Paul Mclellan's Moment


DAC Technical Sessions

DAC Technical Sessions


My own DAC moment has to be my first DAC (I’ve been to every one since) in Albuquerque. This was when DAC was focused on EDA only, and I realized EDA was going to be a sizable industry. In 1983 Albuquerque was still a small town and it had been selected when DAC was just an academic conference without a tradeshow. Every school bus in New Mexico seemed to have been required to ferry everyone around, some people were staying in motels as far as 50 miles away, every flight was overbooked and you were lucky if you didn’t have to go via Atlanta. Basically DAC just overflowed the town.

I remember going to what must have been my first corporate customer party. I don’t even remember who hosted it (maybe even VLSI Technology which I was working for at the time). But it was on a mountaintop that you had to take a long cable car to reach. Googling it now, it must be the Sandia Peak Tramway. There was a bar/café at the top that had been transformed with high quality hors d’oeuvres, good wine and beer.

It was almost exactly a year after I’d arrived in the US from Britain, and sitting on top of a mountain, being wined and dined, and watching the western desert sun set was definitely different from anything I’d experienced before. My original plan had been to come to the US and work for VLSI Technology (a 50-person startup when I interviewed) for a couple of years since it would be an experience and look good on my resume back in the UK. I ended up working there for 16 years, and only left in the end since I was CEO of Compass Design Automation and I sawed off the branch I was sitting on when we sold the company.

But sitting on that mountaintop was when everyone decided they wanted to design chips. EDA started to take off like a rocketship, dynamic and exciting. We would democratize the whole design process so that system companies could design their own chips, and they would all require lots of design tools. We could all read off the graphs of Moore’s law and see that we’d be designing million gate chips and then billion gate chips. But I don’t think even we really believed it.

One implication was that you could eventually put a microprocessor on a chip and still have room for some more stuff, and that meant that the software component of a system became increasingly important. DAC changed to include IP and embedded software.

But there are no longer parties where you can sit on the top of a mountain and feel like EDA is about to change the world. EDA is still an incredible industry with an enormous technical content moving at an unbelievable pace. Just that now that seems normal.

Paul Mclellan, DAC Knowledge Center Editor