Today, we take a look at how the prolific Adam Taylor got started and how you can too!
If you have never heard of Adam…which rock have you been under!?
Adam Taylor Founder and Principal Consultant, Adiuvo Engineering and Training is a rather humble engineer. Throughout my time knowing him, he just seems to love technology. I think similar to myself, as your students “get it” you see that brilliant light in their eyes, it is one of the most thrilling things to experience. Over a fantastic conversation, I got to know Adam and really see quite a few parallels in my background. This got me thinking, if we shared such similar backgrounds from different countries, origins, schooling, etc. – might there be others? What could someone just starting out learn from this experience?
I will certainly say, Adam does have a lot more guts than I did. As mentioned, Adam founded his own company Adiuvo Engineering & Training. He is also a chartered engineer and fellow of the Institute of Engineering and Technology. Over his long career, he has had experience within the public and private sector, developing FPGA-based solutions for a range of applications including RADAR, nuclear reactors, satellites, cryptography and image processing. He is truly a master of the technology, able to apply it to so many fields!
Adam is also a Visiting Professor of embedded systems at the University of Lincoln. Education is his deepest passion and he has delivered thousands of hours' worth of training to corporate clients and casual hardware enthusiasts alike. More on this later!
- Why did you decide to pursue engineering?
- Now there is a story, engineering was a odd path for me at school I did badly at maths and science (mostly bored day dreaming and not focused), when I left school at 16 to do my A Levels (UK pre university courses) at college I studied History of the industrial revolution, geography and general studies. All of which I failed badly as I discovered the pub. Having not done exactly great at my A levels I was in the process of joining the forces (RAF) when during discussions and tests with the recruiter it came apparent I might be interested in engineering, wanting to join as an officer, an engineering degree was required. Rather helpfully the recruiter pointed me in the direction of the university I later graduated from and arranged a meeting with me and the course leader of the extended engineering degree (1st years was all the math and science I had to catch up on). Five years later I popped out the other end with a first class degree in electronic engineering, looking back it was obvious engineering was the career for me I was always interested in computers and how things worked, it just took a nudge a right direction. I never joined the forces but I have worked on many defense projects throughout my career hopefully repaying that very kind nudge in the right direction. To this day I am very thankful Sheffield Hallam University took a chance on my back in 1995, in fact I would go so far to say that pretty much everything I have been able to achieve is due to SHU.
- Was there a specialty in mind, or did you concentrate in FPGA technology at Sheffield Hallam University?
- Honestly when I joined university I did not have a specialization in mind, though I knew I wanted to work on cool stuff like missiles, planes, etc. As the course progressed I grew a deep love of digital systems and programming. We had a great tutor John Rowe he taught the electronic engineering cohort FPGA design as part of the microelectronics course (the other half was semiconductor physics). We did lots of FPGA work using at the time Cypress devices and WARP2 tools (they were free with Kevin Skahill’s book – VHDL for programmable Logic) I still have the book which I bought in 1996 when learning and the CD with the tools somewhere. I fell in love with FPGA we entered in my final year a mentor graphics RSA encryption competition. That I knew FPGA and had the foresight to take the RSA design entry report with me to the interview, got me my first job with Raytheon in the UK. Believe it or not my first job was to convert two existing IFF ASICs which had gone obsolete into FPGA implementations. These did the full interrogation and decoding. Having demonstrated I could do FPGA design, the ASIC conversion was not a live project but a company funded R&D to see if it could be done and see what I could do. I was the responsible for designing the IFF FPGA for the Rapier SIFF Upgrade – it was great I was responsible for the entire thing, design, verification, implementation and testing on the hardware. I also did got involved in some electronic schematic design work too.
- After your junior position, what did you see that helped you move to a more senior position?
- I was a junior engineer at Raytheon from July 2000 – Feb 2003 in Feb 2003 due to some personal issues the senior engineer and hardware lead left, I was asked to take over and see the project through to completion, from then on until I left in 2005 I did little FPGA work but learned a lot more about project management, qualification, testing and certification. Along the way the requirements changed so I lead a quite major redesign of the hardware as well. I have always been quite keen and passionate, I think that along with my dedication to completing the project helped me take that step to senior level. It was a steep learning curve at times but we manage to deliver the project against requirements. Over the years I progressed on to some pretty senior roles head of engineering and chief engineer at a space imaging company, executive level at large defense company but I always had the love of FPGA and the pull of technology and in the end decided to leave the executive life for my own company. I think one of the things that helped me progress is not only experience of a specific technology but also being aware if the larger projects, many of the projects I was the technical lead for involved not only FPGA but also system, electronics, electrical, mechanical, software and special requirements such as Tempest. That wider understanding of the project really helped me progress as well, engineering, well successful engineering anyway tends not to exist in vacuum. One bit advice I would say about career progression is companies will deploy you as an engineer how it benefits the company and the project, you have to be in charge of your career to make sure you get to experience what you want and not be afraid to ask for it or consider alternative employers (or start on your own)
- What is the one thing that you feel helped you progress?
- I think hard work and a willingness to sit down and work things out on my own rather than just expect someone to have an answer for me. It is a cliché but things go wrong and they do go badly wrong on engineering projects at times. The ability to not only stay calm but find the root cause of the issue and then make sensible recovery plans really help and get you notices, often people are looking for a calm voice that is saying OK it is not going to plan, but this is what we are going to do. Training is always an interesting aspect of career development I have been on some great courses (Doulos FPGA ones spring to mind) these give a great basis and built on what University had taught me. Odd that these days generally I am the one writing and presenting the courses, I try to make sure the courses I put together help and explain just like I was looking for when starting out. I will also say I am a big believer in requirements and system engineering, successful projects know what the objectives are and have stake holders bought in and agreed before the first element of the detailed design is performed.
- If you had training available when you were starting out in engineering, do you think it would have helped grow your value as an engineer?
- Training is always hard to get at companies, budgets, time constraints etc. which is why I think my blogs have been so popular and the online courses I do etc. they enable people to learn and do training at their own speed and time. I am not the only one doing this of course there are many and I think there is shift especially post covid to the more online on-demand training.
- Ultimately what made you start your own company?
- it is something I always wanted to do and had been working towards for years. For a while I had both a day job and Adiuvo but as the business grew I knew I needed to take the leap and leave the day job, it was quite a jump. I have been doing this fulltime for several years now and I wish I had done it earlier. Running your own business is interesting as it both very freeing and very constraining at the same time, you have things outside of being an engineer you have to deal with taxes, regulations, reporting, work load and winning business, building business pipelines etc. It does really open up the aspects of engineering as well in the last few years I have designed FPGA for autonomous vehicles, for satellites, power supplies, defense, medical applications etc. using a range of different FPGAs from Xilinx to intel, Microsemi and Achronix. Of course, you have to deliver otherwise you do not get paid so it also focuses the mind in that respect as well, you do not get to just re spin a board or re start the design as that eats into your profit margin. Luckily most of my project have gone well, but I would be lying if I said everyone had gone as expected some have been very interesting and led to a nail biting finish. Running my own company has also enabled me to travel the world (well until covid ) and present at conferences etc. which is something I love to do and miss greatly at the moment.
- Being a Professor, do you see more and more growth / need for FPGA technology?
- FPGA are a great technology I love them, I think they are on a pretty interesting journey at the moment especially how we design and capture our design intent. That is moving on from the hardware description level that we have been used to previously. This is something which has been predicted since I first started at Raytheon (Handel C anyone) sadly the devices were not at a stage where they could support such flows generally. These days if you are designing FPGA you should know HLS and use it as a tool in your FPGA developer tool set. As you also should the ability to work with embedded Linux.
- What are your thoughts on the lack of FPGA in schools?
- I have often thought of writing a book – what they should have taught you at university – Schools I think have it hard to get good real world experience into the classroom. I think schools should teach more hands on FPGA design classes, I try to do that with the students I am involved with. I am working on a book (with coauthors) at the moment which walks you through the creation of a embedded system from concept to board design, layout, FPGA architecting, implementation and beyond. It will be published next year and we will also be releasing the design as well and manufacturing the board we have created in the book to use as part of some training courses.
I want to thank Adam for taking the time out of his busy day to answer some questions for us. If you have other questions, please let us know below!
For more information about Adam’s Adventures, check out his website:
where you can find up to date training and links to the MicroZed Chronicles!
[author's note, I highly recommend the MicroZed Chronicles, they are a down to earth series around Adam's adventures in first working with Avnet's MicroZed, but also newer technology including the Ultra96V2]
I think that more Senior Engineers can look at this short summary of Adam’s, and fully relate to this journey he took. I know I did. I also want to point out that recently I did a training where I tried to discuss all the various methods and mechanisms that not only Avnet, but Xilinx and Adam are trying to do to help enable FPGA technology. I personally feel that there is a lack of FPGA technology being taught in our schools, which puts it at a disadvantage. If you are a Junior or even Senior Engineer and that deadline is looming, you are not apt to try a better, or possibly more complete technology that you do not have experience with due to schedule risk. Training and expanding our knowledge to properly perform our job tasks is critically key for success as effective Design Engineers!
My Getting Started with Xilinx Development Tools webinar, along with the vast array of Adam’s training materials (some listed below) are there to kick-start your knowledge and remove the fog of uncertainty you might have regarding this technology.
Webinar Primer: Getting Started with Xilinx Development Tools!
A summary of where to start with Xilinx tools, points out resources and provides a common language for those not as familiar with Xilinx FPGA and MPSoC technology, fostering the foundation for being able to know what you do not know and know what you need to know and where to find answers!
Adam Taylor lead training where you will learn the first major tool for working with Xilinx FPGA technology. If you want to work at the hardware level, this is the training for you!
Xilinx Workshop: Getting to Know Vivado Part I
Xilinx Workshop: Getting to Know Vivado Part II
Xilinx Workshop: Getting to Know Vivado Part III
If you are already familiar with the tools, but not an expert, these blog posts can help get you familiar with how to use the Avnet code base to accelerate your designs to market through reduction of “figuring it out”. You determine which part of the design you want to customize and everything else is taken care of for you!
Learning Vitis: 1 Setting up a Virtual Machine [9 part series, including articles on Tips-N-Tricks]
Xilinx also has a 3-part training that Jayson Bethurem from Xilinx will be teaching on September 30th, October 14th, and October 28th.
The training highlights interfacing Spartan-7 with the ST Micro LSM9DS1 and LPS25HB (9-AXIS IMU PLUS BAROMETER).
If you want to experiment with Spartan-7, here’s a chance to get one for free:
If you don’t get a free one, the Arty-S7-50 has been marked down to $109 for this event. You can also purchase from Avnet:
Ultra96-V2 4A Power Supply
Ultra96-V2 JTAG/UART Adapter
96Boards Click Mezzanine Starter Kit