Electronic Design

The Internet: Are We Puppetmasters Or Puppets?

The demands of bringing products to market as quickly as possible have pushed many companies to globalize their development teams. By distributing teams around the globe, companies can parallelize some of the work and pass projects from time zone to time zone, permitting around-the-clock development. This division of labor helps to considerably reduce the time to market.

To accomplish this, companies are leveraging the Internet as a communications medium and a design environment combination. Used in this manner, the Internet lets designers move files around the globe, as well as collaborate and share expensive compute resources or design tools, eliminating the need to install redundant resources. That additionally helps to lower the overall project cost.

This continual development chain keeps us tied very closely to the Internet, communicating and collaborating with colleagues day or night. During the day, we typically have all of the resources at our offices available to us—high-speed LAN connections, powerful workstations, and colleagues in neighboring cubicles. But at home, we're no longer limited to phone-line connections and low-horsepower PCs.

With today's 1-GHz-plus systems, we can often accomplish much of the same work at home as in the office. The high performance and low cost of the latest generations of personal computers with 20 or more gigabytes of storage let us work on projects at home for a very affordable price. Additionally, high-speed cable or DSL connections from home provide workable links to the remote systems and design files. Previously, such design work often required expensive Unix workstations and Ethernet networks maintained by large MIS departments. Now, even our cell phones and personal digital assistants can link us to the Internet, ensuring that we're never out of touch.

All of this connectivity can be overwhelming if you're comfortable with the more traditional separation of work and home time. Today, the start-up "mentality" of working well into the evening to bring a product to market ever faster permeates all companies. That demanding schedule usually keeps us connected day and evening.

Some of us feel that this connection gives us control, coordinating all project activities, hosting meetings, responding to questions, etc. So we take on the role of the puppetmaster. To many others, though, the connections begin to feel like strings, jerking us in various directions like a puppet with little apparent focus.

Where the best balance lies between staying fully connected and feeling overcontrolled is basically a personal decision. Each of us has a different goal when trying to balance work and play. So which one are you: the puppetmaster or the puppet?

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