DAC Retrospective

It’s not about the booth traffic for the tradeshow. It’s about what people are discussing, even if they don’t agree.


The question I repeatedly get asked at DAC is, “How was the show?” And then, frequently, it’s followed by monologue about just how much traffic has shrunk over the years.

It’s true there are fewer startups than in the past, and maybe some of the tradeshow floor buzz is gone. But in my humble opinion, that misses the point. DAC, first and foremost, is a conference. The tradeshow part, while important to the organizers of DAC and the sales departments of tools companies, is secondary to the engineers who attend the conference—and to those who don’t attend but who view some of the content remotely.

Like all good conferences, it’s not about numbers or sales. It’s about what gets discussed, who’s discussing those ideas, and whether there is any headway in understanding multiple viewpoints that can lead to cross-industry efforts such as standards. And like most of the previous DACs, there were plenty of highly intelligent exchanges that addressed the trouble spots in hardware, software, and the business of both. Those exchanges involved everything from power modeling to 3D stacking, multicore vs. many core, Wide I/O, cloud, ESL, verification and DFM.

This kind of perspective and exchange is critical in a deep technology industry, despite a trend toward single-vendor user conferences. There are many companies that have been blindsided because the shifts in their market weren’t linear—or even from within their core market—and being able to hear opposing ideas is a good thing, no matter how much rival companies tend to bash each other.

The Design Automation Conference is a forum for gathering and sharing ideas. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to hold it in Silicon Valley so more engineers can drive to sessions they consider important instead of getting a second-hand debrief from colleagues who spent an unhappy day in transit. It might even force companies to compete for prime booth space instead of the DAC organizers having to sell it.

But as an idea exchange forum DAC continues to be extremely useful. It even works as a launchpad for new products and new approaches to the market. But trying to measure it from a sales standpoint may make more sense in the context of ideas behind the products rather than the products themselves—and the people who need to understand their value before making a commitment.