A Scholar, and a Gentleman
I have sad news: Peter Alfke, after a long fight with cancer, passed away July 15, 2011.
Peter was one of those engineers who have made Silicon Valley the amazing place it is. I will miss his wisdom, and his humor. Here follows some comments from those that have worked with Peter here at Xilinx.
Peter Alfke Remembered, 1931-2011
By Mike Santarini, publisher, Xcell Journal, Xilinx Inc.
Last week we learned from one of Peter Alfke’s family members that Peter passed away on July 17 after a long fight with cancer. Peter had retired in September 2009 after a remarkable 21.5 years at Xilinx—his mark on the company and electrical engineering has been profound.
Peter grew up in war torn Germany and was a young teen when WWII ended.
After receiving an EE degree from the Technical University in Hannover, Germany in 1957, he married and moved to Sweden working in telecom and computer design with LM Ericsson and Litton Industries. In the mid-1960s, he immigrated to the United States, where he worked at Fairchild, Zilog and later AMD. He is credited as being the first person to implement a FIFO in an integrated circuit, a task he accomplished while working at Fairchild in 1969.
Peter joined Xilinx in January 1988 (employee 109) as the director of Xilinx’s applications engineering group where he quickly established himself as an expert in programmable logic and a talented communicator and educator of practical engineering.
“Peter was a member of my staff and although he didn’t design the FPGAs themselves, as an engineer who used the devices and worked with customers every day, he certainly had a great influence on what went into the designs,” said Bill Carter, retired CTO of Xilinx. “Peter had a great talent for finding new ways to use FPGAs and implementing functions in FPGAs that we hadn’t thought of when we designed them. He was a real engineer’s engineer.”
Carter said that Peter’s greatest talent was not simply that he was an FPGA expert but that he could communicate very technical content in a very practical and concise way.
“He was very proud that he came from a long line of educators,” said Carter. “His ability to take complex ideas and communicate them very clearly was really quite remarkable, especially when you realize that English was his second language. He liked to share his wisdom and never did it in arrogant manner. He was a fabulous diplomat, very approachable, very welcoming…a true gentleman.”
In 1988, Peter, with the help of his daughter, Karen, published the very first issue of Xilinx’s quarterly magazine, Xcell Journal, to keep Xilinx users informed of the latest developments in Xilinx technology and to share design experiences with peers.
Peter’s talent as an FPGA expert and educator led Xilinx to eventually appoint him the Director of Technical Applications at Xilinx, where he was responsible for technical customer support, documentation and software QA. He was later given the title of Distinguished Engineer at Xilinx.
Throughout his many years at Xilinx, he became an active spokesperson and champion of Xilinx, regularly delivering technical presentations at conferences and seminars and authoring the very practical” User Guide Lite” series of articles for each new device family. In his later years at Xilinx, he also wrote many blogs, led many discussions on Xilinx’s customer forum and became a regular contributor to the comp.arch.fpga FPGA user group on Google.
“Peter had performed many roles before he came to Xilinx, but he had an amazing ability in technical marketing,” said Austin Lesea. “He could be marketing a product one moment, and then instantly morph into an engineer. This amazing ability gave Peter the ability to make a technical, performance, or marketing claim, and then immediately provide incontrovertible proof that he was correct.”
It was this level of credibility that upon hearing news of of Alfke’s retirement in September of 2009, one comp.arch.fpga member commented, “I use Xilinx because Peter Alfke told me to!” Peter got a kick out of that comment.
At lunchtime at Xilinx, Peter always drew a crowd of admiring friends to his table and there was always room for more. It was not uncommon to find 10 or more people sitting at a table built for 4 listening to Peter’s advice and sharing stories about all things under the sun.
Alfke is survived by his wife, son and daughter and two grandchildren.
He was 79.
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