Profiles in Test: Kevin Ilcisin, Tektronix

-July 12, 2013

I was recently speaking with the team at Tektronix and they recommended I meet Dr. Kevin Ilcisin, VP and CTO for Tektronix. Interestingly enough, Kevin and I have a couple of geographic overlaps. He attended Princeton University in NJ (where I am from) and he received a bachelor’s degree and the APPEGA gold medal in electrical engineering from the University of Alberta, where I just returned from vacationing this week!  Here are some highlights from my interview with Kevin. Please use the comments section to share your own memories or ask questions of Kevin.

Janine Love: (Janine) Why did you first get into this market/career?
Growing up, I was the prototypical nerd, fascinated by taking things apart (and sometime even putting them together again).  That passion for science and engineering guided my school choices including the decision to enter graduate studies in physics. I wanted to do research on things that no one had ever tried before.  That same passion brought me to this industry.  What makes our customers unique is that most of them are trying to do something new or something different, and that uniqueness requires assistance in the way of measurement tools and applications that can help them answer key questions and solve critical problems.

Janine: What synergies have you found between your areas of laser, display, and semiconductor equipment? How does your experience in these areas help you with your role now?
I wouldn’t say this background brought a lot in the way synergy.  In fact, my career path resulted in the opposite: a broad exposure to technologies and industries that are each unique in terms of technologies, challenges, people, operational and organizational models.   The different roles presented me the opportunity to experience innovation in companies that ranged from a three-person start-up to Fortune 500 companies.  I believe this breadth of experience is what has me asking: “why are we doing it that way? what about…is there another way to solve this?”   I’m always thinking about how other teams handled similar technical challenges, comparing and contrasting what worked and didn’t and what might apply in a new situation.

Janine: What do you find fascinating about engineering/test?
The engineering and science professions really focus on achieving one of two outcomes: generating knowledge for use by others, and solving tough problems. Both of these are found daily in the T&M industry.  For me, solving a critical problem that can help someone or discovering a new phenomenon, artifact, or root cause model creates the opportunity for something new to be learned or experienced every single day.  That is what makes it fascinating.  

Janine: Can you give us an example?
Just thinking about some of the responsibilities I’ve had over the last several months are a great example.  One of our design teams has been working to develop an entirely new way to sample wideband signals.  Attempting to do something that has never been done before, the learnings, the experiments, the accomplishments and even the occasional set-backs makes being in the office exciting each and every day.  

Janine: What has surprised you over the years in terms of technology?
: The acceleration of and transformational speed at which new technologies are developed affects how they impact our quality of life.  My wife’s grandfather, whom I became close to, was a technology addict, even without formal training.  He was born in 1907.  He saw the advent of the aerospace and semiconductor industries.  He was a life-long photographer who constantly relied on technology to assist him as he aged.  Failing sight?  He could compose pictures and autofocus could do the rest.  He had an imaging system that allowed him to magnify printed pages and thus he kept reading technical journals into his 80s.  What he didn’t experience was the internet, e-books, and Skype. He would have loved those technologies and they have all become common in the less than 20 years since he passed away.

Janine: What did you think we’d be able to do now that we still can’t?
I did spend five years studying fusion, which we all understood to be a huge challenge, but one where success would have an enormous impact.  Those teams continue to make great progress, in large part because of the advancement in both diagnostics and test equipment, coupled with even more powerful modeling computers.  I have always been a bit more bullish on artificial intelligence, and although it’s had a history of false starts/hope I think some of the recent accomplishments demonstrated by IBM’s Watson are impressive.  The fascinating thing to consider is that the power of Watson should be in my laptop in about 10 years!  I remain optimistic.

Janine: What’s next for test?
Well, going back to some of my earlier comments, engineers are always looking to solve new problems that require new measurements, and, as a consequence, new tools and analysis capabilities.  As an example, the continued demand for greater bandwidth and data rates, both wired and wireless, is continuously driving innovations in components, systems and networks that in turn require completely new capabilities from test tools—wider bandwidths, higher dynamic range, lower noise. This is further complicated by other trends.  Moore’s law has brought us SOC-based systems that require new test methodologies.  Finally, I haven’t met an engineer yet whose manager has asked “can that project take a bit longer, can you push the schedule out?”  Engineers today need to constantly improve their productivity.  Designing, debugging, and validating new designs is one of the most critical and time consuming activities they undertake.  In our industry we are working to ensure that we can support those goals by focusing on improving the productivity of test equipment and solutions.

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