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Phil Kaufman Hall of Fame?

By Jack Harding on 06/10/2014
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Last week I attended a couple days of the 51st Design Automation Conference (DAC). I haven’t been to every one since my first in 1984, but I’ve been to enough to have the sense of its evolution. The evolution is simple; we’re old. I (happily) saw the same faces last week as I saw 30 years ago and, on a percentage basis, very few new ones. Let’s face it, EDA is no longer the place where the youngest, best and brightest flock. Don’t misunderstand. I believe, nay, I know, that absent the EDA industry the world comes to a gliding stop as next-generatkiss-phil-image-cropion semiconductors fail to hit the market and the world looks like Cuba stuck in 1959. But, I also know that the competition with the likes of social media for next-generation developers and business people is keen. My kids didn’t even go into tech let alone show up in EDA, and I know I’m not alone among my friends and colleagues. One of my good friends recently quoted his gifted programmer son as saying, “I’ve got to get out of this dinosaur.” He was referring to Apple. He went to Google.

One of the highlights of the show was attending the EDAC reception Sunday night. I particularly enjoyed listening to Mentor’s Sonia Harrison sing, backed up by a crisp and ad hoc EDA band. I thought the combination of electric guitars and all that gray hair spoke volumes about DAC and the EDA industry; fantastic results delivered by grandfathers. In fact, it had a little Alice in Wonderland feel to it…Who are these characters and how did I get here? Who were these techy rockers and isn’t it time for them to pass the baton to the younger guys?

Then I went home. I flipped on some television in time to see the replay of the 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Awards. Well, my apologies to my friends in EDA are due right about now. If our demographics in EDA are a topic for discussion and a bit of fun, then looking at KISS sans make-up is a downright source of hysteria. Are you kidding me? Sixty somethings, jet black hair, contorted faces from too much “work;” Johnny Cash lookalikes who walk with a grimace and can’t smile or barely blink…Come on. Really? At least put the signature make-up back on and pretend you’re not somebody’s grandpa. At least spare us. You may have guessed it by now but I was never a big KISS fan. But, I’ve always loved the work of Peter Gabrielle and, well, guess what? Yes, all gray among those hairs remaining and 50 pounds overweight. At least he seemed to be embracing the reality with some class. His clothes were a little funky for his age and torso, and the on-stage dance moves were barely executed. But he seemed to have a joy in his performance while KISS never took the stage due to infighting. Anyway, with eyes closed, Gabrielle still had it and eyes open KISS was a train wreck. I guess that’s the point: Notwithstanding appearances EDA still has it. Just don’t look…

Seriously, maybe EDA is no longer perceived as the young person’s destination for state-of-the-art technology (although it still is by a long shot: ever try to code up a P&R tool?). Or maybe it’s just that the compensation can’t compare to the sexier dotcom world. In either case, EDA needs to focus heavily on recruiting the next generations and, for that matter, so do semiconductors. We must explain why we collectively enable the world. Our contribution is not about rock bands. Even though, fortunately our tiny industry is blessed with enough renaissance people who can dazzle us both with miraculous products and fine music.

But, as I turned off the television I was reminded why the Phil Kaufman Award trumps the R&R Hall of Fame any day of the week, and that’s the right message for the 52nd DAC.