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Cadence Accelerating Innovation
Pradeep Shankar
Thursday, February 1, 2007
Managing Director of Cadence’s India operations Jaswinder Ahuja is at the helm of engineering activities on which all industry—and social—progress relies. He steers an engineering force that makes software used to design the world’s most cutting-edge semiconductors.

Here’s a thought to quicken your pulse: With the move to 65nm and 45nm chip designs, Cadence is investing heavily in developing the next-generation design software as it acknowledges it as a key growth driver. Engineers at Cadence’s Noida facility are focused on developing design automation solutions to address the needs of the 65-/45-nm technology process nodes.

Chips are so complex today that figuring out how to lay out their intricate networks of microscopic circuits is one of the great achievements. Cadence’s software helps circuit engineers at places such as ST Microelectronics, Freescale Semiconductor IBM, NEC and Fujitsu avoid the distortions caused by packing millions of microscopic wires on a single piece of silicon. “We are solving the most difficult problem facing designers,” says Ahuja. Cadence’s areas of particular strength include silicon virtual prototyping, place and route, analog and mixed signal design, custom layout and package and board-level design.
The India Center is Cadence’s largest software development site outside the U.S, and is responsible for the development of several mainstream and critical technology products across the entire spectrum of electronic and system design automation like Alta, Logic design and verification and extraction, Silicon-package-board design, Synthesis and digital IC design, Custom and analog IC design.

Historically, the center has been strong in the areas of logic design, verification and printed circuit boards. Cadence is leveraging these skills to build products in India. Towards this end, all aspects of product development process from program management and product engineering to documentation is represented in the India Center.

Apart from the software group that builds next-gen tools, there is a Methodology Services group that helps create Intellectual Property to optimize the use of Cadence tools in customers’ design flows. There is also an IT group in India that provides systems support to all the Cadence offices across the world. Another group provides high-end customer support globally.

The Evolution
In 1987, Cadence was among the first major multinational companies to start operations in India. Its entry into India was by way of acquiring a smaller EDA player—Gateway Design Automation, which had an India R&D centre at Noida. The Indian engineers were building libraries or IP around Gateway’s flagship product—Verilog-XL, a logic simulation tool and thereby gained competence in verification.
In 1992, Cadence decided to leverage more from the India operations. The new mandate was to get beyond verification to areas of digital design and PCB design. In 1996, the then head of R&D at Cadence Shane Robinson (now CTO at HP) handpicked an internal candidate to steer the center. Ahuja remembers, on one of his U.S. visits Robinson had pulled him to his chamber and said, “Go make this a world class R&D organization. India center should be contributing to all of Cadence’s product lines.”

It took no time for Ahuja to get to action. He was quick to analyze that the India center had good engineers to execute but did not have any technology expertise or competence. “So there began my journey of building a world class organization,” says Ahuja. Over the years, the center has seen growth and expansion in its scope of activities in product development and business. Till date, Cadence has invested over $150 million in India and employs 900 people of which 600 are in R&D.

Putting the Engine in Motion
In order to move up the value-chain, Ahuja stressed on building Quality, Execution Excellence and Technology Expertise. He put a strategy in place to build those layers of differentiation. It took him a couple of years to get on par with the U.S. team.

Ahuja put in motion various programs for continuous productivity improvement across the organization. The goal was to improve productivity by ten percent and subsequently five percent year-on-year. To meet the end, the number of people deployed per project was roughly reduced by 10 percent every year. “Since competence is a function of experience, as people gained expertise their productivity increased. Let’s say there were 20 engineers developing a product this year. We quantified the actual work load. Subsequently in the next year on a pro rated basis, we looked at the man power needed and reduced that by 10 percent,” explains Ahuja.

Building organic competence takes time. “You cannot achieve it overnight especially when you have limited talent available in the market. Added to this is the high attrition rate we had during those times,” says Ahuja. Cadence worked out its hiring strategy to attract people with right background, right attitude and right aptitude. Some of the new hires included returnees from the U.S. In certain areas of technology, new graduates were hired and put through a training program. “You can hire people. But building competence takes time,” says Sameer Wadhawan, Director-HR.

In the process of building competencies, select engineers were assigned specific projects so that they could build capabilities around that. Along with this, the engineers were sent to the U.S. on rotational assignments, where they could work with the experts and also get exposure to the customers. Bringing experts from the U.S. to India to conduct training further fuelled this process.

Training became an important component of all people-development activities at Cadence. Typically, India did not provide a readymade talent pool for the EDA industry. So Cadence followed a simple model: hire, train and ramp up. Every new employee was presented with the synopsis of the EDA industry as well as the global picture. Each department then provided mandatory two-week induction training in technology. There were other technical training programs designed to groom fresh graduates. The same training model continues to be in place even today.

“While internal capability was built, we did not have access to leading edge customers in India yet. Access to customers was a key in order for us to lead technology initiatives,” recalls Ahuja. Unlike today, at that time, most of Cadence’s customers were in the U.S or Europe. Though momentum had picked up in India and companies were setting up their design shops, they weren’t doing leading edge work in India yet.

“It was around 2003 that the perfect storm took shape for us,” says Ahuja. “Our internal capability was ready. Customers in India had achieved a level of maturity where they were starting to perform leading edge work and were able to influence design methodologies and share with us their design challenges.” They were ready to partner with Cadence to develop solutions to those problems. Today, Cadence India is defining and developing leading edge technology solutions for Cadence’s growth areas.

The Organizational Culture
Cadence India has built an organizational culture that fosters high performing and motivated engineers. Helping its people realize their potential and focus on excellence of results are the two pillars of this organizational culture.

Professionals who are self-driven and achievement oriented are commensurate with appropriate rewards and recognition. “Efforts of such people enable us to deliver business results. It creates opportunities for us to grow as a company, as a center, and as a result creates opportunity for the people who have helped create those results,” notes Ahuja.
Cadence is also focused on creating a bootstrapping effect for individuals to truly realize their potential. “This calls for the leadership to care and understand the aspirations of employees. And then create appropriate opportunities for them to excel so that they can have further sense of achievement,” says Ahuja.

Innovation @ Work
Innovation is the dominant theme of Cadence’s organizational culture. Employees are encouraged to file patents, write papers, participate in technical conference and contribute to some of the standard designing bodies. The innovation culture and the sense of ownership in its engineers are quite explicit when we look at the products that roll out of this center.

In some areas such as verification and PCB design, the India center has built the product in its entirety and owns it. The Incisive Formal Verifier was developed in the India center. It provides a formal means of verifying RTL functional correctness with assertions, without the need of testbench simulation, and is an effective means of providing predictable, fast RTL block bring-up.

Another product, Allegro System Architect was developed in India. It allows PCB designers to capture the design using table based design techniques, HDLs, spreadsheets and schematics and pulls in the whole thing together in a coherent form. This dramatically improves productivity of PCB designers. Today, both these products contribute several tens of millions of dollars to Cadence bottom line.

Individual Growth
While the innovation spirit thrives at Cadence there is a conscious effort to help people grow. “Self development is a critical component of career development and growth. We consciously preach and promote it at Cadence. However, young engineers should keep in mind that they are the makers of their own destiny. The manager can only facilitate the talent development process,” says Ahuja.

To facilitate individual development, every line manager plays the role of a mentor. Also all senior executives, from both the technology and business domains, share their experiences, teach and mentor others under the “Leader-as-teacher” initiative. All employees, including the leadership team, invest time in learning through various knowledge sharing sessions spread across the year.

The Future Leaders
Today, more than 80 percent of the managers at Cadence come from within the company. Though new breed of managers are hired from outside, it is more so done with the objective of bringing in fresh thinking and perspective.
For instance, Ahuja himself has grown up the ranks internally. He began his career with Cadence (then Gateway Design Automation) pretty much at the same time when it started in India. Today, he not only steers the R&D from India, but also is responsible for Cadence’s business in the region. He also actively participates in evolving strategy for Cadence’s global R&D and is responsible for setting up Cadence’s R&D centers in Russia, Taiwan and China.

“Managers bred in-house will have a clear understanding of the leadership culture of the company,” notes Ahuja. While Cadence’s management has its tab on all its employees, such focused attention enables them to identify future leaders. Engineers who exhibit leadership traits are handpicked, groomed and made responsible for challenging tasks. Ahuja himself drives a leadership development initiative called the Shared Learning Series, wherein managers get lessons on practical aspects of operational management on challenges they face.

Cutting across the organizational divisions, Cadence scores well in all categories—product quality, innovation and employee talent. Says Ahuja, “If you are at Cadence, we ensure that you sit at the intersection of just about every technology trend there is.” Take any dimension—business, revenue, market share—Cadence has been growing at a rate which is above that of its competition. Also, the India team is growing at a healthy rate of around 20 percent. This only means that the career growth trajectory of engineers at Cadence is phenomenal. While work at Cadence India is technically challenging, Ahuja promises opportunities for engineers to build tools that help companies of all kinds get their electronic products to market.

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