Bob Dobkin is probably best known in the industry for two things—co-founding Linear Technology Corp. in 1981 with Robert Swanson, and his analog design prowess. His main contributions to analog design are his development of the first three-terminal adjustable voltage regulator and the first bipolar low-dropout regulator, as well as his boosting of early op-amp speed. Dobkin believes that starting LTC is his biggest accomplishment. "When we started, the combination of the business end with Bob and the technology end with myself is what made the company a success," he says. Today, he is the firm's vice president and chief technology officer.
Before Linear Technology came along, Dobkin was director of advanced circuit development at National Semiconductor Corp. for 11 years. But he started his career right out of MIT with Philbrick-Nexus where he met Bob Pease, Electronic Design columnist and fellow Engineering Hall of Fame honoree. The two also worked together at National for a number of years.
The three-terminal adjustable regulator came about at National in 1976. Dobkin says, "It kind of got started because, at the time, you could make a fixed-rate regulator with three terminals—input, output, and ground," he explains. "But everyone wanted a regulator that they could adjust to whatever they wanted, and there weren't very many good packages with four leads. That's when I came up with the three-terminal adjustable regulator." Dobkin holds more than 50 patents pertaining to linear ICs, and he later developed some low-dropout versions at Linear Technology.
Dobkin suggests that the market is changing almost as fast as the technology, and engineers must respond wisely. Industry-wide, he sees opportunities, both short term and long term, in several areas—namely, wireless infrastructure, data communications, and commercial satellites.
Along with many new designs and devices, Dobkin has also developed a strong sense of how the design process has evolved, and about creativity. "We have simulation tools, but the tools only let you test the circuits that you come up with on a computer," he says. "They don't actually do a design for you. So the design is only as good as the designer. The tools just make it easier to get that design out."
Boards are becoming tremendously complex. According to Dobkin, when operating at very high frequencies without the tools, it would be virtually impossible to get them up and running. With all of these tools, however, can engineers still be creative? "They can be more creative," he asserts. "Creativity is the generation of new and useful products. A lot of engineers like their jobs because they're outlets for creativity. Put engineers in an environment where they can be creative, and you end up with a lot of good products."