Bob Smith has been appointed executive director of EDAC, following the retirement of Bob Gardner after nearly 20 years. Bob (Smith) was most recently the marketing and business development VP for Uniquify. However, he has been in the industry for a long time with stints at IKOS, Synopsys, LogicVision and Magma. He has even been to one more DAC than I have. So now he gets to sit on the iron throne of semiconductor design.
Yesterday I talked to him. The first thing I asked was why he took the job. He said that it came out of the blue. He has spent most of the last twenty years being involved with smaller companies trying to grow. But the more he thought about EDAC the more interesting the challenge seemed: not a single company but lots of companies with their own issues and agendas. He has now been in the job for just a few days so he is still in discovery mode finding out what EDAC has in motion already, and what the member companies want.
Of course one thing EDAC is heavily involved with is DAC, but that is just a few weeks away so it is like a 747 that is almost up to takeoff speed halfway down the runway. Don’t touch the controls. But it is a great opportunity for Bob to meet all the member companies that are not based in silicon valley since this is the one time each year when pretty much everyone is under one roof.
I asked Bob what he thought the big member companies get out of EDAC. After all, even DAC is of limited impact since they all have their own conferences that they even take on the road to different parts of the world. In his few days in the job he said that two things that the big companies care a lot about (and the smaller ones not so much) are the export committee, which makes sure that the industry presents a united voice to ensure that EDA/IP doesn’t suddenly become subject to burdensome export regulations, and the piracy committee. Everyone has head the stories of how “famous Chinese company X” has thousands of designers but only a dozen copies of some EDA tool. Some of them are even true, at least in the aggregate. The smaller companies have a different set of issues mostly with getting accepted at customers and foundries.
I asked Bob about geographically expanding EDAC’s scope. It seems to be very silicon-valley-centric especially when you compare it to, say, SEMI or GSA which have events all over the world. He agreed. After all, if you look at a heat map of where semiconductor design is done then China lights up bright, and Vietnam seems to be where India was maybe 20 years ago. Taiwan, and to a lesser extent Korea, is the center of the fabless ecosystem. And there is still lots going on in Japan even if the number of companies has reduced significantly through mergers. But EDAC never calls.
Another challenge is to expand EDAC’s scope in general. The organization was created originally by the EDA companies. Back in that era there wasn’t an IP industry to speak of, and the embedded software component of electronic systems was small to non-existent. The reality is that for designing an SoC that EDA is important, but no less so than IP and embedded software. The more security becomes an issue, the more it requires a solution involving both hardware and software and starts to become more of an EDA problem. The more reliability becomes an issue, for automotive and medical for example, the more the type of discipline that we have to use in semiconductor design is required. After all, building a chip is a bit like writing software, but you have to ship the software before you even run it. Taping out a chip is a multi-million dollar bet, so you do everything to tilt the odds in your favor.
Of course IP is hugely important. SoC design is largely about IP assembly with a relatively small percentage of differentiated content. ARM and Sonics are on the board of EDAC but most IP companies (the ones that are not EDA companies too) are not members.
Bob knows that the challenge going forward is to ensure that EDAC delivers value to its members and, ideally, finds a way to broaden its reach to deliver value to companies that are not currently members but which are first-class-citizens in the semiconductor design ecosystem. EDAC has the tag line “where electronics begins” but there are a lot more than silicon-valley EDA companies involved.