Mentor’s new leader – A.J. Incorvaia – sees opportunity in systems.
How do you replace an iconic technology? And how do you replace an iconic leader? Over the past year Mentor Graphics has attempted to tackle both.
When Mentor named A.J. Incorvaia vice president and general manager of the company’s Board Systems Division last October, the first question on many minds was, What does this mean for Henry Potts, the face of PCB design at the company for more than 15 years? And the second was, who is A.J. Incorvaia?
Prior to joining Mentor, Incorvaia was one of the industry’s best-kept secrets. Over a 30-year career in printed circuit design, the past 16 with Cadence, he developed a sterling résumé spanning leading OEMs and software vendors.
That experience shaped not only his knowledge of software development but also how customers think and work. He recognizes the capability of software must not outstrip the user’s ability to execute it to its full potential. Over the course of an interview with PCD&F, Incorvaia also showed he thinks in terms of systems, not just individual components.
From user to vendor. As a software engineer for Digital Equipment for nine years, Incorvaia came aboard as DEC shifted from internal tools to Scicards. Among the tasks he was asked to learn at Digital was PCB layout. The experience informed how he approaches software development today.
“There’s pain customers go through when bringing in new technology into their flow or environment,” he says. “Just translating all the libraries: Can I replicate or replace the existing ones, or do I need new ones?”
While at Digital, Incorvaia was part of a software development team for schematic symbols, “glueware” (integration software) and advanced tools. The goal was to link front- and backend design. After nine years, he left for Viewlogic to acquire frontend library and data management experience. As engineering manager there, he led a team to develop a virtual prototyping tool, and along the way acquired high-speed and signal integrity experience. Following Synopsys’ 1997 purchase of Viewlogic, he followed former Viewlogic group VP Dave DeMaria to Cadence.
DeMaria was one of many mentors to Incorvaia during his 16-year run at Cadence, which culminated in becoming vice president of R&D. Charlie Giorgetti and Keith Felton are other names that come to mind. “A lot of people at Cadence helped me along the way. It is a great group of people,” he recalls.
When Mentor came calling last year, one of the aspects that made it “a great opportunity” for Incorvaia was the chance to work with Henry Potts. Fewer than six months later, however, as Mentor was rolling out two major platforms, Potts himself departed Mentor. (He is now at Altium). Yet while Incorvaia is now firmly in charge, he is hewing to the company's vision. “The Xpedition VX release is a great foundation to build on. With the new Pads family, we have a great foundation. In terms of technology and the teams in place, they are really good.”
Incorvaia says his top priority as GM of the Board Systems division is to get a tighter handle on matching its technology to customer needs. “Clearly we have a lot of great technology. One of my goals is to make sure the industry and customer base is aware of that, and how it can help them solve the problems they have today.
“Another goal is managing the technology pipeline we have. Mentor Graphics invests more than anyone in the industry. We need to develop technology that solves customer problems, since the industry keeps evolving. It’s not just about developing great technology; it’s solving problems. A new tool without the other pieces – training, models, support – we as an industry don’t always do a great job with that.”
With that in mind, Incorvaia has a goal to establish a more steady set of product releases at Mentor. “We want to become more predictable, to get to a point where customers can plan their year around knowing when to adopt that new release.”
What’s shared with his stops at previous vendors is the similarity in the problems customers face. “Whether by market or design complexity, there’s a lot of overlap in what they are trying to solve. When I came to Mentor Graphics, I was glad to see a lot of the same problems they had at Cadence are the same at Mentor.
You can organize those solutions over a large number of customers. Some technology will be overkill. We try to have solutions that can scale, either through product options or increased functionality, to solve the most complex problems. You create a base of technology, then package it at an appropriate price point, regardless of the level of complexity.”
Switching teams hasn’t led to a change in mindset. If anything, Incorvaia says it has reinforced his feeling that regardless of the market sector, customers share common problems. “Increased complexity, minimized schedule risks, other common things in system design – SI/PI analysis. A few years ago that was only used by high-end enterprise customers. Now, even customers who were seen as technology laggards are using high-speed parts.”
He also mentions ease of use as an area where improvements are needed. “You can almost [divide] the user base into two segments. Certain aspects of tools are used all the time: e.g., layout; schematic checkers. And there are the all-in-one engineers, who perform front- and backend. As an industry we need tools to be more intuitive, so the occasional user doesn’t have a steep learning curve. This means context-sensitive help, where hovering over an icon shows a video of what the command does. That’s definitely an area of focus for us. This means minimizing the tools so the user can quickly get the answer they need. This means minimizing tool setup out of the box. And when we make enhancements, don’t move all the menus around.
“Another area is the drive to bring MCAD and ECAD closer. The interest in exchanging data and designing in 3D, which is especially a problem in rigid-flex design.
Last but not least, customers build systems with multiple PCBs connected by a backplane, a cable, a flex connect. You want to erase the level of abstraction and do so properly so the design isn’t affected.”
Given shrinking form factors, Incorvaia sees opportunity for the MCAD and ECAD disciplines to evolve in a complementary fashion, but not necessarily into a single package. “Coexistence, codesign,” he says, “especially for highly complex product. Mechanical experts want to use mechanical tools, and electrical experts want to use electrical tools. Those domains will get closer together. There are better ways to share the data. In the electrical side, this means some level of 3D design so you can design the PCB in the context of what it will go into: collision checking; can the flex fold properly with no components in the bend area? It’s not enough just to have keepout areas. More checking technology. More and better ways to transfer data. Even with IDX, there’s a level of clunkiness. It would be great to view data in real time.”
Where Incorvaia differs from his previous stops is how he would approach OEM deals. While some competitors have engaged in OEM relationships of late to broaden their technology offerings, Incorvaia doesn’t believe this will become a widespread trend.
“I would be surprised if we saw a lot of new OEM deals. There’s a lot of cost and complexity involved, a lot of risk. Every company has been burned by an OEM deal, either internally or outside the industry. If we needed it badly enough, I’d rather buy it or build it.”
Incorvaia sees Mentor on an evolutionary course. He seeks platform and release stability, and says the company plans to continue to develop Xpedition, Valor, Hyperlynx and Pads. “We will continue to build on the VX platform for the foreseeable future,” he says, adding that users can expect tighter Valor integration in Xpedition. “We expect new technology in Valor in the next year or so.”
Harkening back to his Digital days, Incorvaia says it all goes back to systems design. “When people think about technology, they need to do system design. I think we are the only vendor who can go from system to I/O planning on a SoC or custom chip, and even into manufacturing. The technology can go very deep.”