Even amid expansion, Cirrus Logic maintains its synergy

For Austin-based Cirrus Logic Inc., the push for a high quality workplace is a global effort.

The semiconductor company has been building a work-hard, play-hard family friendly culture for years in Austin. But in the past three years, it took on the new challenge of building a similar culture in Edinburgh, Scotland, where it acquired Wolfson Microelectronics in 2014.

The substantial work involved in integrating Wolfson’s veteran workforce into Cirrus Logic’s was part of the reason the company ranked No. 3 among large companies in the American-Statesman’s 2017 Top Workplaces of Greater Austin project

The Wolfson deal brought Cirrus several assets, but the most important was a veteran engineering team that was skilled in technology that fit well with its Austin team.

The challenge was to get engineers in Texas and Scotland to get used working together closely on new products, despite the geographic separation and the six-hour time difference between them.

Cirrus sent dozens of Austin engineers to work temporarily in Scotland and had dozens more come from Edinburgh to work in Austin.

Cirrus it showed its commitment to the Scottish team by adding more technical workers and by building a spiffy new headquarters near downtown Edinburgh that resembles the headquarters complex along West Sixth Street in Austin.

Wolfson veterans like Eddie Sinnott, Cirrus Logic’s vice president for systems and partners, have been won over.

“You hear horror stories about acquisitions that have gone wrong,” Sinott said. “This was the complete opposite of that.”

The ex-Wolfson workers watched closely to see if the Austin-based company would follow through on its promises. It did, Sinott said, by laying out an aggressive product road map for the Scottish team, hiring more workers to get the work done and building a spiffy work campus near Edinburgh’s downtown area.

“It is a fantastic campus,” Sinnott said. “We have our (music) jam room, a gym, an onsite cafe, and Foosball tables and a library. When we moved into the new campus this year, it was almost as if we had shed our old skin.”

Part of that story of the melding of cultures came with joint design project of an advanced and tiny new microphone chip that involved dozens of engineers in Austin and Scotland.

The chip, nicknamed “Crosby” in honor of the memorable movie crooner Bing Crosby, was both a bold adventure in trans-Atlantic chip design and push by Cirrus into a new product area, tiny microphones for portable devices. That new market fits with Cirrus’ largest business focus on developing high-end audio chips for smart phones and other mobile devices.

Crosby was to be the company’s first big design project that involved dozens of technical workers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Christophe Amadi, a senior engineer on the project, spent two months in Edinburgh last year. In-person visits such as his helped to build personal connections among team members. Those were followed by plenty of long-distance engineering meetings over Skype and audio-conferencing.

“Crosby would not have happened if we had not found good synergy,” Amadi said. “We had to have the understanding that we were on the same side and on the same team.”

“What we are trying to do is build very robust and very high-fidelity microphones that are as small as we can get them so we can fit them into smartphones and other products.

Getting strong performance from a tiny microphone made work on the Crosby was exciting to Amadi and the other engineers on the project.

“It is intellectually challenging,” he said about the work. “You get to work on hard problems and a lot of non-obvious problems. And when you crack them, you develop a lot of satisfaction.”

Amadi represented the Crosby team at a top level Cirrus technical conference last spring in Austin. That was where he talked about the teamwork, the development effort and the market potential for new microphone chips. His presentation on the project was voted the top one at the conference. Naturally, Amadi spoke at the conference to an auditorium of the company’s top technical workers using a microphone an run by the Crosby chip.

Amadi likes the intellectual challenges of chip design and he also values the people he works with.

“Most of the people I work with, I would call friends. There is a feeling of community. These are people I can count on both in and out of work.”

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