I must admit that I was a little nonplused when one of my friends asked “Would you like to chat with The Father of EDA?” (I swear that there was a roll of thunder in the background – maybe it was just a roll of drums – thank goodness bagpipes weren't involved.) I mean, when you look around at EDA as we know it and love it today – simulation, synthesis, formal verification, language-driven design, PCB layout, and so on and so forth to name but a few – have you ever actually thought to yourself “I wonder where all of this originated?"
Anyway, to cut a long story short I ended up spending a delightful couple of hours on the phone chatting with Pasquale (Pat) Pistilli, who really was instrumental in the evolution of the EDA industry (if he’s not the Father of EDA, he’s certainly one of its favorite Uncles).
In the early 1960s, Pat was a young engineer at Bell Labs in New Jersey involved in creating some sort of computer-aided design (CAD) tool. At that time, all of the big companies were creating their own tools. As Pat cheerfully says “None of us really had a clue what we were doing.” Of course, when you come to think of it this makes total sense – there wasn’t an Internet; there wasn’t an EDA industry; there weren’t (as far as I know) any books on this sort of stuff; so folks had to make it up as they went along.
Young Pat early in his career
As an aside... the original computer-aided tools (in the context of electronic design) were “back-end” tools that were used first to digitize, and later interactively layout, the rudimentary silicon chips and circuit boards of the day. These tools were referred to collectively as computer-aided design (CAD)
because that seemed to make sense at the time.
Meanwhile, other companies started to develop “front-end” tools for things like schematic capture and logic simulation. These tools were classed as computer-aided engineering (CAE)
, because (a) they were targeted toward design engineers and (b) their creators wanted to distinguish their products from the “back-end” CAD domain.
Looking back, it might have made more sense to call the front-end tools computer-aided design (CAD) and the back-end tools computer-aided layout (CAL), but “Hindsight is the only exact science,”
as they say. Anyway, at some stage during the 1980s, all of the CAE and CAD tools involved in developing electronic components and systems came to be referred to by the “umbrella” name of electronic design automation (EDA)
, and everyone was happy (apart from the ones who weren’t, but they don’t count).
But we digress... Sometime in 1963 Pat met an engineer from a different company. They ended up chatting and realized that they were both essentially working on the same thing. They also realized that it would be really useful for people like them to be able to share information and ideas so as to cut down on wasted effort and to learn from each other’s successes (and mistakes).
Pat originally envisioned a forum for engineers to freely exchange ideas about techniques for better automating electronics design. He told me that he thought that people would be able to simply share whatever they wanted – he had no idea how big and secret and cutthroat EDA would eventually become.
In 1964 Pat instigated what was then called the Society to Help Avoid Redundant Effort (SHARE)
. You have to admit that this is a wonderful name. Pat told me that he and his wife Marie put up the $1,000 seed money to fund the first SHARE workshop, which must have been a huge amount of money at the time. Pat mentioned that the first conferences just involved the engineers themselves. He then added “Later on when the vendors came along there was no more sharing.” (grin)
The first SHARE workshop took place in Atlantic City, N.J. with 132 professionals and Pat as the chair. I’m not too sure of the exact timeline, but at some stage the SHARE workshop became known as the SHARE Design Automation Conference. Eventually this was abbreviated to the Design Automation Conference or DAC for short. Pat went on to chair DAC two more times (1965 and 1966) and is the only person to serve as chair more than once.
From 1984 when exhibits were first co-located with the technical conference, DAC became the focal point for the commercialization of EDA software and hardware. DAC had 40 exhibitors in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a town that quickly ran out of hotel rooms. Many of the 1,500 or so attendees ended up having to stay in hotels an hour away.
For that year’s DAC Party, which was held outdoors at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Albuquerque, Pat hired Hopi rain dancers with assurances from the locals that it wouldn't rain. After all, New Mexico rarely gets rain in the summer. Not 15 minutes after the performance, the heavens opened and the rain started pouring down. The tents were sagging from the weight of the water and people were holding tablecloths over their heads. Curiously enough, it didn't rain anywhere but near the Hilton!
With the advent of commercially available EDA tools, it was clear that the Design Automation Conference was poised for growth and would require full-time management. Thus, Pat retired from Bell Labs and, with Marie, formed MP Associates, Inc., securing the contract to manage DAC and its newly formed exhibition beginning in 1985.
Pat and the 1985 DAC executive committee
Actually this is particularly poignant for me, because in 1985 as a relatively junior engineer I flew over from England to attend my first DAC. (I daren’t think what a picture of me from that time would have looked like [grin]).
A surprise visit by Ronald Reagan to Las Vegas in 1986 while DAC was going on nearly brought that year’s conference to a halt. Pat negotiated with the US Secret Service to let DAC continue, and he met and had his photo taken with the President.
The great thing about Pat is that he’s one of us (an engineer) … not just “a suit” if you know what I mean (managers, you have to love them, but you wouldn’t want your daughter to marry one [grin]). By the time Pat retired from Bell Labs in 1984, he had spent 25 years developing systems such as the Bell Labs Automated Design System (BLADES) and MATACUP that served as a foundation platform for many early notable CAD systems.
For those who like numbers, over the past 47 years, there have been 4,944 technical research papers presented at DAC. Also, including the original SHARE workshop in 1964, there have been a total of 312,057 DAC registrations.
Perhaps Pat is proudest of his DAC Professional Development Fund to support the research community. This fund has awarded $2.5 million in student scholarships and travel grants over the past 15 years.
Twenty-first century Pat
(Courtesy JL Gray, Vice President, Verilab, Austin, TX)
Pat and Marie officially retired from MP Associates in July 2000, but continue to attend DAC and are always available to offer support and guidance to the MP Associates team, which continues to be run by their family members.
All of which sort of brings me to the point of why I’m waffling in about all of this. I’m sure you must have heard of the Phil Kaufman Award, which was established by the EDA Consortium
to recognize individuals for their impact on electronic design by their contributions to EDA. I’m told that this award has been dubbed "The Nobel Prize of the EDA Industry"
(but I’ve not been told who it was who did the dubbing).
To be perfectly honest with you, for many years I’ve seen press announcements about this award without really knowing anything about who Phil Kaufman was, what he did, and why there is an award in his name. To be even more honest, the EDAC website doesn’t exactly go out of its way to enlighten you on this topic. I think it would be a jolly good idea for them to put up a page with Phil’s picture and bio so that we all know who we’re talking about. But I’m wandering off into the weeds as is my wont…
So here’s the deal: Philip A. Kaufman was an American Engineer who spent more than a quarter-of-a-century in the computer industry and was an active member of the EDA Consortium. Phil’s experience encompassed hardware, software, semiconductors, EDA, and computer architecture. He was the CEO of Quickturn Systems, which accelerated the use of emulation, and chairman and president of Silicon Compiler Systems, where he was instrumental in advancing the concept of silicon compilation. Prior to joining the EDA industry, Phil was a manager in Intel's microprocessor component group. He was the driving force behind the IEEE Ethernet Standard, and was instrumental in developing the IEEE Floating-Point Standard. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Michigan and held several patents. Sadly, Phil passed away on 17 July 1992 while on a business trip in Japan.
Which brings us back to Pat Pistilli, who was the recipient of the Phil Kaufman Award in 2010. Pat was presented with the award in 2010 at a dinner in October, but he will be honored once again at DAC 2011 during the Tuesday morning session in front of the community at large.
I’m certainly going to be there to see this. Perhaps more importantly, during our chat Pat told me that we should meet up at DAC for a beer. Well, all I can say is you don’t have to ask me twice when it comes to quaffing a beer (quaffing is like regular drinking except that you tend to spill more down your chest), especially when I’m quaffing it with The Father of EDA!