Monday, March 28, 2011

Why I like some companies...

I have a few projects underway (unrelated to work) that require a considerable amount of time learning new concepts, filling some holes in my education, and lots of time doing bench testing and building prototypes.  It's frustrating at times, but overall it's a fun way to spend the small amount of free time I have on a given day.

I'm one of those people that can only really be happy when there are challenges and opportunities to learn new new things each day.  These types of projects tend to progress in waves, it's not a linear process - advancement is unpredictable...  For these projects I have limited time on a given day (but no deadline - so time isn't really a factor) - I have limited funds (so I have to be careful to not waste money) - but I have unrestricted motivation (which means I can work on whatever I choose).  What I have realized is that just like the field in which I work, there are huge differences in the electronics companies...

Some companies really deserve to exist and prosper.  These companies behave as if they don't just want to exist and make money, but rather as if they care about the quality of the products they make and their long term interactions with the reset of the community.  They all have different characters, but they share these qualities:
  1. They make products that actually do what they are supposed to...
  2. They provide plenty of documentation that is relevant to understanding how the device works...
  3. They provide an explanation for why specific design choices were made over others...
  4. They provide not just examples of typical device usage, but also examples of why certain implementations are not as good and explanations for improvement...
  5. They don't just compare statistics about their products to that of a competitor, but rather explain when the devices are interchangeable and when one may be a better choice.
  6. They are available (phone/email) to answer questions and advise how to approach the problems the develop.
  7. They make products that are actually useful rather than something that just makes good marketing opportunities.
  8. They get the tools (sometimes device samples/sometimes the development software/always the documentation) into people's hands to promote familiarity/testing/comparisons with their products.
  9. They have a solid supply chain so the products are reasonably available.
  10. They treat everyone well and don't just cater to current customers.

The important thing is that all of these companies have the goal of making money.  That's a good thing - it's why they can make what they do - it's why they can make better things in the future - it's why they can hire people.  The differences really come down to whether a given company wants to be a leader in the industry or whether it just wants to grab enough scraps to get by...

These companies (in my humble opinion) are the best I have dealt with - they cover at least 9 out of the 10 points above... These companies are always my preferred choice as not just a customer, but also to recommend to others. (in alphabetical order because they all are sufficiently unique that they can't be directly compared).

Analog Devices
Fairchild semiconductor
Linear Technologies
Maxim ic
Microchip
National semiconductor
On semiconductor 
ST microelectronics
Texas Instruments
Xilinx

These companies are not yet at the top of the pack - they cover some of the points above - they have the potential (but not yet the ability) to cover the rest.  I have had good experiences with them and have hope that they can become leaders as they grow. (in alphabetical order because they all are sufficiently unique that they can't be directly compared).

Lattice semiconductor
Micrel
NXP
Zilog

I'm not mentioning any of the many other companies I have dealt with in the past that I wouldn't rank as excellent.  Some of them have unique products and so I will buy from them when necessary.  Some I won't use.  There are far more companies that I have not used because I have not needed what they make so don't assume anything about companies not listed above.  It's also important to remember that as time has passed some of the great companies from the past have been broken into multiple smaller companies and others have merged and been absorbed as well.  Luckily none of my favorites over the years have been ruined in the process (but great names have been lost to history).

This is just my opinion - doubtful that anyone cares - but I really do think that it's important to consider more than just how shiny and glittery a product is before you buy.  Companies that you feel are leaders, companies that strive for excellence, companies that offer more than a product for cash really do deserve to exist.