Gimme Five – Eric Janson

Steve Rogerson interviews Eric Janson, senior vice president for sales and marketing at ams. Janson was born in Michigan, USA, and has lived and worked in the US, Shanghai, China, Cambridge, England, and now resides in Munich, Germany. Janson holds a bachelor of engineering science degree, major in physics, and an MBA. Next year will be his 40th year in semiconductors, almost all in analogue, RF and mixed-signal circuits.

Janson’s current role is as senior vice president for sales and marketing at analogue sensor and sensor interface firm ams in Austria. His past career includes CSR from 2000 to 2008, AT&T/Lucent Microelectronics from 1988 to 2000, Analog Devices from 1977 to 1988 and Micro-Bit from 1974 to 1977.

He is married and has three sons. Once an avid runner, he is now an enthusiastic cyclist and recently rode 1200km from Fukuoka, Japan, across three of the main islands to Tokyo, with his third son. Among his other interests are woodworking, cooking, hiking, exploring new cities by foot and bicycle, and enjoying beers from around the world.

1. What are the markets that will drive analogue technology forwards in the coming years?

Automotive – which doesn’t have a fast-moving reputation – and smartphones. Both of these markets are really hungry to add sensors. In automotive, they are for safety and comfort applications and cell phones just can’t get enough sensors.

The latest in smartphones is measuring temperature and barometric pressure. The pressure is an aid to location. They can triangulate your location, but with pressure they can also work out your height above ground. So, say, if you are in a seven-story building, they know which floor you are on. This can be useful for emergency service response. The ones they are working on can calculate your height above ground to within a foot. It is also for location-based services, so if you are in a shopping mall, they know what floor you are on. They are also working on gas sensors for cell phones to, say, detect the alcohol on your breath.

The analogue applications tend to be in every segment with a battery or mains plug. Industrial and medical are also greatly increasing the number of sensors, and they are driving growth. We see healthy growth for analogue over the next decade.

2. How long did your 1200km cycle run take in Japan and why did you do it?

It took 23 days of cycling. The reasons I did it were, first, to spend three or four good weeks with my 26-year-old son who thought it was still cool to spend time with his dad. It also let me see parts of Japan that you can never see from a car, train or plane. When you do something like that, you get lots of surprises.

Everybody says that because Japan is so mountainous every bit of flat land is used, and that is pretty much true. The roads were quite narrow and two cyclists together meant sometimes cars had to wait for us, but we never got honked at. That was great. Everybody was so kind.

3. What are the differences between ams and the other companies you’ve worked for?

Ams started out as mostly a central European based asic company but over the past ten years they have moved into standard products and into most of the other parts of the world. I’d judged them as a bunch of clever analogue guys but when I joined I was taken aback by the depth of their technology treasure chest.

They were so much more open and flexible to change than I’d experienced in Germany or America. The operations team is the best I’ve ever worked for, and there was nothing wrong with the others. They are better in two ways. First, they don’t automatically say no, we are not going to do that. Their first reaction is we have a customer who needs something special, let’s sit down and see what we can do. They don’t say no, they try to figure it out. Secondly, their capability is great. They really know their jobs. Their expertise in knowing what to do and how to do it is top notch.

They are a mini-Bell Labs with an agile business structure, and that has helped us win business.

4. What is your favourite beer in the world?

That’s a really hard question. If I was stuck on an island and could only have one beer but lots of it, it would be Erdinger Weissbrau, but I like a wide variety of beers. Erdinger Weissbrau has a good balance between hops and spices. It has the easy drinkability of a weissbier and the right alcohol content, so you are not under the table but left with a warm, cosy feeling.

5. Why should an engineer consider a career in analogue?

Analogue is tough to do. You do not become a better person, engineer or anything by having it easy. You learn to become a better engineer by grappling to get solutions to your problems. Analogue is very rewarding in that.

Secondly, as you grow in experience, you become more valuable. In digital, some look at people over 40 as dinosaurs but they don’t look at their analogue staff like that.

Thirdly, there is so much to explore in analogue and so many ways to solve problems that it makes a fascinating challenge. Take the plain old op amp. It has three terminals plus power. All its applications can be boiled down to just two tasks – gain and impedance transformation. Yet there are more than three thousand catalogue op amps available. Every single one has a little tweak that makes it function differently for the circuit that it is in. Every circuit is different, so you always find a new challenge. It is a real puzzle-solver technology.


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