much more worldly place.

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