Refuse the limits in digital design


Published 08-11-21

Proposed by Keysight-Technologies


Gidget Heintz has been advancing test and measurement technologies for over 25 years. Now she embarks on her most exciting adventure yet.

She has spent her career tackling seemingly intractable digital design challenges that provide opportunities to learn and collaborate with her peers. In the process, Gidget took on various roles at Keysight. However, she always seems to return to the research and development lab, where she thrives as a hardware and gateware designer for test and measurement solutions.

Gidget’s insatiable curiosity to solve customer problems has led to numerous patent contributions over the years. And she’s not done yet. These days, Gidget applies its knowledge of field-programmable gate array (FPGA) design to advance quantum solutions — a ripe opportunity for new collaborations and future breakthroughs.

When I sat down with Gidget for our Refusing Limits series, I was eager to learn more about her inventive process and what excites her most about working with emerging technologies like quantum.

Gidget, how have you continued to push technical boundaries throughout your career? Does it ever get exhausting?

Technology is constantly evolving and changing, which I find incredibly energizing. As the challenges have become more complex, I’ve had the opportunity to work with experts who specialize in areas of design that may be new to me but are part of the problems I’m trying to solve. Many of those relationships have survived the design challenges I was working on, resulting in mentorships that constantly remind me to seek new perspectives.

Constant change also means there is always something new to learn. I was able to break through all the technical limits in my career by being a continuous learner and keeping an open mind on different problem solving approaches. I also found inspiration by examining the methods used to solve similar challenges inside and outside our industry. This approach has been very fruitful for our work in emerging technologies.

What excites you about advancing emerging technologies?

I was excited to join Keysight’s quantum engineering group a few years ago because there is a ton of potential for breakthroughs in so many areas. Even though I didn’t have a quantum background before joining the group, everything I’ve learned since joining the team excites me for the future. As an FPGA designer specializing in hardware instrumentation, I see quantum as fertile ground for innovation. Applying new and known technologies to quantum applications in unique ways creates opportunities for new patents or provides never-before-seen solutions that advance the technology to its next breakthrough.

How do you keep customers at the heart of your work and your inventions?

There’s a difference between solving a technology challenge and creating a solution that makes life easier for our customers. I always aim for the latter. I do this by challenging assumptions in the product development process and asking questions that shed light on what is most important to our customers. This approach helps avoid over-engineering a solution or adding unnecessary constraints to a problem we are trying to solve.

Our group has also adopted agile practices that keep customers at the heart of our solutions. We work with client collaborators throughout this process to provide the best solutions. When I meet with our clients it’s always a pleasure because you can hear their needs first hand and get a better understanding of the problems they are trying to solve. This also ensures that the solutions we offer fully meet the customer’s needs.

For example, I enjoyed working with one of our recent collaborators, Professor Michel Pioro-Ladrière, Quantum Institute, University of Sherbrooke, on their research on spin qubits. Helping our customers accelerate their research is a great collaborative win for Keysight. It enables technological breakthroughs with our advanced quantum systems suitable for quantum control and readout applications.

You have contributed to several patents. What inventions are you most proud of?

Multiple timing signal generators using a single field programmable gate array because this was my first. It was also a new technical area for me. I created a model for a new instrument using independent digital sequencers that could either operate independently on their own programmable clock domains or be grouped together in banks operating as a single clock domain.

We needed to synchronize and phase-lock the clock structures, but had to overcome a limitation in the FPGA’s internal phase-locked loop (PLL) architecture that prevented this. It was an unresolved technical issue, and since I had never worked on this kind of challenge before, I presented it to a deeply respected colleague. My colleague, John Guilford, has used his design experience and creativity to come up with a new integrated way to synchronize and phase-align multiple clocks purely digitally within the FPGA. We took advantage of an advanced capability within FPGA technology to program and adjust PLLs in real time to calibrate the phases of clocks in a new way that led to the patent. We also extended this breakthrough to a multiple timing instrument model for extending clock synchronization which also met a product requirement. It was John’s breakthrough idea, and I contributed to the design as a co-inventor designer.

These are the types of experiences that excite me the most. Collaborating with other designers and inventors has helped me grow creatively and given me opportunities that challenge me to solve problems in unexpected ways.

It’s interesting that you mention it. Did you know that the number of names per patent is increasing?

I didn’t, but I’m not surprised. Except for one case, every submitted invention I’ve worked on has been a collaborative process. So I led or contributed as a member of the team. In today’s world of rapid technological progress, it makes sense that increased complexity leads to more patents with multiple authors. I find this trend very exciting because in my experience, working with other engineers brings more creativity to the table and results in better solutions for our customers who may or may not have patented ideas involved.

It sounds like you have a lot of experience with co-innovation. What did you learn from another inventor?

By working with other inventors, I’ve learned that each person brings different experiences and creative ideas to yours. And this is a good thing. I used these different perspectives as springboards to develop unique approaches to solving technical problems. I have also found that creativity is at its best during the first few days of researching or investigating a new product. This is when you have the time and freedom to think more creatively about a problem. That’s when real breakthroughs happen.

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Keysight Technologies, Inc. (NYSE: KEYS) is a leading technology company that helps enterprises, service providers and governments accelerate innovation to connect and secure the world. Keysight’s solutions optimize networks and bring electronics to market faster and more cost-effectively with offerings ranging from design simulation and prototype validation, to manufacturing testing and optimization in networks and environments. cloud.

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