I heard chip designers being described as "triangle pushers," the idea being that somehow the logic on the chip was formulated by arranging triangles on the silicon in certain ways. How does this work? I don't understand how triangles can be arranged to create digital logic or why the shape of a triangle would be important.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Been in that industry for 25+ years and never heard that term. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oldfart
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 15:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Who calls them that, exactly? \$\endgroup\$
    – Finbarr
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 15:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Did they used to give out little sample triangles to get you hooked? \$\endgroup\$
    – Trevor_G
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 16:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't you see the schematic in the logo for this site? It's obviously a triangle that is pushing against a wall. It's right there in red and white. \$\endgroup\$
    – JPhi1618
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 20:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, I worked in the same RCA office with the guy who designed the industry's first computer layout software for ICs, and I don't recall this term being used. I do vaguely recall that the computer "drawing" was done largely with overlaid triangles, so I'd guess that's what's being referred to, if the term is at all real. \$\endgroup\$
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 13:43

3 Answers 3


Early masks for the creation of layers on an IC were created by a photographic process that involved exposing the original photographic plate through a mechanically controlled triangular aperture. Hence triangle pusher.

The light source was fixed above the aperture, the plate was moved xy underneath. The point of a triangle was that additive it could give any orthogonal geometry required.

There were no laser printers back then.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @oldfart obviously before your time then :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 15:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Solar Mike No I remember rubylith ;). \$\endgroup\$
    – RoyC
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 15:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is this from your own experience, or can you provide any reference for the phrase "triangle pusher" in this sense? Google results for the phrase are unfortunately polluted with nail care products. I'd be interested to learn more about this old manufacturing process. \$\endgroup\$
    – trent
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 22:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've never heard of an optical pattern generator with a triangular aperture. I've only heard of rectangles, usually rotating. (examples) Considering 99% of IC patterns will be rectilinear, the whole photolithography process is set up for masks with it (e.g. quadrupole illumination), although by that time most masks were e-beam. Making mask patterns out of triangles sounds strange to me, and twice as much work. \$\endgroup\$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 4:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ How come this answer has upvotes? It seems to be basically wrong. \$\endgroup\$
    – Fattie
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 17:59

They are called "polygon pushers".

polygon pusher: n.

A chip designer who spends most of his or her time at the physical layout level (which requires drawing lots of multi-colored polygons). Also rectangle slinger.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "polygon pusher." Never heard "triangle pusher" but I imagine the etymology is the same. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shamtam
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 16:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Here is a layout of an NMOS NOR gate as you might see it in layout editing software. The different colors of the shapes correspond to different metal layers of the process. \$\endgroup\$
    – trent
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 22:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @trentcl that's CMOS, not NMOS. Note there are transistors on both sides of the output and no resistors. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 1:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ In what sense is it misleading? Feel free to edit it yourself. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 1:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ On this page, the picture was in the same row with the ones of which the text says "The diagrams above show" an NMOS gate. I probably had already edited it when you looked at the page. \$\endgroup\$
    – trent
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 3:08

In computer graphics, a poly-pusher (short for polygon-pusher), is a system that uses a brute force approach to simply draw as many polygons as possible, as opposed to more intelligent systems that try to figure out things like which triangles are visible, or ray-tracing. Historically, brute-force has always won when compared to more complex systems. The winning philosophy seems to be, "do the simplest thing possible, as fast as possible.". Thus most modern-day graphics cards are "poly-pushers".

Not heard the term used for a hardware engineer, but it's possible that someone who believes in simple, fast, hardware, might be called a "poly-pusher", or maybe a "poly-pusher-pusher" :-)

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    \$\begingroup\$ This was also the etymology I thought of as I'm sure I've heard it used in the context of NVIDIA's or ATI/AMD's graphics chips engineering teams. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dai
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 21:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @downvoters: please provide feedback as to why you down voted \$\endgroup\$
    – gatorback
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 17:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gatorback Because this is a nonsense answer and the modern use of the word related to drawing polygons has nothing to do with the use of the word in the ASIC industry 40 years ago. The only reason this even has a positive score is because it ended up on the hot network list, attracting kids from all over SE. This took it from 100% negative score to lots of upvotes. The final sentence even explicitly says "Never heard the term used for a hardware engineer". \$\endgroup\$
    – pipe
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 12:35

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