YouTube & the Next Generation
by Peggy Aycinena
Editor of EDA Confidential and a Contributing Editor to EDA Weekly
Limor Fix, 2008 General Chair for the Design Automation Conference, is only asking one thing of her various committees’ heads: Do something different this year. Just one thing that will shake things up, evolve the conference, help move the industry in a new and appropriate direction. Not surprisingly, her committee chairs have responded.
Although Fix partially credits her long years in management —previously as head of an internal CAD R&D group at Intel, and now as director of an Intel research lablet in Pittsburgh – for giving her the leadership skills to promote out-of the box thinking from the 2008 DAC team, she argues the larger credit for their innovative ideas comes from the caliber of the team itself. “It’s always about the team in technology, and the 2008 DAC team is top notch. Best ever, in fact,” Fix told me in a recent phone call.
Few would take issue with Fix’s boast. Just look at the team: U.C. San Diego’s Andrew Kahng; IBM’s Leon Stok; Magma Design Automation’s Patrick Groeneveld; Virage Logic’s Yervant Zorian; University of Pittsburgh’s Steve Levitan; Synopsys’ Narendra Shenoy; University of Minnesota’s Sachin Sapatnekar; Purdue University’s Kaushik Roy; Mentor Graphics’ Dennis Brophy; NVC Marketing & Public Relations’ Nanette Collins; Katholieke University’s Georges Gielen; Kyushu University’s Yusuke Matsunaga; Carnegie Mellon University’s Diana Marculescu; Qualcomm’s Ramesh Chandra; Mentor Graphics’ Anne Cirkel; MP Associates’ Kevin Lepine; and MP Associates’ Lee Wood.
Fix says the 2008 DAC Dream Team is historic in its talent and energies: “This team is doing more than I ever could have imagined possible, and the conference is going to be supremely successful because of them. In previous years, the Executive Committee used to meet every three months, but so many new ideas are being brought online in 2008 that the committee is happily meeting every month in the run-up to the conference in June in Anaheim.
“We are crafting a Design Automation Conference that will reflect ongoing changes in the industry. Change is happening in design automation at an even faster pace than what we’ve seen in the past —and this in an industry that’s legendary for its pace of change. There is a change in tools on the horizon and a change in the way design is done that’s creating a crisis for design managers all over the world. They’re having to say to their teams, and to their management, ‘Okay. This time as we start our newest project, we’re going to have to do things differently. We’re going to have to move things to a higher level of abstraction and, therefore, be willing to integrate even more external IP, or IP from different groups within the company, to make our new project succeed.’
“And,” Fix adds, “Not only are the designers changing their methodologies and attitudes, the computer aided design companies —the EDA vendors —are changing their attitudes, as well. They’re developing new technologies and methodologies that are working at the new, higher abstraction levels needed by their customers, while also acknowledging that the fine tuning of new technologies and methodologies cannot happen until the design teams take it upon themselves to absorb the risk associated with the new tools. It’s a two-way street —out of necessity, the customers have to use the new tools and methodologies, while at the very same time, the new offerings from the vendors are being stress-tested on real projects with real deadlines.”
Fix says there’s enough risk in all of this to sink a [corporate] ship, but she also senses great optimism: “I am seeing more and more willingness in the design companies to be open to new technologies and methodologies. Amidst everything the industry, and the DAC Executive Committee, are talking about —system-level design, new levels of abstraction, additional use of IP, DFM, and new verification technologies —you can see the adoption of all of these things is actually starting to happen across the globe. It’s taken years for this to become a reality, but adoption is definitely kicking in.”Managing Change
As admirable as all of this forward thinking may be, Fix lists several specific innovations related to DAC 2008. “First of all,” she says, “The DAC website is sporting a fresh new look and the DACeZine, newly launched this year, is also adding a refreshing new voice to the industry.
“Second of all, the exhibitors will welcome a host of new ideas and updated features in the conference that are promising to enrich their experiences and ROI. To that end, every day at DAC in Anaheim in June 2008 will be a “Free Day” on the exhibit hall floor. Attendees will have to register a few days in advance of the conference, but if they do, the floor will be open to them – which will be a tremendous boon for the exhibitors.”
“Third, DAC attendee feedback from past years has generated additional program content for 2008 that will look more closely at the methodology of design through a variety of ‘how-to’ sessions that are being integrated into the schedule. Hence, we are looking at opportunities for learning to take place at DAC for all types of technologists.”
“I believe when a person comes to DAC, they are already expert in some sub-domain within the technology. While DAC can give that individual an updated perspective on current trends in their own area, it can also give them more in-depth exposure to other domains, as well. If you’re in formal verification, for instance, DAC will give you multiple sessions to round out your knowledge, but will also offer extended collocated tutorials that offer additional exposure to advancements in other, complementary technologies.”
Finally, and most profoundly, Fix says, “The entire Executive Committee is revamping their thinking about the conference itself. No longer are they thinking of DAC as a single event that happens just once each year, sometime in the late spring or early summer. Instead, they are envisioning DAC as a year-round phenomenon – an ongoing, always vital source of information where academia and industry, students, professors, and industry leaders can exchange ideas and develop a dialog via DAC’s monthly newsletter DACeZine and DAC’s website that provides a single focal point for the industry’s bloggers.
“In conjunction with that, we are developing a database of expert speakers and well-known people who have been invited to speak and/or participate on panels at the conference. This database will be a very valuable resource for future DAC organizers, and it serves as a repository of names and expertise that companies can populate on their own initiative in order to be able to expose their technical leaders and high-level management to DAC’s organizers and attendees.”
“But, this year’s Executive Committee is thinking on an even bigger scale,” Fix says. “In terms of marketing the conference and reaching out to a larger ‘user base,’ we are looking at all of the new media in the world today—everything from Facebook to YouTube, and all of those socialization and information tools that our children are busy with all the time. I hear about them from my own children and you probably hear about them from yours, as well. For the new generation of engineers —if we really want to reach them—we need to do it through the communication channels and tools that they use in their everyday lives. For example, we are considering inviting the authors of accepted papers to promote their work and encourage DAC’s participants to attend their paper presentations by uploading short videos on YouTube that would highlight the main contributions of their papers. The DAC website will contain links to these videos.”
“You can see why I’m very excited about all of the ideas that the various committee chairs have generated this year,” Fix says. “If I have brought a managerial aspect to the job of General Chair for the 2008 Design Automation Conference, the members of the Executive Team have brought tremendous creativity to their respective jobs and have generated a host of new and clearly stimulating ideas.”
The future of the future
Speaking about the future of the industry, Limor Fix took a moment to specifically note the value of the conference to students: “DAC is an absolutely unique conference for students. While they may go to other conferences during their undergraduate or graduate careers, there they usually get program time spent only on exposure to technological information.
“But when they come to DAC, they get a larger opportunity to actually understand their career path options. Students can see both the big and small players in the industry, as well as the most current technologies. They can see products available today that may be the basis or jumping-off points for some far-reaching, speculative topics that they can pursue in their research back at school. For students, DAC is a unique and priceless opportunity to learn what is next for them. If they use that opportunity well, it’s also a chance to network and look into finding a good place of employment for when they graduate.”
Fix adds that DAC offers a variety of programs to benefit students, including the Student Design Contest, the SIGDA/DAC University Booth and the Young Student support program, as well as the Newton and Pistilli awards. ACM/SIGDA, one of the sponsors of DAC, does a great service for students at DAC by hosting the Ph.D. Forum. “The companies look at DAC as a chance to present themselves to students and potential recruits. Back when I was managing my R&D group at Intel, for instance, I knew that if I wanted to hire a few good people, I would be watching for the best students at DAC particularly at the Ph.D. Forum and talking to them about their technology interests. I’d be able to observe their presentation skills at the Forum, which as a hiring manager was a marvelous way to identify the up-and-coming superstars in the industry.
“Now as DAC General Chair, I am encouraging exhibitors at DAC to take better advantage of this opportunity. Companies should be showcasing their ideas to the students at DAC, because in six or seven years these young people will be the next generation of the industry.”
Ever the optimist
Speaking of young people, Limor Fix laughs when I ask if her family knows what the Design Automation Conference is. “Yes, indeed,” she says. “For my family, the Design Automation Conference has always been part of the rhythm of our lives. In fact, they call it Mom’s Conference!
“My children were raised in Israel, where at the end of each school year there is always a big party to which the parents are invited. Unfortunately over the years, DAC has often taken place at the exact same time in June, and I have had to miss that party more than once. However, to their credit, my children have never complained. On the contrary, they have always been very supportive —both of my work at Intel and my work on DAC—and have actually attended the conference several times with me.”
Fix chuckles and adds, “Even my parents have attended DAC and have actually come with me to the DAC party—always a pleasant evening, especially if the food is good! Over the years, like my children, they have tried hard to understand a little bit about what it’s all about—for which I admire them.
“Careers in technology, successful careers, are very time consuming. They require a tremendous commitment, not only on the part of the technologist, but on the part of the family of the technologist, as well. Your family has to be part of the journey.”
However, Limor Fix says, there is something that, for her, is even more important than family support in a career in high-tech—and that’s the role of optimism. “It’s absolutely crucial that people be optimistic if they expect to succeed in technology,” she says. “After all, all research in CAD tools is about developing algorithms and those rarely work out the first, second, or even third time. You have to believe deeply that an algorithm can be improved and refined until it will succeed. That’s something that requires both optimism and patience. Any company that can bring together that magical mix of intelligence, optimism and patience will eventually succeed.
“I have to believe that, and I frequently move to impress this attitude on my teams in industry. I tell them that we all fail so many times in the things that we try—and that the balance between the personal traits of intelligence, patience, and optimism is ultimately the key to finding the sweet spot for progress in any technology. Our work is very hard, but given enough time and motivation, we can and will find ultimate success.”
Limor adds with a final chuckle: “Although I have to constantly remind my team in industry to keep all of this in mind, these are things that I never need to teach or re-teach the Design Automation Conference Executive Team. They’ve been working so hard and will continue to do so right through June in Anaheim. Their accomplishments show that I have nothing to teach them that they don’t already know about intelligence, patience, and optimism.
“In fact, they’ve taught me a thing or two!”
Peggy Aycinena is Editor of EDA Confidential and Contributing Editor to EDA Weekly and the DACeZine.