Interview with NVIDIA's Nick Triantos
December 6, 1999
I am pleased to announce nV News' first interview and who better to get us jump started than NVIDIA's Nick Triantos. Nick has been extremely helpful in the NVIDIA community and we wanted to give him an opportunity to let us know what he does at NVIDIA.
There are many unsung heroes in the graphics business. Without Nick and his staff, we would still be playing games like Quake in software mode...
nV News: For the record, what is your job title at NVIDIA and how long have you been at this position?
Nick: I'm the Manager of the 3D Software Group. That group is responsible for developing and maintaining the OpenGL and Direct3D drivers across the various OSes we support, for all the chips (RIVA 128/128ZX, TNT/TNT2 GeForce/Quadro).
I've been managing this group for more than a year. Before that, I was one of the engineers working on OpenGL here at NVIDIA.
nV News: What is your educational background?
Nick: I've got a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Buffalo (SUNY), and about half a masters' in Counseling and Educational Psychology (don't ask).
nV News: Do you wear a suit to work everyday, or are you permitted to wear Bermuda shorts and tank tops?
Nick: I haven't worn a tie since I left New York in 1992, except for my first two interviews I did after leaving school. I think that as long as your zipper is zipped, people consider you suitably dressed for most jobs around Silicon Valley.
nV News: In our latest survey at nV News, over 60% of our visitors are involved with computers in their profession. What kind of qualifications or experience would an employee need to work for you?
Nick: It depends a lot on how much experience they have. The people in my group generally must have a very good background in 3D and the math behind it, and very solid skills programming in C. All software engineers that work on drivers have to have a very high level of discipline, since there are so many applications that have to run on your software.
For new college grads and interns, I look for very good grades, some background in graphics and solid math skills, and preferably someone who has proven they're self-motivated... people who've written shareware games, utility libraries, 3d engines, etc.
nV News: Since you manage both the Direct 3D and OpenGL group, do you feel that either API (Application Programming Interface) has an advantage over the other for game developers?
Do your developers get in rubber band fights at the office during arguments over the two API's?
Nick: Nah, it's not like that here. The people in both groups work together well. In a lot of cases, people from one group need to ask for help from people in the other group, and we share some code between the two drivers.
As for which API is better, it depends on what the app developer is trying to do. I think that OpenGL has a simple elegance to it that's really easy to learn and get used to, but Direct3D is definitely adapting to new technology at a faster pace, and offers better integration with 2D, video, etc, all of which are needed for "professional" game developers.
nV News: Did NVIDIA play a major role in the development of DirectX 7 with Microsoft in bringing transform and lighting to life?
Nick: Yes, NVIDIA works closely with Microsoft during the development phase of DirectX. Since there's no one else who has features like transform and lighting, cube mapping, etc. in a consumer card, we were given the opportunity to work on helping Microsoft bring these features into their API.
nV News: Earlier this year NVIDIA announced that it was forming a strategic alliance with Silicon Graphics (SGI) and they will build a card around a chip from NVIDIA. Is this alliance geared primarily towards NVIDIA's entry into the professional workstation market (CAD)? Will there be benefits of this alliance realized in NVIDIA's next generation consumer chip?
Nick: NVIDIA is actually already in the workstation business. We've been selling TNT2 into many of the workstation vendors for quite some time. I'm not exactly sure of the details of the deal with SGI to be honest.
nV News: I bet you have a "kick ass" gaming rig at home. What games do you enjoy playing?
Nick: Ha! Like I have time to play games anymore. I've got a Celeron 300, overclocked to 450MHz, with a TNT in it. I'm planning on getting a GeForce some time after Christmas, when I expect they'll become more available.
I was a big EverQuest addict for quite a while, but I think I burnt myself out on the game, finally, and now I'm not really playing many games. I played a bit of Warcraft 2 this weekend… It's still a great game, but I wish they'd fix the scrolling speed so it didn't scale with faster CPUs. What was good on a P5/100 is NOT good on a Celeron 450. :-)
I've heard Rogue Spear is so good that I'm afraid to buy it because I know I'll get addicted.
nV News: It must be challenging work developing Direct 3D and OpenGL drivers. With so many different PC's around today, what kind of testing is done prior to releasing a new or updated driver?
Nick: We've got a really great QA (Quality Assurance) department. Some of them concentrate on hardware compatibility, while others focus on making sure the apps run well (games and 'real' apps, stuff like MS Office or Netscape). Once our features are done, and they think things are pretty stable, we also submit our drivers to Microsoft to be certified.
Between all those methods, we can usually flush out most of the problems. But of course, with the web giving access to our software to so many people, there's always some people with configurations that have minor problems, even with all that testing.
nV News: In the past 18 months, NVIDIA has had remarkable financial growth. With the release of the TNT/TNT2/GeForce 256 during this time, NVIDIA's corporate strategy appears to be paying dividends. What is the formula for NVIDIA's success? Is it the quality of your management and employee infrastructure, greater research and development budgets, or rewarding employees with vacations to exotic places?
Nick: I'm an engineer, not a finance person, but I think NVIDIA's success has come down to a few simple ideas:
nV News: Are developer relations a key part of NVIDIA's strategy for success? What game developers come to mind as being on the "leading edge" in embracing NVIDIA's ideology of bringing added realism to games?
- We ship new chips every six months. Each one's much better than the chip before it. We've gotten good at shipping new chips with that kind of schedule.
- We concentrate on industry standards. We support Direct3D and OpenGL, and don't waste time with proprietary APIs, or the cost of getting developers to use that API. We find ways to innovate on top of those APIs, by extensions or by helping get the features right into the API.
- We work our butts off. It's really hard to deliver successful products. Lots of people here work really hard to make sure that we can launch these products and sell them to all the customers we've got.
Nick: Absolutely. We're already talking to some developers about products that won't be available until the end of 2000, and even some products that aren't scheduled until 2001. It takes a lot of work for developers to use some of the neat features we're building into our processors, so we need to give them enough time to ensure that they'll be ready for the new features when we're ready to ship them.
nV News: If you had a 1-on-1 Quake 3 deathmatch with Public Relations stud Derek Perez, who would win and why? Our money's on you since you would probably pull a Spock mind-meld on Derek and freak him out.
Nick: Tough call. While Derek may have me beat in the looks department, I'm sure I could spank him something fierce in Quake. Then again, I haven't played it in a LONG time, so it's hard to say… I might be kinda rusty.
nV News: Do you collect Pokemon cards? Derek said that you have a Pikachu stuffed doll sitting on your desk at work.
Nick: Actually, I'm still trying to figure out why the heck people like Teletubbies. Maybe I'll get some time after New Year's to figure out what people see in Pokemon. Those and Beanie Babies.
nV News: We've heard rumors that the successor to the GeForce 256 will be based on a new architecture. Is this true, or will it be based on improving the current design (faster core and memory speeds)?
Nick: In the past, NVIDIA builds a whole new design for each Fall product, and then in the Spring, we add few features to the Fall design, and pump up the speed through higher clocks and internal optimizations.
Next Fall's product is going to kick mucho ass, but I can't really say anything beyond that or our PR guys will axe murder me. :)
nV News: Why is full-scene antialiasing hardware intensive? It looks like 3dfx and GigaPixel believe it's an important feature to implement in their upcoming products?
Nick: To do proper full-scene antialiasing, you need to sample the image at a higher frequency. What that means in English is that you have to draw more pixels. With many apps today, the graphics chips, even GeForce, are fill-bound, so features that require more fill rate cost some performance.
I agree that true antialiasing is a useful feature if done right. If it requires a $600 board and an external power supply, then I'm not sure it's worth it.
nV News: What's on your Christmas wish list?
Nick: Not too much. There's still a few DVDs I'll probably get, but now that I've got The Matrix and The Fifth Element, 90% of the reason I bought a DVD player is there for me.
I haven't heard of any big games for this Christmas other than Quake3, but maybe I'll find something good I can get hooked on, like Age of Empires 2.
I guess the best Christmas present might be if Hollywood would put out another movie with lots of aliens, explosions, kung fu, and nudity. Combine that with some decent jokes and I think you've made the perfect flick.
End of Interview