A Tribute to Pat Pistilli | 1931-2020

Pat Pistilli was a pioneer, visionary and founder of the electronic design automation (EDA) industry. As an engineer, he spent 29 years at Bell Labs (1955 – 1984) developing systems such as Bell Labs Automated Design System (BLADES) that served as a foundation platform for the many early notable CAD systems, including Electronic Switching Systems I and II (ESS). Pat also designed the MATACUP system to integrate design and manufacturing into a single CAD system for the development of PBX systems. MATACUP was credited with saving many millions of dollars in manufacturing costs and as of 1999 — 30 years later — an enhanced version of the original system was still in use at the Merrimack Valley (Mass.) Western Electric facility. He proposed and developed Bell Labs’ first project data management (PDM) system called ACES, for Automatic Control of Electronic Systems. It was completed by members of his group after his retirement and with future enhancements it was used for many years. Upon Pat’s retirement from Bell Labs in 1984, Steve Pardee, then director of CAD Development for Bell Labs, stated: “There was no one person who contributed more to the development of computer aided design within Bell Labs than Pat Pistilli.”

It was through the process of developing internal CAD tools at Bell Labs that led to an intimate understanding of design problems and the need to share solutions. In 1964, Pat began what was then called the Society to Help Avoid Redundant Effort (SHARE) Design Automation Workshop as a way of networking and exchanging ideas about techniques for better automating electronics design. The first SHARE Workshop on Design Automation led to the Design Automation Conference (DAC), now closing in on its 57th year, and a focal point for the commercialization of EDA software and hardware. In 1984, 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. Pat retired from Bell Labs, and with his wife Marie, formed MP Associates, Inc., securing the contract to manage DAC and its newly formed exhibition. Pat and Marie officially retired from MP Associates in July 2000.

DAC has had a tremendous influence on the business, the commercialization of EDA software, hardware and services, and promotion of the EDA and semiconductor industries. It has also served as a focal point for thousands of members of this community. Unlike so many other industries, EDA grew up around the Design Automation Conference and not the reverse. Without it, EDA may not be as well-organized, forward thinking or as focused a market segment, which is why the industry owes Pat a debt of gratitude as the founder and father of both DAC and EDA. From the outset, Pat was responsible for positioning DAC as the industry’s central hub, while helping the industry grow into the entity it is today. This understanding combined with his fierce and tireless dedication to the ongoing success and relevance of the Design Automation Conference has made the EDA industry a success. Today, DAC is well recognized as the premier forum for the electronic design industry to exchange information on products, methodologies, and processes. Attended by developers, designers, researchers, managers and engineers from leading electronics companies and universities around the world, DAC includes close to 200 exhibitors and offers a robust technical program covering the electronics industry’s hottest trends. In addition to developing the technical program Pat was instrumental in guaranteeing that DAC give back to the research community by establishing the DAC Professional Development Fund. This fund has given $2.5million to scholarships, travel grants and student support over the past 15 years. DAC has named the P.O. Pistilli ACSEE scholarship fund in his honor, which annually awards one $20,000 scholarship to a student from underrepresented minorities to study Computer Science or Electrical Engineering.

2010 Phil kaufman award recipient

Pat Pistilli drove technology changes throughout his career at Bell Labs, but it is his role as a technology change agent earned him the recognition as the 2010 Phil Kaufman Award winner for pioneering the EDA industry and building the Design Automation Conference as its premiere showcase and networking platform. His focus and constant efforts over many years to make DAC the EDA industry’s major forum for education, exchange of ideas, and to further the commercial development of the industry are unparalleled. He was not a traditional educator. However, the educational benefit derived from DAC’s almost 50 years of technical sessions, keynotes, panels and exhibits is enormous. Many of the most influential ideas, concepts and commercial endeavors the EDA industry is built upon found their start as a DAC paper. Prior to his retirement in 2000, Pat Pistilli guided the process and established the standards for quality that makes the DAC program unique.