IT is all about the latest hack or killer app but SEMICON is populated by the really old guard of the technology industry. These guys (and it's a total sausagefest) have been in industrial processor manufacturers since the 1950s and you might have the latest whiz-bang business plan but unless you can cut wafer unit failures by five per cent or more they're just not impressed.
Silicon Valley underestimates these people. Yes, you'll see more folks in bad suits than at an underfunded undertakers' reception and the local homeless are loving the fact that the ashtrays of the Moscone Center have been filled with half-smoked butts by Far Eastern delegates and a few of us locals. But these are the people that build the engines of our careers.
People underestimate high technologies like semiconductor design. We've got so used to the idea of faster computers being able to solve our problems that we forget the engineering genius behind making millions of transistors work in near-perfect harmony. Today's keynote warned that we may be nearing the end of a Golden Age of processor design and the industry must pull together or hang separately.
While the mood among delegates was upbeat compared to last year that wasn't exactly hard. Semiconductor sales were bottoming out during last year's conference and then the Moscone had all the joie de vivre of a state funeral hosted by The Smiths.
Still, there are warnings that the industry still hasn't learned the lessons of the past crash. Chip, and especially memory, manufacturers are in a constant battle to gain market share by adjusting production. Since the industry can't control demand it seeks to shift supply to meet that figure.
This has its drawbacks. This is a competitive industry and the tendency to oversupply is endemic. Several people have warned of a crash in memory prices in the next 18 months. Maybe the people in suits really do have a wild side.
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