Talking With ... Limor Fix
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- Job: Senior principal engineer, associate lab director, Intel Research Pittsburgh.
- Age: 48
- Hometown: Tel Aviv, Israel; resides in Squirrel Hill.
- Education: Bachelor of science, computer science, Technion Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel, 1981; master of science, computer science, Technion Israel Institute of Technology, 1990; Ph.D., computer science, Technion Israel Institute of Technology, 1992.
- Career: 1981-83: programmer, Israeli Defense Forces; 1983-85: project leader, Israeli Defense Forces; 1992-94: postdoctoral researcher, Cornell University; 1994-2005: developer and research manager, Intel Israel; 2005-present: senior principal engineer and associate lab director, Intel Research Pittsburgh.
Limor Fix, a native of Israel, earned three degrees in computer science at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, managed a software development group in the Israeli army and completed postdoctoral studies at Cornell University prior to joining Intel Corp. in Israel.
She relocated to Pittsburgh in 2005 to become associate director of Intel's research facility located on the Carnegie Mellon University campus.
She also is the chair of the 2008 Design Automation Conference, a prestigious international gathering of about 10,000 computer science researchers and professionals to be held next month in Anaheim, Calif.
Q: What was the focus of your postdoctoral research at Cornell University?
A: My research was in formal verification: a way to verify that a CPU (central processing unit) or any other electronic design is correct before you manufacture it. You want to make sure the design doesn't have any functional bugs.
Q: And you continued that specialty at Intel?
A: Intel hired me and relocated me back to Israel. I worked there for 10 years, and I was leading a formal verification group. At the beginning, it was a research group because this technology was just being developed in academia and there was no industry using it and no industrial tools that used it.
The prototype we developed was very successful, and many design groups within Intel started using our prototype to verify that the designs they were doing were correct and free of bugs.
Q: How did you land in Pittsburgh?
A: I was at Intel in Israel, and I wanted a change. After 10 years, in some sense doing the same job, I felt there was a cycle: I did research, it became a reality, became a product. I was there from the beginning to the end and it was not as challenging anymore.
Intel is a big place. You can change your job and stay with the same company. I was looking around at what was available. [Intel Pittsburgh's] lab director is a professor from Carnegie Mellon University who is on sabbatical and it's a rotating role, so every two years there is a new professor coming in. In order to create some stability in management, they brought me in to have an Intel person managing the lab over a longer term.
I also know Intel; I have a strong Intel network, so I help connect the researchers in the lab to the rest of Intel.
Q: How big is the Intel facility here?
A: There are 22 full-time employees. In the summer, we have around 40 students come in, most from CMU, some from the University of Pittsburgh and a few from other universities. What's special is that we have an open, collaborative agreement with Pitt and CMU.
When Ph.D. students work here in the summer, they continue to work on their thesis, research or whatever they develop here ... back at the university. It's our intention for all the research we do here to be published. For every project, we would like to have two researchers from our group working with two or three professors and two to five Ph.D. students. So in every project, you may find 12 people out of which two are from Intel and the rest are academics.
Q: You were a manager in the Israeli army in your early 20s. Was that unusual for a young soldier?
A: In Israel, you have to serve in the army. If you are a good student in high school, you get the choice to do your first degree and then serve in the army, and they use your skills. That's what I did. I got my first degree at Technion then served in the army for four years. Within a few months, they made me a manager of a software development group. I was stationed in Tel Aviv.
It was certainly lots of responsibility for a young person. When I was 23, I was heading a software group of 30 people and developing some secret software. It was very interesting and it was not combat. The army really gives people the opportunity to get involved in big projects ... really early in their lives.
Q: You are chairing the Design Automation Conference this year. What is that?
A: This is the DAC's 45th year ... and it remains the biggest, most important conference in this area. When you develop electronics, you need tools. If Intel has a few thousand engineers developing CPUs, or new hardware, they need a chain of almost 200 different software tools to do the design. Design automation is the tools that help you do your design of an electronic product.
This conference is the meeting place for both academic professors and students doing research in this domain. And the industry, the companies that sell those software tools come and exhibit. ... It's the meeting place to discuss all the challenges and really move the industry forward.
Q: With your global perspective, how do you think Pittsburgh stacks up as a place to develop technology and recruit technical talent?
A: CMU in computer science and electrical engineering is fantastic. When I was in Israel, I collaborated with Randal Bryant (dean of the School of Computer Science) and Ed Clarke (professor of computer science).
I would like to see more startups happening in Pittsburgh. I think there is potential. I'm not sure why it is not happening. I hope with Intel, Google and Apple here that it is actually going to help it happen.
I look at what happened in Israel. ... There were a few Israelis who came to the U.S. and worked at Intel, IBM, Microsoft, Motorola. They wanted to go back to Israel, and they convinced [those companies] to open a small group in Israel. Some people left those groups, and they were well-equipped in technology, business and industry to open a startup; and this is how the Silicon Valley in Israel started.
The same phenomenon could happen here. The universities are already here. There is no shortage of talent and brilliant Ph.D. students and professors who are willing to collaborate. But professors usually -- though there are exceptions -- are not the ones who want to switch their careers and become a chief executive or are able to be a good chief executive.
I think if people sit in Apple, Google and Intel for a few years, they could be the core for additional companies. It will happen. I don't know how exactly it can be expedited. Maybe tax incentives.
Q: What's been your experience as a woman in the technology industry?
A: In Israel, women are very equal. It was never a problem. In Intel, there are fewer women than men and, yes, the style of management and maybe the style of communication are more manly. But it terms of opportunity, we get the same opportunities. Actually, Intel is making a special effort to advance women's careers, but still the numbers are low. It's a demanding job. You need to decide how to balance your life in terms of children and home and work. Are you willing to work 12 hours a day or not?
Q: You are married with children. How did you do it?
A: My children are 21 and 23. They were both born while I was doing my Ph.D., so this was good because I worked on my degree three days a week and was a mother four days a week. When I did most postdoc, my husband wasn't working for two years; so again, it was very convenient. And there was a lot of help: my mom, baby-sitting and lots of money spent on any possible help with cleaning the house and taking care of the children. All help I was able to get, I was willing to pay for it.
Q: How have you adapted to Pittsburgh?
A: We love the weather. In Israel it is so hot, and the summer in the sun is so harmful. We love it when it's cool and when it's green. We do downhill skiing in the winter. It's convenient. It's easy. Everything is nearby. There is lots of culture, good food, good company and no terror, no bombs.
First Published May 18, 2008 12:00 am