About a year ago, Mentor Graphics’ Anne Cirkel explicitly reached out to engineers for their input on how the Design Automation Conference (DAC) should evolve – and as its 2015 General Chair she made a personal commitment to act on the best suggestions.
With just a few days to go before DAC 2015 kicks off (June 7-11 at San Francisco’s Moscone Center), Cirkel’s coming to the end of a busy tenure. She’s had all the joys – and, no doubt, headaches – that come with leading the organization of a major industry event, and has also been blogging her thoughts and ideas every week at the conference website.
Then, strange as it may sound, Cirkel got a fair volume of the feedback she was looking for. That has meant reviewing and acting on those ideas as well.
“When we did reach out, you did wonder, ‘Oh, we’re all engineers. We’re not that comfortable saying anything. We’ll just click the Like button.’ But people came through with good stuff. There were people from companies like Infineon [Technologies], Freescale [Semiconductor] and others. And we got really good feedback from the embedded side – colocating with the Embedded Techcon helped a lot there,” Cirkel says.
If that feedback had a recurring theme, it was perhaps: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it… but perhaps you could make things more coherent.”
Many of the changes Cirkel has made to DAC – and she fully acknowledges building on the work of her predecessors as general chair – have been about realizing a conference that is easier for the visitor to manage, while also building the profile of some of its more recent additions.
Bringing DAC together
“A simple example – and it came out of the blog – is that we’ve brought the networking receptions and the posters onto the exhibit floor. We’ve also moved the Sky Talks [that look at cutting-edge ideas] out of the conference program – and the need to have a full conference badge – and put them in the same environment,” Cirkel says.
DAC’s Pavilion sessions were already part of the exhibit floor but these have been made more modular, so that attendees can plan in the knowledge that particular themes and events will be addressed daily at around the same time.
“First, we’ve got two anchors and they’re two of the people that always draw engineers to the audience. [Leading EDA analyst] Gary Smith will open the Pavilion sessions on Monday and Tuesday morning and [leading EDA blogger] John Cooley will wrap things up with ‘Compare Notes’ sessions at the end of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon,” Cirkel explains.
“Then we’ve stripped in daily ‘fireside chats’ with each of the three CEOs for the biggest vendors: Monday is Wally [Rhines of Mentor], Tuesday is Lip-Bu [Tan of Cadence] and Wednesday is Aart [de Geus of Synopsys]. Again, each day at the same time: 11.30am. And every day, in the early afternoon, there’s a Pavilion talk on the Internet of Things.”
It’s all about giving engineers a sense that DAC is a show they need to attend, knowing they can make solid use of what it offers.
A ‘technical’ DAC for designers, not just tool research
Another important area that Cirkel is looking to strengthen in that regard is DAC’s Designer Track. It allows designers to share war stories on how they have implemented projects.
“The great news there is that we had record submissions for the Designer Track, so it’s growing in its own right, but you always want to do more,” says Cirkel.
“The goals have been to establish it as distinct from the vendors’ user group events and raise its profile alongside the EDA research side of DAC which is and remains strong but has its own audience. We really want to give the Designer Track a character in its own right.”
The Designer Track has added its own separate networking session, a bid to make it not simply a series of useful talks but also a distinct DAC community. Vendors, meanwhile, have encouraged customers to make submissions despite the ongoing growth of their own events.
“We want designers to think that they have a technical place at DAC, that it is a place to go to,” Cirkel says.
This same thinking has also informed how DAC has selected its keynote themes this year.
“The feedback was that DAC needs to tap into new engineers and new types of engineer. That specifically led us to the Google keynote [Brian Otis on the company’s Smart Contact Lens platform], but we also have an automotive security panel bringing together the traditional OEMs with a ‘white hat’ hacker, and, in another keynote, we’re looking at some amazing electronics applications for the human body,” says Cirkel.
These may not yet be the kind of project that the vast majority of design engineers are working on themselves. But they do capture the design zeitgeist (the full range of keynotes is available here and is indisputably forward looking).
With all these improvements, Cirkel thinks that – notwithstanding the feature-packed free attendance available through ‘I Love DAC’ – there is a more attractive package for designers.
“The best value for me, if you’re not part of that EDA research community, is the Designer Track. It’s less than $100, and it gives you all those sessions with all that practical information as well as everything from just being a general exhibit attendee,” she says.
That value looks even better right now with early bird discounts having expired and ‘I Love DAC’ closing its doors as soon as Tuesday (May 19).
The 2015 Design Automation Conference takes place June 7-11 at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco. The exhibit floor is open Monday-Wednesday (June 8-10). Full and current registration details and packages are available at www.dac.com.