Semiconductor IP Development: Q&A with Sr. VP Jumana Muwafi

Jumana Muwafi

Jun 23, 2021 / 4 min read

As SoCs become more complex to address the demands of burgeoning applications like AI, automotive, and high-performance computing, the role of IP will continue to grow in prominence. Designers want reliable, high-quality building blocks for fundamental functions, which allows them to focus on the core, differentiating aspects of their design. This presents opportunities for those designing IP to keep pushing the envelope and stay up to date on emerging requirements. No one knows this better than Jumana Muwafi, senior vice president of engineering in the Synopsys Solutions Group, which is responsible for the company’s expansive IP portfolio.

In honor of International Women in Engineering Day, we’re excited to share our recent conversation with Muwafi, who discussed the IP achievements she’s helped to engineer so far in her 24+ years at Synopsys.

Q&A with Jumana Muwafi

Q: How has the role of IP in electronic design evolved over the years?

A: The standards on which IP blocks are based are continuously evolving, so we’ve had to follow their development for our customers who rely on us. When our customers are ready to move to the next generation, they want to know that we’re there for them.

We also must consider manufacturing technology, in terms of adapting to the transistor evolution. We’ve progressed from 180nm in the early days to 3nm today. The technology continues to get faster, denser, and more complex to design in. We have to ensure our design methodologies support these advancements and the requirements of the foundries.

The markets we serve also play a role. We started our business primarily supporting mobile and consumer electronics designs. Today, we also have requirements for applications like automotive and high-performance computing. Automotive has its own ecosystem, with considerations like functional safety certification and long product lifetimes. For HPC, customers need higher bandwidth with lower latency and lower power. We continue to adapt our IP to meet these challenges.

Q: What are the IP achievements so far that bring you the most pride?

A: At any given time, we’re really pushing the envelope and pushing the edges of technology. We’re usually the first to design at the bleeding-edge technology node—there’s achievement in being able to do that. The IP we build and how we build that IP is one of our treasured gems. For example, it’s not just about designing a USB 4.0 PHY. It’s about whether we can also design it in multiple technology nodes, into multiple foundries, have it interoperate with multiple link partners, put it in the hands of dozens of customers, and support them while they’re all trying to tape out at the same time. To be successful, we need to understand this complexity while building an infrastructure to design these products with quality and predictability.

Another notable achievement is our quality. We’ve gained our customers’ trust through the quality of our products, as well as how we support them on their journey from selecting the right product for their chip to customizing it to their needs, assisting them with integration, and taking their design to volume production. These elements are the foundations of our business—and our customers’ success.

Q: Where do you see the role of IP going as electronic designs continue to become increasingly complex?

A: We’re seeing growth in the IP business primarily because chips today are SoCs. More and more, customers are choosing to outsource these fundamental building blocks because they want to focus on their core functionality, which differentiates their product in a specific application. They want to be able to rely on a partner that can provide them with reliable, quality IP.

Some advanced customers are working so quickly from one node to another. While working on one node now, some are planning out a year ahead. As an IP provider, we need to anticipate their evolving and emerging needs.

Q: It must be gratifying to get a front-row seat into continually advancing and essential technologies. What drew you to an engineering career?

A: In college, I initially leaned toward the biological side of science. In my freshman year, I took a Fortran 77 programming class, my first coding class, which I enjoyed immensely. After learning about the field from some peers, I ended up taking an introduction to electrical engineering class and, eventually, pursued a degree in electrical engineering at the American University of Beirut. After graduation, I came to the U.S. to build further on my education, earning a master’s in computer engineering at Syracuse University in New York.

I began my career at the IBM Watson Research Center in New York, my first entry into the semiconductor world. My journey led me to Synopsys more than 24 years ago, where I started off working on chip design services and methodology consulting on the EDA side of the business. The IP side of the house, where I’ve now spent most of my time at Synopsys, is a dynamic environment with constant growth in the spread of our products, our customer base, product complexity, and also in the markets we serve. We’ve been able to scale effectively, efficiently, and with quality.

Q: Any advice for those starting out in their careers, especially women who are interested in leadership roles?

A: Throughout my career, I’ve been able to expand my responsibilities by identifying and stepping up on areas that are overlooked, rather than waiting for opportunities to be presented to me. Management usually appreciates this, because these overlooked areas are projects that could be falling through the cracks and do need to be addressed.

Stepping out of your comfort zone is also important for building confidence. There is no learning without pain, without challenges. At the beginning of your career, in particular, it’s important to solidify your knowledge and start to build expertise in one area before you move on to another. As you move up in the management chain, it becomes easier to take on new areas. Having a very solid foundation gives you credibility to broaden your reach. Your background will allow you to ask the right questions and to make the right decisions as you manage areas where you may not have a chance to delve into too deeply.

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