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When the electronic design automation (EDA) industry has something to celebrate, it really knows how to party. This was proven at a gala "black tie optional" event at the Computer History Museum (Mt. View, California) Oct. 16, 2013, where the EDA Consortium (EDAC) brought together several hundred well-dressed attendees to celebrate 50 years of EDA and to raise funds for an oral history project at the museum.
The event was titled "EDA: Back to the Future, an Industry Reunion." Attendees were treated to a reception, a fog-shrouded time tunnel with colored lights, a catered dinner, silent and live actions, and an EDA industry retrospective. Over 30 EDA "luminaries" mingled with the crowd and hosted tables at the dinner.
EDAC chairman Kathryn Kranen (shown at right in the multicolored time tunnel with husband Kevin Kranen) noted that the consortium chose this event to raise funds for the Computer History Museum's EDA Oral Histories Collection, an exhibit that will be available online and on a rotational basis at the museum. I'm sure the enthusiastic bidding at the auction will give this collection a good head start.
From my perspective, this event was indeed a reunion. While many attendees are active in the EDA industry today, there were also a number of "old timers" from the 1980s and 1990s. There were academic luminaries like Bob Brayton and Ernest Kuh, whose work began even earlier. At the reception I talked with many people I first met 10 or 20 years ago.
As an added bonus, the museum's "Revolution" exhibit was open for a private showing during the first part of the reception. The exhibit traces a 2,000-year history of computing, going back to the days of the abacus and other early calculating devices.
Pictured below at the left are a few of the people I encountered at the reception. Starting in the upper left and going clockwise, they are: 1) Former Cadence CEO Joe Costello, 2) EDAC executive director Bob Gardner, 3) Industry gadfly John Cooley in a suit and tie, and 4) Bill Joyner, vice president for technical activities at IEEE Council on EDA (CEDA). Joyner provided the EDA retrospective at the event.
So how is 2013 the 50th anniversary of EDA? The "birth" of EDA is not any single event, and the term wasn't even invented until the mid-1980s. However, the 50th Design Automation Conference was held this June. Calma, a leading CAD company in the 1970s, got its start in 1963. So why not throw a party and raise some funds for a worthy project?
Productivity Up By 1 Million
Following a short video, Kathryn Kranen opened the evening program by hailing "five decades of astonishing technological innovation." She said the EDA industry has increased engineering productivity by a factor of over 1 million, and has provided "a wild and exciting ride for many of us in the room tonight."
Kranen noted that multiple generations of EDA professionals were represented in the audience, from luminaries to newcomers. "Perhaps tonight will serve as a catalyst for accelerating connections and to share wisdom that will shape the next generation of EDA," she said.
John Hollar, Computer History Museum president, called the event "an incredibly unselfish way to celebrate years of accomplishments by your industry." The museum wants to expand its oral history project, he said, because "the people who are making history are making it faster than we can record it." The project involves people who are making history today, he said, and is somewhat like talking to Michelangelo as he's painting the Sistine Chapel.
The Very First DAC
Joyner provided a lively retrospective focusing on the first few Design Automation Conferences. The very first conference, then called SHARE (Society to Help Avoid Redundant Effort), was held in 1964 at Atlantic City, New Jersey. There were 17 papers, most from industry, and topics included not only electronic CAD (remember, no such term as "EDA" then) but also mechanical and architectural CAD. Registration cost $30 and the hotel was $18.
That first DAC, Joyner noted, provided a forum for discussing challenges that we still have today. For instance, a keynote speech probed the positive and negative impacts of automation on the work force.
The chair of the third DAC, Arnold Spitalny of United Aircraft, challenged the industry to tackle system design. This set the stage for a discussion that's still ongoing today. A paper at the fifth DAC, by Philip Sherman of Bell Labs, highlighted optimization, modeling, and "true synthesis." He challenged the design automation industry to "be the model for standardization in the computer industry as a whole." That's a pretty insightful talk for 1969, a time when punched card systems weren't even standardized.
Note: Penny Herscher, one of the EDA luminaries at the event, wrote a related blog for the Huffington Post titled "The Biggest Little Industry You've Never Heard of Turns Fifty."
The auction not only raised money for the museum - it was lively and entertaining, thanks to auctioneer Ken Newman (shown at right taking bids for lunch with Lip-Bu Tan, Cadence CEO). Here are some other items that were auctioned:
All in all, it was a great evening for a good cause. Now on to the next 50 years!
Related Blog Post
EDA in 1964 - A Look Back at the First DAC
Photo of Kathryn Kranen courtesy of EDA Consortium