65) Triple-Deckers, Dunkin’ Donuts and Reining-In My Ego

In my last post, I talked about how life sometimes prepares us – often without our realization – for a major challenge. In this post you will read about stuff we all deal with in life – progress or setbacks in our career, finding the right housing situation and that feeling we sometimes get before a big change arrives.

Work and Life in New England, 1989 – 1995

Since the ADXL50 project was so visible within ADI and the semiconductor industry, the key people who were involved with it were well-known within the company. For better or worse, I became – at least in my analog design group – somewhat of a celebrity. “Hey, aren’t you the guy that did the layout for the accelerometer,” folks would ask. “Yep, but I played a very small part,” I reminded them. At age 40, I had evolved from the “invincible arrogance of youth”. I knew that Analog Devices had entrusted an important project to me, supported me through the highs and lows and let me complete the layout with no interference. Entering the sixth year of my career in semiconductor mask design, I had gone from goat to hero – at least in my mind – and I was ready to grab my career by the lapels and shake the hell out of it.

New Assignment at ADI

After the hoopla of the ADXL50 release in 1993 and during the time ADI was preparing a release of the chip to the airbag component vendor for the Ford Motor Company, I was assigned to work with the two very prominent analog circuit designers, whose work developing op-amp circuits was well-known – if only based upon the number of patents they held.

Op-amp layout is itself a highly specialized craft and one in which, despite my local celebrity from the accelerometer layout, I was not well versed. For the next two years I did my best to support their projects. I’m afraid they would tell you I fell far short of the mark and maybe kind enough to say I improved over time.

An Ill-Advised Visit to the Library in Andover, Massachusetts

Sometimes when things were slow, I would sneak over to the library to read self-improvement books and magazines. But occasionally my visits lasted longer than my good judgement. I recall returning from one visit to the Andover Public Library to find the parking lot of Analog Devices filled with employees. It seems there had been a fire drill, and upon taking a head count of the members of my group, it was discovered I was missing. Quite embarrassing. Celebrity – even small – has its drawbacks.

Big Fish in a Tiny Pond

As my layout skills improved at ADI in Massachusetts, I became the go to guy for all revisions to the accelerometer. This was empowering, except that each revision of the layout contained design rule violations that seemed to always trigger contentious arguments between two factions: the design and layout team that wanted the violations waived and fabrication and quality control that would prefer to enforce the rules. Two more factors were: some of the rules were moving targets and open to interpretation and deadlines for completing the design revisions were sometimes not able to be changed. This entire recipe, for a celebrity mask designer like myself – had a lot of stress baked-in.

After a nearly 5 years on the ADXL50 and 3 years of revisions, I was ready for a big change.

New Cadre of Smart, Cheap, Supremely Confident Technologists

During the last 12 months, as other MEMS accelerometer designs were undergoing various stages of development – some more sensitive or containing more than one axis of g-force measurement – the group began to staff the group with young PH D’s, whose charter it was to invent killer architectures to slay the accelerometer markets for Analog Devices. They were young, smart, cheap and often rode their bicycles to work or spoke with slight Mandarin accents in perfect English. They asked a lot of questions and were fearless to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t know how that works, could you please explain it to me?” Or sometimes, just: “Prease exprain.”

Still on the Move in New England

During the five-year span I had worked at Analog Devices, we had lived in the triple-decker in Cambridge, an apartment building in Somerville, a rented house in Andover and finally a purchased house in Londonderry, New Hampshire. The flat in Cambridge became too expensive to heat (it used heating oil stored in a tank outside), the apartment in Somerville became less kid friendly due to a bomb scare at their school and the rented house in Andover was used to position us to qualify for the mortgage on the house in Londonderry, New Hampshire. At least these are the ways I was rationalizing our relocations.

If we can agree to this logic, then our house in Londonderry should have been our last stop for a while. Should have.

Do you know someone who drives change because of boredom or a needed challenge?

 

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