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Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

Marie Pistilli: A conversation with DAC Co-founder

May 22nd, 2014 by Peggy Aycinena

Thanks to Nanette Collins, long-time EDA PR consul, we have a chance this week to catch up with Marie Pistilli. Marie co-founded DAC with her husband Pat in 1964.

Although Marie and Pat Pistilli have been fixtures at the conference they founded 51 years ago, they will not be in San Francisco this year. Pat’s recovering from surgery and the doctors have ordered him to stay home.

I can’t imagine not having the Pistilli’s at DAC, so I was very happy that Nanette was able to speak with Marie. They spoke by phone on May 19th.

A conversation with Marie Pistilli …

Marie, are you in Florida or Colorado? I know it’s mid-May, but Colorado is only now getting a taste of spring after a snowstorm last week

Marie: It’s a beautiful day here in Boulder, with the temperature in the upper 70s. We had lunch on our deck and looked out on the mountains.

marie_pat_pistilliNanette: How about Pat? How is he doing?

Marie: Pat is doing really well. His surgery was three weeks ago today, and the therapist coming to help him with physical therapy said he’s way ahead of the curve. Pat’s had knee surgery three times. The first was half a knee replacement, then the whole knee was replaced, and now his other knee has been replaced.

He planned this surgery with enough time to get to DAC. Once the surgery was over and as Pat was being discharged, however, the doctor told him he was not going to be able to fly to the conference. Or drive.

Nanette: Is this the very first DAC you have missed?

Marie: This is the first DAC Pat’s missed. I’ve missed a few when the children were born.

Nanette: Does he know, or do you both know, how much you will be missed?

Marie: We’ve been honored in so many ways, and we are disappointed to miss this year, but our hearts will be in San Francisco.

Pat and I have had a wonderful experience [with DAC] and are blessed. It’s been a growing experience for us and the family. The week of DAC [however] will be especially hard.

Nanette: I know the Pistilli family, MP Associates, will be in San Francisco in full force. How many of your grandchildren will be working at the show this year?

[MP Associates is the events management company Marie and Pat established 25 years ago, the M and P in MP Associates.]

Marie: Only Maria Lepine will be at DAC this year. The Wood boys, along with Lee and Trish Wood and Anthony Lepine will be at IMS. Juliette Lepine [Marie and Pat’s middle daughter and Maria and Anthony’s mom] is a school teacher and school is not out yet.

However, the MP Associates staff is a good team and has worked together for a number of years. We can split them to work the two conferences, DAC and IMS.

Kevin [Lepine] and Lee [Wood] have done a great job as co-presidents of MP Associates, and have built a staff to be proud of. They know their jobs and make everything click. We’re certainly lucky to have Kathy Embler and Susie Horn.

[MP Associates also manages IMS, the IEEE International Microwave Symposium. IMS will be in Tampa, Florida, the same week as DAC in San Francisco this year. According to Marie, IMS is growing and making an imprint on the microwave industry.]

Nanette: I know there will be no Women’s Workshop at DAC for the first time in almost 20 years. Does that indicate the situation is that much better for women in EDA?

[The first year the Workshop for Women in Electronic Design was on the DAC program was 1996.]

Marie: I don’t feel that is the case. Women still need to grow and understand the opportunities in EDA. I have been reading the newspapers recently and see studies that show women’s salaries don’t come close to men’s in engineering, EDA and other software disciplines.

A program for women with information about careers and an opportunity to network with other women is still important. We haven’t gotten there yet [with regards to women in EDA].

Nanette: How did you decide to start the workshop?

Marie: I was the only woman at the DAC conference table for quite a number of years and believed there were more women in the industry who could participate.

I saw one woman at several events, including ICCAD, and that was Mary Jane Irwin, a professor at Penn State. I introduced myself to her and found her to be very bright. I told several men on the DAC executive committee about a woman who was great and said we needed more women on the EC. All of them had the same feeling about women [in the industry] that I did, and they invited Mary Jane to join the committee.

Mary Jane was active in ACM, and she asked if I’d be interested in having a women’s meeting at DAC. I said yes, and said MP Associates would volunteer at no charge to DAC to help promote it, work on fliers, and whatever else was needed.

Ellen Yoffa was another woman who joined the DAC executive committee [at that time], and she was in favor of the workshop as well. We made a presentation to the DAC EC about a women’s event. Ellen crafted the mission statement that clearly stated it was an event relevant for women.

When we started the workshop, we had marching orders to make it relevant to women and address women’s needs. A group of women is important to other women who want to get together to discuss what problems they’re having. Gender-specific is the wording the DAC EC put in the minutes. It’s also part of a DAC future planning document that was developed in the mid 1990s.

A workshop for women is still relevant, as stated in the mission statement. We hear that maybe the DAC EC today doesn’t want gender-specific issues [on the program]. However, this year’s organizers are helping a young students’ event to be held Sunday [with women] serving as mentors.

As a women’s group, we have sponsored students to attend DAC. Peggy Aycinena was involved in getting companies to sponsor 12-20 women students. I think most women would be glad to mentor the students in this group, which we were asked to do.

Nanette: Has it been satisfying to see how many excellent women in the industry have been honored with the achievement award granted in your name? That has been a wonderful commendation, and reflects marvelously on your role in the industry.

Marie: I think the women who have received the award are outstanding. They have accomplished quite a bit and are powerful people. The list of recipients goes on and on. These women are very important and made their mark. They worked very hard and helped women to grow. It’s because of who has received it that makes it prestigious.

When Pat and I were retiring in 2000 [at DAC in Los Angeles, for those who remember], the DAC EC voted to name the award after me. My heart was so filled.

Nanette: Was reigning in Joe Costello’s exuberant booth antics back in his Cadence days the toughest task you ever faced as head of the exhibition hall?

Marie: (Laughter) I understand Joe had to do what he had to do. Joe Costello could be difficult to work with, but he was just trying to be a successful marketeer. He was growing a company, SDA at the time, and wanted to make a big splash. I understood, but had to stand my ground.

The DAC EC wanted the rules kept and there was never a gray area. At that time, they had the right discipline for exhibitors. Otherwise, the industry was in a growing stage, and we needed to keep it as a tech conference without too showy an exhibits floor overpowering serious technical presentations. It was the right move at the time.

If the DAC regulations said no costumes, that’s what exhibitors needed to adhere to. I had an obligation and lived with the credo: Be fair to everyone. I applied [the regulations] across the board and the respect grew over the years.

Nanette: What are your three absolutely favorite memories of DAC?

Marie: Last year, [the 50th DAC], was a lovely and wonderful year. It’s the first one that made Pat and me teary. It was wonderful and made us feel great. DAC is a part of our lives and made so much of our lives.

San Francisco is always a favorite of mine, a place where I could always find a way to decompress after the conference. I’d walk to the hotel and see the gardens and normal things. DAC is so hectic and so involved. I’d see people walking with one another and doing something normal. It helped get me ready for the rest of the evening. It offered a very fine moment.

We had a lot of fun when we were volunteers for the first 25 years of DAC. DAC in Nashville was particularly fun. We had the family road trip with the children. Dennis Shaklee and Dennis Yinger caravanned with us and we had a wonderful time.

Nanette: What’s your hope for DAC this year?

Marie: A wonderful success for everyone who is exhibiting or presenting at DAC, and that this year’s DAC helps to make the industry even stronger.


The Marie R. Pistilli Award …

This annual award recognizes individuals who have visibly helped to advance the profile of women in the EDA industry. Nanette Collins received the Marie R. Pistilli Award in 2013.


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