Profiles in Design: Istvan Novak

-July 02, 2014

“Stay curious and don’t settle just for simulation results or just for measurement results. Work until the measurement data, simulation data, and your understanding all come to a reasonable agreement”--Istvan Novak

If you’ve spent any time at a DesignCon conference over the years, chances are you’ve met Istvan Novak, who attended his first DesignCon in 1994. Currently, he is a senior principal engineer at Oracle, working on power and signal integrity modeling, designs, and methodologies for mid-range servers. I asked him to participate in EDN’s Profiles in Design series, which is currently focusing on DesignCon ‘luminaries.’

By way of introduction, Istvan began his formal technical education at the Technical University of Budapest and earned his Ph.D. degree from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He organized and led the High Speed Technology Team at the Technical University of Budapest, where his teaching activity covered transmission lines and wave propagation, communications systems, EMC, and signal-integrity issues of high-speed designs.  A recognized signal integrity expert, Istvan is the lead-author of the book Frequency Domain Characterization of Power Distribution Networks and the executive editor of the book Power Distribution Design Methodologies. He is a Fellow of IEEE and holds twenty-five patents in the field of power distribution, signal integrity, precision measurements, and digital signal processing.  

EDN: Why did you first get into this market/career?

Istvan Novak: My late father had three diplomas as a pharmacist, medical doctor, and chemist.  But he was also a trained and licensed carpenter, electrician, and plumber.  Years before we went to elementary school with my older brother, he showed us how to make at home, with very simple means, AC transformers, motors, and batteries.  In the mid and late 1950s we did not have television, only radio.  He showed us how to make a working radio by using a WWII headphone and a germanium diode.  When we were walking on the street, we pushed a short wire hanging out from the headphone to the gutter downpour pipes of houses, and we could listen to the local radio.  It was like magic!  

EDN: What do you find fascinating about engineering/test?
The infinite variety of ways how we can get fooled or led down the wrong path.

EDN: What has surprised you over the years in terms of technology?
Private-business space travel is becoming a reality soon.  I would have thought it would take longer to catch up with the big players.

EDN: What did you think we’d be able to do now that we still can’t?
Well, in the 1970s with all the sci-fi books and movies many people, including myself, assumed that by now there would be large colonies living on the Moon, maybe even on the Mars, robots would be human-like intelligent creatures and peoples of the earth would live in piece.  Unfortunately none of these have become reality.
EDN: What’s next for you/the industry?
I would like to see the power distribution solutions evolving to a point when all or most DC-DC converters would be on the silicon or package.  We may even get to the point when (again) we will not need any bypass capacitors on the boards.

EDN: Any advice for new engineers?
Stay curious and don’t settle just for simulation results or just for measurement results. Work until the measurement data, simulation data, and your understanding all come to a reasonable agreement.

EDN: What is your favorite movie (or book)?
: Always the one that I read or saw the most recently.  A book that I particularly liked was The Corrections from Jonathan Franzen. I liked this book in particular because it gave a very detailed and clear picture of how people relate to each other and to life's problems in an ever-changing stressful new world.

EDN: Any funny work/school related stories?
As some people probably now, I have been doing industry training courses on signal and power integrity over the past twenty-five years.  I do this in my personal time with my personal resources.  A few years back at a course, on the second day, I noticed a significant change in the attitude of people towards me.  At one of the breaks it turned out why: they Googled my name and they thought that I was (also) a poker champion.  Someone with the same name, who is from the same country and city that I am, is in fact a famous poker champion!

EDN: How long have you been involved with/attending DesignCon? How have you participated?
The first DesignCon I attended just as a participant was in 1994 in Hungary.  In 1995 in Santa Clara we had a joint paper about VXI clock routing.  Since 1999 each year several of us from SUN (now Oracle) from the Boston office have been participating with papers, TecForums, and panel discussions.

EDN: How has DesignCon changed?
  DesignCon has changed in many ways over the years. At first it was a marketing support event for Hewlett Packard and had only one day and one or two parallel tracks.  The primary focus was signal integrity and system design.  Over the years the conference evolved into a multi-day and multi-track event for engineers working with high-speed electronics.  I've written a little summary on this.

EDN: What makes DesignCon special?
The fact that in one place you can find all of the best experts and major vendors focusing on engineering solutions for high-speed designs.

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