Aart de Geus' Moment
Around 1986, my team in North Carolina became part of Calma, which GE had acquired as part of a grand scheme of building a position in high tech. Unfortunately Calma was in decline and we self-tasked ourselves with trying to deliver a cool EDA product that could help bring “zing” to the company.
In my team, we had developed a program called SOCRATES, which stood for “Synthesis and Optimization of Combinatorics using a Rule-based And Technology-independent Expert System.” Known today as “Design Compiler,” this synthesis tool was getting some great results and since we were presenting a technical paper on it at DAC in Las Vegas anyway, on the spur of the moment we decided to take SOCRATES to DAC and get some feedback from potential commercial users.
This is where the approach became a bit more ad-hoc: Using green felt, plastic lettering from a local Walgreens, and some over-sized playing cards that Van Morgan from my team had found in a magic supply store, we put together a hand-glued poster that promised $50 to all who could beat SOCRATES in implementing a set of Boolean equations. Armed with a little computer, our dandy poster, and a lots of naïve enthusiasm, the Socrates team consisting of Dave Gregory, Bill Krieger, Tim Moore, Van Morgan, and I showed up uninvited and unannounced at the Calma booth to “save the day.”
To say that they were less than enthusiastic about our showing up with an impromptu new “product demo” is an understatement. The idea of a $50 contest against some researchy program explained with a home-brewed poster inside their professionally pristine booth was not really how Calma rolled out new products...
In all honesty, if this happened at our company today, I would sincerely hope that our booth manager would blow his or her top too! Fortunately, we were too young and starry-eyed to take the hint and after some back and forth, we were reluctantly tucked onto an interior wall in a little demo room, hoping we would stay well out of the way of general traffic.
However, while the responsible party for the Calma booth had a minor melt down, the interest of the customers was huge, thus further aggravating the situation! As we returned victorious to North Carolina, Calma management “promoted” us to become the support team for one of their old products for which, to add insult to injury, they mistakenly sent us object instead of source code.
At DAC, we had gotten great feedback on Socrates, though. So much so that in December of that year, as GE decided to end their high tech adventure and started the path reduce and ultimately divest Calma, they supported us enthusiastically as we spun out into a small company that today still survives under the name of “Synopsys.”