Q & A with AMD's Terry Makedon
We recently had the chance to interview Terry Makedon, Manager of Software Product Management for discrete GPU's, from AMD and talked about the history, philosophy and future plans for AMD's world domination when it comes to video cards and drivers. Terry Makedon is well known in the gaming community and is well known as CatalystMaker on Twitter where he directly interacts with fellow gamers. Terry has a very unique position inside AMD as he deals directly with the development of the Catalyst driver program and at the same time he serves as the public face of the entire company when it comes to gamers. Over his tenure at AMD he has become synonymous with Catalyst drivers and rightly so as he was there when the name was thought up and when the first release took place way back in 2002. Terry recently announced that he was going to be changing positions at AMD, so when we heard that changes were blowing in the wind we had to get in touch with Terry and see what the heck is going on.
Terry, since it has been over six years since we have done an interview could you please introduce yourself to our readers so they know who you are?
Sure Nate. My name is fairly evident and my game is Catalyst. Specifically I am the Manager of Software Product Management for discrete GPU's (i.e. Radeon). I have had this job for just about 10 years now first at ATI and then with AMD. For people not in the tech industry a Product Manager is sort of the facilitator between end users and the Engineering or Developer teams. In essence me and my team define the features that the software Engineers work on, we help prioritize all the various features, and we give marketing the information they need to go market our products.
So you are the face behind the CatalystMaker username!
That is correct. CatalystMaker started 9 years ago or so when I wanted to post on various tech forums, and has been my tech handle ever since.
Have you ever counted how many driver releases that you have been part of?
I haven't counted but a rough guess would be about 100 official Catalyst releases with dozens more hotfixes and special purpose drivers.
Since you gave birth to so many drivers and had a say in each release, what driver release are you most proud of?
June 13 2002 was the date, and we launched Catalyst 2.1 - the first Catalyst ever. It was about 16 months after I had joined ATI and my first mandate from my boss back then was to come up with a strategy for GPU drivers.
With features like AMD Eyefinity, CrossFire, the OpenCL toolset the drivers for video cards have become rather complex lately. You also have Drag and Drop Transcoding, DivX & 3D Stereoscopic support, AMD PowerTune technology and other tons of other items that have been included in recent releases. It looks like drivers have gotten rather complex lately. Is it just us or has it gotten harder?
Not really, all those technologies you list are incremental, meaning that they are just built on existing driver architecture. Throughout the years you end up having a ton of really good features. The only exception to my statement is about the OpenCL stuff which is indeed brand new for the industry and does require a ton of engineering work for us to enable.
How many people does it take to bring out monthly Catalyst drivers?
I don't have exact numbers but it is in the multiple hundreds. The one bit of trivia I do know is that at AMD we had roughly the same number of hardware engineers as we did software engineers. So as many people that it takes to design and build a GPU - you need that many more people to architect, write, and test the drivers.
You recently announced on your twitter account (@CatalystMaker) that you are moving to a new position inside AMD in just over a week. Can you explain where you are going to and why you are leaving after ten years working on Catalyst and software drivers?
As of January 1st, 2011 I will indeed switch roles within AMD. I will be working on the exciting new Fusion APU's and will be managing the software marketing for those products. The reason for the switch is very simple. AMD will be launching something very revolutionary with our APU's (Accelerated Processing Unit). I have the opportunity to be involved in something the world has never seen before and to be part of it from the ground level. This is the reason AMD acquired ATI in fact - bringing APU's to market and combining CPU and GPU functionality in a single package. Think about the possibilities!
I feel sorry for the person that has to fill your shoes! Do you know who will be filling your current position?
I do, he's actually a good buddy of mine and has been working at ATI/AMD for a long time. He is also in the product management team that I am currently in but has been involved in hardware product management. Not sure if he wants me to reveal his name so I will leave it to him to announce publicly his new role.
The Interview Continued
When you first started doing this not many people knew who you were, but in recent years with social networking you personally became the sole person associated behind Catalyst drivers. Did this make you the most loved or hated person at AMD/ATI?
I don't know Nate, I was very active in the enthusiast circles through forums on many tech websites since the early days. It is true that social media sites like Twitter have given a lot more people direct access to me though. The one thing I can say though is that it amazes me how many great people are out there that love to keep in touch and exchange views on technology with me via twitter and also as remarkable is how disrespectful and downright rude a small handful can be when they hide behind the anonymity of the net.
Speaking of ATI and AMD… What is your honest personal opinion, should AMD have dropped the ATI brand name from their product series?
We all feel an attachment to the former ATI name. The team that decided on the branding change had done a ton of research and homework before dropping the ATI brand. Everything right now is pointing to the fact that it was the right decision after all.
We know you get a ton of hate on the forums and on Twitter when someone has a driver bug. Does not being able to help everyone bring you down at times as we know you care about gamers?
For sure!!!!!! There are usually three scenarios with bugs.
- We know about it and a fix is coming in the next Catalyst or in a hotfix. All good.
- We know how to fix it but it takes a long time for our Engineers to code (or architect) the fix for whatever reason. Sucks but manageable
- We can't reproduce the issue. This one kills me. When those occasions arise our tech support gives us the opportunity to observe through various forums people complaining about a certain issue. I get our QA department involved and they spend days upon days to try and reproduce the issue but they can't. Unfortunately you can't fix what you can't see, so this scenario really is the worst for me. We want to do everything we can to fix the issue but we simply can't. Luckily these don't happen that often.
We know Catalyst drivers get downloaded millions of times every month, so are there any statistics of complaints versus downloads that you can share with us?
Catalyst gets downloaded on average 5 million times a month so 60 million annually. I dont know the number of complaints but the only way we formally can accept bug reports is through contact with our tech support. We used to get about 100 contacts per release (usually on the same 2 or 3 issues)
When AMD releases Fusion APUs will those get monthly drivers? Will they be called Catalyst as well or will we see a new term being used for APU drivers?
Can we do a follow up interview in a few months? Those exact questions are the things I will begin thinking about in the new year.
What video card do you have in your personal system right now?
At home I have three systems. A laptop which has an older discrete Radeon in it, a media PC which has a Radeon HD 5500 in it, and my killer gaming rig which currently has a Radeon HD 6950 2GB video card in it.
If one of our readers has a driver issue with their AMD Radeon HD graphics cards where should they go to report it?
Calling tech support is usually a good first step, but as an alternative, called the "Catalyst Crew" feedback program. Every month our customer support team would compile a list of prioritized issues based on the feedback given on Catalyst Crew and with that we have clear guidance on what needs to get fixed.
Since you are leaving the Catalyst team are you going to have to give up the CatalystMaker twitter name?
I don't think so but we will see how it goes.
Anything else that you'd like to share with our readers? This can be as far off topic as you would like!
Well tell your readers that they are all wise for being your readers ;-) I am truly a big fan of LegitReviews and visit it daily and use it as one of my primary sources for news and purchasing decisions. Lets end this with a classic video from back in the ATI days LOL
I would like to thank Terry Makedon from AMD for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions for us! Thanks again!