Exploring the Frontiers of FPGA Engineering: Insights from Tom Kemp

Fpga Blog

In this insightful Q&A, we delve into the world of FPGA engineering with Tom Kemp, our experienced FPGA engineer. With a keen understanding of the contemporary significance of FPGA development both globally and within his company, EXB, Kemp provides valuable insights into the rapid evolution of this technology and its critical role in bridging the gap between software and hardware realms. From discussing the multifaceted reasons for pursuing a career in FPGA engineering to outlining the essential skills required for success in this field, Kemp offers valuable perspectives that shed light on the future trajectory of the FPGA industry.

  1. In what ways is FPGA engineering significant in the contemporary world and within EXB?

There are multiple reasons that FPGA development has advanced technically and dominated rapid development.

  • Fast product to market – if a company can absorb high individual part cost for an FPGA into production, they will reach their targeted market quickly with a solution and have the ability to adapt/modify/bug fix any issues that arise. Rapid FPGA modification avoids multi-million-dollar mask change that custom ASIC design changes may require. If you can’t fix it in metal layers, an ASIC bug is so expensive.
  • Rapid prototyping of proposed, detailed designs at a relatively low cost.
  • Implementation of high-level Software language described concept designs by software engineers into hardware gate level operation through HLS.

 Within EXB:

  • FPGA Design is an engineering skill set that bridges both software and hardware operations. With FPGA design, EXB can produce customer solutions rapidly, with little time/cost investment.
  • EXB FPGA design engineers can produce customer product requirements, active in HW, reviewable as though the HW is SW, changeable as customer conditions demand.
  1. Why should an aspiring engineer consider a career in FPGA?

An engineer that aims for FPGA expertise will acquire so many bridgeable skill sets: HDL language, Scripting language, hardware knowledge, SW interface, HW interface and most any communication interface knowledge- from simple I2C to High-Speed GB interfaces. They are all readily implementable, custom or COTS, in modern FPGAs.

  1. What are the five essential skills that an FPGA Engineer must possess?

A successful FPGA engineer would have the following skills/traits:

  • Understanding of board level design (signal integrity, power integrity, configuration options)
  • Understanding of HDL language and how it relates to various FPGA family architectures.
  • Hard, Firm and Soft intellectual property options within an FPGA design.
  • System security – what options do the various FPGA families offer to protect customer designs and integrity.
  • A desire to learn, interface with all other design disciplines and rapidly produce a design that meets the requirements with flexible change capability.
  1. How do you envision the future of the FPGA industry?
  • Continued Growth: The FPGA industry is poised for rapid expansion as it endeavors to match the technical capabilities of custom ASICs in terms of speed, power, and performance.
  • Persistent Technology Gap: The unique ability of FPGAs to facilitate quick, custom designs and ASIC emulation is unlikely to be replaced in the near future.

Price Point Consideration: There may be scenarios where the cost of an advanced ASIC mask set becomes comparable to that of a delivered FPGA implementation, particularly for smaller production runs.

  1. What would it take for an Electric Engineer to train as an FPGA Engineer?
  • Assess Interest Level: Determine the level of interest in FPGA engineering as it complements other electrical engineering skills.
  • Learn a HDL Language: Acquire proficiency in HDL languages such as VHDL or Verilog/SystemVerilog.
  • Study FPGA Architectures: Understand the capabilities and behaviors of different FPGA architectures available in the market.
  • Practical Experience: Invest in a low-cost FPGA development board and engage in hands-on coding exercises to solidify understanding.
  • Embrace Versatility: Recognize the value of FPGA engineering in bridging hardware, software, and firmware, thereby enhancing the engineer’s overall skill set and value proposition.

An FPGA bridges HW/SW/FW. A good FPGA engineer can very valuable. SW can fix a lot of issues, but a good FPGA engineer ensures that bug fixes can optionally be implemented in HW, as well.