Bert Simonovich's Design Notes

Innovative Signal Integrity & Backplane Solutions

Dr. Howard Johnson; a great teacher, mentor and friend.

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clip_image001The other day, in my inbox, I received the link to the June 2013 electronic edition of EDN magazine, and promptly clicked to Howard Johnson’s signal integrity column. I have looked forward to reading them for many years now, and when I used to receive the magazine, in print, I faithfully cut out the respective month’s articles, and filed them away for future reference. This month I was saddened to read it was to be his last article for EDN. After a long and distinguished career, he decided to retire from his consulting and seminar business. I knew it was going to happen soon, but when I actually read it in print, I started to think about my career, and how influential he has been teaching me about signal integrity. Ironically, the title of the article, “Seek inspiration”, touched on the importance of mentorship and has inspired me to write this post.

Dictionary.com defines a mentor as “a wise and trusted counsellor or teacher”. Over the years H.J. became mentor to thousands of engineers and students all over the world, including myself, through his teachings, publications and films. The main thing I learned from him was to think about problems differently and try to apply other disciplines to understand what’s going on.

H.J. always had a way of presenting complex signal integrity topics simply by relating the subject to other things in life we are most familiar with. I remember one article he wrote, years ago, about wave propagation along a transmission line, and how it was analogous to slowly filling an ice-cube tray by tilting it at one end, and letting the water slowly fill each compartment at a time before overflowing and filling the next, and the next, and the next, until all were full. Now, I cannot fill an ice-cube tray without thinking about transmission lines, or my friend.

I was first introduced to his teachings by reading, “High-speed Digital Design, a handbook of black magic”. Back in 1999 it was my first book on signal integrity, and ultimately was the lure that got me hooked. I remember going through each section, taking notes, highlighting some text, and book marking certain sections throughout with little cut-up strips of post-it notes. The F_knee = 0.5/tr equation is still etched in my non-volatile memory. Not everything made sense to me the first time, but over the years I found myself going back to those sections and re-reading them, depending on the problem of the day I was trying to solve.

Over the years, I would occasionally email him with questions and ask for clarification of parts of his books. Each time he was more than willing to respond back with a more detailed explanation. When email didn’t work, he took time from his busy schedule to arrange a phone meeting where we could discuss the subject in more detail.

When I look back now, I realized just how much I have grown and learned, thanks to Howard Johnson sharing his knowledge and experience. But then again, it is only natural for a true mentor to do. How has Howard Johnson mentored and inspired your career?

Written by Bert Simonovich

June 27, 2013 at 9:07 am

Posted in Signal Integrity

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