Fifty-six is a lot of DACs. I’ve been attending for roughly half of that time, which shows how I developed an interest in design automation while in elementary school. But enough with preliminaries. The question that you, as a potential attendee of DAC 2019, might have is “what’s the point – why should I bother attending DAC?” The answer boils down to human interaction.
To see why, let’s start with a broader question: In 2019, why have a conference at all? Why not do the whole thing online? DAC has attendees from six continents, so scheduling a time would be challenging, but that’s not the real answer. The answer lies in broadening your experience and thereby expanding your knowledge. Our hyper-connected world connects us with more people than ever, but paradoxically, systems are often deliberately designed to connect us mostly with people like ourselves, doing or working on things of immediate interest to us. A broadly-based conference like DAC, on the other hand, includes a wide range of topics (the research track in DAC has 23 different subcommittees, on areas from machine learning and cyber-physical systems to emerging device technologies), which attracts experts from wildly different fields. This enables active discussion within these groups of experts, but at least as importantly, between groups. There are a lot of people to meet. Combine researchers, designers and exhibitors over 6300 people attended DAC last year.
This cross fertilization allows accidental meetings in a hallway to turn into research projects. At the 28th DAC (half of 56 if you’re paying attention), Tom Williams (then of IBM) gave a talk on the interdependence of delay optimization in synthesis and production test of chips. The hallway conversation on that paper got me (and others) thinking about some issues in standard cell library design. Those insights continue to directly affect processor microarchitecture development today, and the development of standards such as the recent Liberty Variation Format.
Nice story, you say, but why should I attend a conference? To answer that, I conducted a highly scientific poll of a carefully selected group of technical experts (in other words, I emailed a group of my colleagues at Arm). The top two answers were networking and learning about the latest technology. When you read a paper, you learn the important results. You may have some questions about it, and you may even email the author. When you attend the presentation in person, you can ask your question directly, and your question may spur other questions. The DAC poster presentations, for example, allow for extended and very detailed discussions, giving insight to all involved. You can also influence DAC directly. Submit a research, designer or IP track paper, or propose a panel or invited session. The competition is tough, but your contribution is welcome. Due dates are coming up – check the website https://dac.com/call-for-contributions
The technical part of the conference is important, but it’s far from the only reason to attend DAC. We have great keynotes (you can see last year’s here: https://dac.com/content/keynote-visionary-and-sky-talk-presentations, with videos here https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLKqCo4MpJlW_EGBPXtL_rXfH09nyd-_mc ).
DAC’s exhibition floor includes a huge range of companies whose products span the breadth of electronic design and automation. The experts on the floor can help you learn what’s new in your area, and also give you insight into areas you haven’t worked in. If you don’t know where to begin, John Cooley’s guide is a great place to start. We’ll cover much more in future posts.
The upshot of all of this is that there’s no substitute for human interaction, and in the fields of electronic design and automation, there’s no better place than DAC to meet the experts, and connect with suppliers, customers, colleagues and future new hires. And when you meet these people at the 56th DAC, they can be more than connections, they can become friends. Friends you can see at the 57th DAC. And maybe the 77th too.