An Interview with Suhas Patil
Photo of Suhas Patil

Interview by Jill Wolfson, San Jose Mercury News; and David Danielson
Cupertino High School

Interview photos by Len Lahman, San Jose Mercury News

Transcribed by Jean Ricket, Tech Museum volunteer


David Danielson

Suhas Patil was born in Jamshedpur, India, and came to the high-tech industry from academia. Now, as chairman of the board and executive vice president of products and technologies for Cirrus Logic Inc., he says his teaching skills are invaluable. Cirrus Logic is a leading manufacturer of advanced integrated circuits for multimedia, communications and mass storage in personal computers.

Patil received his degree in electronics and electrical communication from the Indian Institute of Technology in 1965 and his master's and doctorate in electrical engineering at MIT in 1967 and 1970.

He taught computer science at MIT, then moved to the University of Utah. While there, from 1975 to 1980, he founded the VLSI (very large scale integration) group and worked on design methodology for complex integrated circuits. He founded Patil Systems Inc. in 1981 to develop software for automated integrated circuit design.

He and Michael Hackworth, the company's president and CEO, founded Fremont-based Cirrus Logic in 1984. He spoke with writer Joyce Gemperlein and student David Danielson.

Danielson :   Who or what inspired you to become involved in science and technology?
Patil :   I can't remember any specific event, but I got engaged in science more by tinkering around with things. Things around my house, particularly.

My father had a side business of repairing radios and through that, he had lots of things including neat tools, things that one could work on. Worked on wooden things, and then metal things, and then electronic things.


I learned English in order to read the Popular Science magazines, to understand what they were talking about.
The earliest (one) I had, of course, was a Mechano Set, which is a British version of an Erector Set, and that was neat. That was my LEGO equivalence. There were no lego blocks at that time.
Danielson :   Who would you say was your hero or mentor?
Patil :   My father was my mentor. My father's name is Shrikrishna. Well, he himself had done a lot of things. At the age of whatever, 10 or 12, he got into photography. There used to be box cameras, he tells me. So I think with his background, it was a lot easier for me. I used to follow him around asking questions all the time, and he tolerated me.

. . . I learned English in order to read the Popular Science magazines, to understand what they were talking about. And then I studied the American radio engineer's book , which actually belonged to my uncle and I got my hands on it. I had studied English in school, but I was not proficient in that or effective. And wanting to study these, those are the books I read first and understood well.

Danielson :   What kind of advice would you give to students who are interested in the same kind of things you were interested in?
Patil :   Well, now, I think it's too early to have a particular passion for a particular subject in high school to have to nail down that.

I think that what is very important is not to assume that you don't like something and have an opportunity to participate in a variety of things until you discover what you really like and have a passion about. It's the engagement with various things. Including learning by building, learning by taking things apart, learning by fixing. These are the kinds of things I recommend. Actually, I had saved my old Saab, hoping that my kids would be interested in cars when they went to high school. That didn't happen. They got interested in other things.

Danielson :   What do you look for in potential employees?
Patil :   I think that students who have definitely learned to write and articulate things are far better in general. This was a surprise for me coming to the United States.

What I look for in those who I interview is what I call the sparkle factor. That is, really, a person who is very alive, with ideas and ... and inquisitive, thought-provoking, and who doesn't mind challenges. Even if the person doesn't know enough, he/she has the courage to try.

I had expected much higher standard in this. Not that I was world-class, but, as I became a teacher, I was actually helping with the diction and helping with how to express things, which I had not expected at all since English is my second language. So that's one thing to be very, very mindful of.


On the technology side, I do expect a fairly high degree of perfection, so that goes without saying.

It has nothing to do with science, but it has to do with clarity of thinking. You do have to express yourself. The litany of things...

For every person, you have strength and some areas of weakness. What I look for in those who I interview is what I call the sparkle factor. That is, really, a person who is very alive, with ideas and ... and inquisitive, thought-provoking, and who doesn't mind challenges.


David Danielson and Suhas Patil

Even if the person doesn't know enough, he/she has the courage to try. And these are very, very personal traits in addition to just raw training.

Danielson :   So, certainly you're looking for other things than just technological knowledge, and I noticed that you have certain design centers in other countries in Japan and Europe. I was wondering if there are other things you're looking for besides -- such as speaking another language ... instead of somebody who is just interested in science ...?
Patil :   I would say that on the technology side, I do expect a fairly high degree of perfection, so that goes without saying. If they didn't have that, they don't even make it to here.

I was one of these good students, not quite performing up to potential. People always thought more of me than I actually performed in my schooling.
Beyond that, it isn't the rote learning I'm looking for. It is the ability to formulate problems, solve problems, engage interestingly with other people, and have the right attitude. In short, I think that is what I look for.
Gemperlein :   Were you a good student? All-around good student?
Patil :   I think I was one of these good students, not quite performing up to potential. People always thought more of me than I actually performed in my schooling.


Courtesy of Photographer Suhas Patil

Therefore, I was all the time working hard to catch up with what I was taught I could do. Haha! So I was never a bad student. Interestingly, I did have a sort of struggle to get better and better and what really ultimately helped me was that, indeed, every year I got better. And that kept me very motivated, and this was all the way to my Ph.D.