Deny limits in digital design


By Brianne McClure, Distinguished Storyteller

Northampton, MA – News Direct – Keysight Technologies

Gidget Heintz has been advancing test and measurement technology for over 25 years. Now she’s embarking on her most exciting adventure yet.

She has spent her career tackling seemingly overwhelming 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 portal designer for test and measurement solutions.

Gidget’s insatiable curiosity to solve customer challenges has led to numerous patent contributions over the years. And she hasn’t finished yet. These days, Gidget is applying its knowledge of designing Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) to advancing quantum solutions – an opportunity for new collaborations and future breakthroughs.

When I sat down with Gidget for our Refusing Limits series, I couldn’t wait to learn more about his invention process and what excites him most about working on emerging technologies like quantum.

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

Technology is advancing and changing constantly, which I find incredibly energizing. As the challenges became more complex, I have had the opportunity to work with experts who specialize in areas of design which may be new to me but which are part of the problems I am trying to solve. Many of these relationships survived the design challenges I was working on, resulting in mentorships that are a constant reminder to seek new perspectives.

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

What excites you about advancing emerging technologies?

I was thrilled to join Keysight’s quantum engineering group a few years ago, as there is a ton of potential for breakthroughs in so many areas. Even though I had no background in quantum before joining the group, everything I have learned since joining the team has made me passionate about 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 innovative solutions that advance the technology to its next breakthrough.

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

There is a difference between meeting a technological challenge and creating a solution that makes life easier for our customers. I’m still aiming for the latter. I do this by challenging assumptions in the product development process and asking questions that highlight what is most important to our customers. This approach helps to avoid over-designing a solution or adding unnecessary constraints to a problem we’re trying to solve.

Our group has also adopted agile practices that put customers at the heart of our solutions. We work with the client’s collaborators throughout this process to provide the best solutions. When I meet our clients it is always a pleasure because you can hear their needs firsthand and have a better understanding of the issues they are trying to solve. It 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, Institut quantique, University of Sherbrooke, on their research on spin qubits. Helping our clients speed up their searches is a tremendous collaborative victory for Keysight. It enables technological breakthroughs with our advanced quantum systems designed for quantum control and readout applications.

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

Multiple sync signal generators using a single field programmable gate array, as this was my first. It was also a new technical area for me. I created a template for a new instrument using independent digital sequencers that could either operate independently on their own programmable clock domains, or be grouped across multiple banks functioning as a single clock domain.

We had to synchronize and phase-lock the clock structures, but we had to overcome a limitation of 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 well-respected colleague. My colleague, John Guilford, used his design experience and creativity to come up with a new integrated way to synchronize and align the phases of multiple clocks in a purely digital way within the FPGA. We took advantage of an advanced capability within FPGA technology to program and adjust PLLs in real time to calibrate clock phases in a new way that led to the patent. We also extended this breakthrough to a model of multiple synchronization instrument for the extension of clock synchronization which also met a product requirement. It was John’s groundbreaking idea, and I helped design it as a co-designer inventor.

This is the kind of experience that excites me the most. Collaborating with other designers and inventors has helped me grow creatively and provided me with opportunities that challenged me to solve problems in unexpected ways.

Interesting that you bring this up. Did you know that the number of names per patent is

I didn’t, but I’m not surprised. Other than one case, every submitted invention I have 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 advancement, it makes sense that increased complexity results in more patents with multiple authors. I find this trend very exciting because in my experience working with other engineers brings more creativity and results in better solutions for our clients who may or may not have patented ideas involved.

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

By working with other inventors, I have learned that each person brings different experiences and creative ideas to yours. And it’s a good thing. I have 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 the freedom to think more creatively about a problem. It was then that real breakthroughs occurred.

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