Sadly, Richard Newton left us a bit too early. The news of his death came as a shock to me. He passed away today, at a rather young age of 56 due to illness related to pancreatic cancer. So much more wisdom was due from him to the engineering community. He has already grown to become an icon in the Electronic design world. Not many people in the world can claim to have started two very successful yet competing engineering technology companies (Dr Newton was instrumental in starting both Synopsys and Cadence). He reminds very much of the famous communication duo namely, Dr. Andrew Viterbi and Dr. Irwin Jacobs, who have successfully built systems from concept (theory) to practice (chips) with good business acumen. The list for sure does not end here with these three, but they are pioneers in covering all aspect of technology. That is, Theory, implementation and business.
The first time, I ever heard his name was in 1998. I just had started working with Synopsys, my first industry experience outside academics. Even though I was more into communication system and algorithm design, his name would pop up in many of the EDA design discussions and talks. Besides, there used to be huge repository of documents available in Synopsys, prepared by mainly Berkeley professors including Dr. Richard Newton. As a young 21 year old, interested in the engineering realization of algorithms, it was treasure for me. I was very impressed by some of the lecture notes by him on the system on chip implementation of communication modems. As someone very fond of theory, I gradually developed a curiosity to see how these sojourn mathematical algorithms put into real world silicon. One of the lecture note (which was prepared by Dr. Heinrich Meyr and Dr. Herbert Dawid, who was my colleague in Synopsys, Aachen Germany) on the implementation of Viterbi algorithm was special. It instantly clarified (cleared) a lot of myths I used to have, about realizability of complex algorithms into piece of gates and eventually to working chips.
I have always been a great admirer of my Ex CEO Aart De Geus. It is told that, Dr Newton was instrumental in realizing Aart’s dream of starting, rather building a synthesis company from the synthesis program he developed (named Socrates) while, working at General Electric in North Carolina (or may be when he was doing PhD at Texas. I am not quite sure of the exact fact). It was Dr. Newton who helped Aart to find the funding sources for Synopsys (Optimal solutions as it was called in the initial days) to start.
Even after leaving Synopsys, I used to browse through his website, once in a while to see what he is up to these days. EDA is an amazing field. Small, but very niche and interesting. It is not a field where you can claim to be an expert so soon. In that sense, Newton an authority both technically and business wise, whose premature demise is indeed an irreparable loss. In this era when the trend in is to put more computing stuffs into software as against hardware (Silicon), I was curiously looking forward to his views on the new direction EDA would shape to! Besides, he is said to be (I never had an opportunity to meet him, listen to or attend his classes) an excellent teacher who could bridge the gap between theory to engineering solutions. Some of his students at Berkeley (PhD students and students of his colleagues who happened to know him closer), who later became my colleagues in Synopsys used to describe the gory details of the way the EDA engineering issues taught by Dr Newton. The void created by his loss will not be replaced so soon.