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Big Iron for Microscopic Chips

Big Iron for Microscopic Chips

My path to NI started watching middle school soccer with a friend (Ray Almgren) who at the time was NI VP Product Marketing. We had discussed why I moved to Austin in 1988 with Teradyne (ATE), then opened the Cadence (EDA) office, worked at a variety of companies supporting Semiconductor, and why I enjoyed a number of start-ups. At the time, I was part of a founders team at a struggling startup (EDA-PLM integration) with only one customer, NI, thanks to Tim Dehne (NI SVP R&D). 

I fondly remember presenting my external point-of-view to a team of NI insiders (all had grown up straight from college at NI). I thought questions from Ash Razdan (NI Sr. Director Corporate Development), Eric Starkloff (NI VP Product Marketing), Pete Zogas (NI Sr. VP Sales, Marketing & Services), and Ron Wolfe (NI VP Semiconductor Test) were cautious as to what NI truly wanted to become. Scott Savage (NI Section Manager – Semiconductor Test), and Heath Noxon (NI BDM, RF Test) keenly watched the discourse.

Later over lunch with Pete & Ron, it felt equally odd to listen to where NI was, and how the “ooch” approach was being followed to grow from a “Reference Architectures” toward a more complete solution. I can still remember thinking to myself how it felt like NI had a bunch of modular “Nuts & Bolts” technology for helping customers & partners to build targeted applications. What I could not see was standard solutions that had leverage to grow rapidly $1M+ purchase orders. Having grown up in “Big Iron” $1M+ ATE, and the heady growth days of $1M+ EDA “Subscription Deals” it seemed like a lot of work closing many $20K transaction deals (like Dell Computer). We then discussed that I was in “Close Mode” so lets please agree here & now (yes or no) on their support & recommendation that I join NI.

It was a few months later that Ron & I were visiting a key prospect in Phoenix, AZ (Amkor) to get feedback on the PXI-6556 Digital card. Without digital capability it would be impossible to build a semiconductor tester. At the time, Teradyne had an early open-PXI ATE which mostly used NI instruments, except for our digital card. The feedback from customers & partners would eventually lead NI to create (thanks to Anita Salmon – Sr. Hardware Engineer) true ATE digital pin electronics. Nevertheless, as Ron & I stood in the Amkor parking lot we agreed on the huge “Franchise Value” of NI developing a standard solution for ATE Production Test. 

The next few years was very exciting addressing challenges on multiple fronts. How NI Applications Engineering (supported “Reference Architectures“) would rise up to build “Marlin”. Thanks to Doug Shepard (NI Sr. Systems Engineering Manager) & Team we quickly had an early ATE O/S. But Parallel Test Efficiency (PTE) was still an unknown. The emotions of the ups and downs as we discovered solution gaps was invigorating. The team attitude was solid & confident. Big thanks to Chris White (NI Product Development Manager) for instantiating true patience on all involved. Big shout-out to John Bongaarts (NI Staff AE Specialist) for always keeping customer adoptions on-track. The list of key contributors is far too large to give justice here. We were a Team (we called ourselves a “Posse”) of friends, working very hard to achieve a common purpose & vision.

Written by Hank Lydick

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