Taken for Granted

ESL, embedded processors, and more

Some Suggestions for DAC

Filed under: Uncategorized — August 13, 2009 @ 6:49 pm

DAC 2009 is truly well and over, but it is still a topic of interest. Sean Murphy has a page pointing to a host of blog posts about it – before, during and after – that is an excellent resource. There continues to be an active discussion of the announced attendance numbers, and what they mean (see, for example, Kevin Morris, Paul Mclellan and Lou Covey). I’ve come up with my own thoughts, in no particular order, that might lead to improvements in the conference:

  1. First, I think it is time for DAC to become very transparent about its attendance numbers, both current and historical. I cannot find any place on the DAC web site that lists the historical and current attendance numbers (broken into the various categories – e.g. exhibit only, full conference, exhibitor staff and “other”; and both preliminary and final figures). The preliminary figures are press-released for the current year but have to be retrieved from PR archive sites or other miscellaneous places on the web if you want to find past years. The definitions of preliminary (e.g., pre-registered) vs. final (I assume this is pre-registered people who showed up plus walk-in registrations) are not clear. And the final numbers are extremely hard – almost impossible – to find on the web. Since people are interested in attendance numbers as an indicator of the health of the EDA industry, the conference and maybe even of electronic design, and since they should not be secret, I don’t know why DAC shouldn’t be quite transparent about these numbers and post them prominently on their web site. In the absence of the facts, people will speculate or analyse based on whatever bits of information they have.
  2. The future of DAC lies in attracting a wider design community and in my opinion becoming as much or more about design as about automation. That is, the emphasis of DAC should continue a shift from a focus in the technical programme on EDA algorithms and research and move quickly to a focus on design methods, design issues, designer problems and designer experiences. And this should bring with it a stronger focus on applications. The user track DAC instituted this year is an important step in that direction. But it was a bit of a sideshow and occupied only one out of seven parallel technical conference tracks. The focus should immediately and radically shift so that half of DAC’s conference programme is designer, application and user experience and half being the more traditional EDA algorithm work. This is nothing more than returning DAC more to its roots as being grounded in and reporting on real design experience.
  3. To do this, the programme committee needs to be reworked so that a majority of the members are from industry (or the academic research programme committee part should be shrunk so that the user track committee is larger than it). This is a lot of work and a hard slog. It would be impossible to do this in one year. My experience as co-chair of the programme committee in 2005 and 2006 (for design methods) indicated to me that it takes a huge amount of effort and a lot of persuasion to sign up each new industrial or designer member. But the goal is worthwhile.
  4. If DAC really does re-focus so that real design becomes its major focus, it is clear, as many have commented, that it needs to embrace the wider topics of design including FPGAs, embedded software, and board design, as well as the IC design that it has focused on in the technical conference and exhibit in recent years. Again, this is nothing more than a return to its roots. But to do this well it needs a lot of information about what the real worldwide design community does and what it wants in a technical conference with an exhibition. Since the current EDA vendor community seems to focus mostly on the IC design community, the conference needs a lot of information about all these other aspects of design.
  5. Rome was not built in one day, as John Heywood said in 1546! . But a radical transition can’t take many years either. This year I think we reached the end of ESL existentialism (the constant questioning about whether ESL exists) because I think a number of people now recognise that it is real. With a transformation in DAC to serve the really wide worldwide electronic-based product design community (of course including embedded software), we might someday see an end to the perennial questioning: is EDA dying? and is DAC dying (or not relevant). It would be nice to see debates on different topics emerge!
  6. Finally, with a focus on design and applications, how about a new name? DAC is too established an acronym to tamper with – but how about it meaning “Design and Application Conference” rather than “Design Automation Conference”?

I would welcome your comments and thoughts on these suggestions and on DAC …..


  1. John Busco:

    Nice post with an inside perspective of how DAC is organized.

    I would like the technical program to be more relevant to EDA customers (designers). But I also wonder how that will to compare with user conferences like SNUG, CDNLive, DVCon, …

    I bought an Exhibits Only pass this year and that was fine. I was curious about the User Track but confused by the number of different registration “tracks” to attend DAC: exhibits, technical program, user track, tutorials, management track!

  2. Grant Martin:

    Thanks John, good points. When I was programme co-chair in 2005-6 we did try to have a “best of the user groups” session but could not get it organised (among other things, it was hard to figure out who really ran some of the user groups). But I think DAC could have a constructive relationship with the user groups and I think the Best of the User groups might still be a good idea to try – and would expose the work to a wider audience.

    Your point about the registration and tracks is a good one. With all the workshops, colocated events, multiple tracks and events on the exhibit floor, figuring out what to attend was a challenge. Perhaps DAC is subdividing the audience a little too much. In addition, some simplification of the registration options might make sense – and it would be nice if you registered for a supplemental like a workshop to be able to jump between them – or fold this content back into the main part of the conference.

  3. SKMurphy » DAC 2009 Blog Coverage Roundup:

    [...] Grant Martin on “Some Suggestions for DAC“ [...]

  4. Patrick Groeneveld:

    Hi Grant,

    Thanks for the great input. In the DAC EC we are planning on moving in the very direction that you indicate: more design, embrace ESL, and get the ‘lost sons’ like FPGA on board again. This is a challenge. As you write: Rome wasn’t built in one day, and I would add that DAC was built on a tradition of 47 years… The key is to embrace the new fields while not losing the traditional areas.

    I do not think it makes sense to spend too much energy on bean counting attendance numbers of the past. Fact is that attendance trends over the past few years show a decline, and that DAC 2009 indicates a bottoming out of that trend. The key is to keep DAC the focal point of the EDA community. Your input on that is necessary.

    Patrick Groeneveld
    DAC 2010 new initiatives chair & User Track co-chair

  5. Grant Martin:

    Patrick, thanks for the comment, and it is good to hear that the DAC EC wants to move in these directions. And it is good to hear that they want to build on past strengths and keep them, and get new fields involved.

    I agree with you that bean counting attendance numbers is not the key issue – but it would be good to see all that put to rest with an open record of what they have been, so that people who like to speculate and analyse on this topic have “just the facts, Ma’am”.

    Would be happy to provide the DAC EC with more ideas and input in any form that helps …….. as I am sure others are.

    I will be keen to hear more about the new initiatives and user track plans for 2010 as they develop.


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