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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.

Fulfilling Marie Pistilli’s Dream: Dignity, Opportunity for Women in DA

June 11th, 2015 by Peggy Aycinena

Something special happened Wednesday night this week at DAC, something magical in fact. Dozens of highly educated Design Automation professionals gathered for an intimate dinner in a private dining room at Kuleto’s on Powell Street in San Francisco for a first-time event.

Sponsored by the DAC EC and hosted by Dr. Soha Hassoun, Computer Science Department Chair at Tufts University in Boston, and Dr. Patrick Groeneveld, Synopsys Scientist and former CTO at Magma Design Automation, attendees included EE/CS professors from around the world, numerous post-doctoral fellows and PhD candidates, several 2015 Richard Newton Scholarship winner, as well as multiple design professionals from some of the largest commercial enterprises in EDA.

As attendees arrived, energized and/or exhausted from a long day at Day Three of DAC, Dr. Hassoun welcomed the gathering warmly and asked that people choose their seats carefully for the meal about to be served: Please do not sit next to anyone you already know!

And Hassoun issued one additional admonishment: This is the first time Women in Design Automation have been hosted by the DAC EC for an evening event. Make the most of it, ask for business cards from the people you meet here tonight and, most importantly, seek out the newer, younger members of this vibrant community and stay in touch with them over the next several years. Welcome them into this dynamic industry. Help them understand that their skills are needed here. Help them know that opportunity and dignity are available in equal measure for all kinds of people within EDA.

And with that, dinner commenced and the room came alive with conversations about everything from place-and-route, to distinguishing between career opportunities in academia versus industry, to the commoditization of optimization tools, to the pros and cons of universities hosting fabrication facilities for their students’ ASIC designs, to the rigors of self-branding within a corporate organization in order to guarantee that what you’ve accomplished/contributed is openly noted by your colleges and, more importantly, your chain of command on behalf of your next bid for promotion.

In other words, with no formal program for the event, the discussions were organic, vital, and completely self-directed; the networking further enhanced by attendees being asked to move to a different table mid-way through the meal for further conversations with other strangers, all of whom had quickly morphed into professional colleagues by the evening’s end. It was magical.

Particularly from my vantage point, having attended the daytime Workshop for Women in Design Automation from 1999 through 2013, including chairing the workshop in 2008. There was something in the air on Wednesday evening this week at DAC, some particular quality of collegiality, that I never experienced at the Workshop no matter how large the attendance was there, or the quality of the participants.

Everyone from Penny Herscher (CEO at Simplex when the company IPO’d, subsequently acquired by Cadence), to Kathryn Kranen (CEO at Jasper Design Automation, subsequently acquired by Cadence), Karen Bartleson (2015 candidate for President of the IEEE), Dr. Telle Whitney (currently head of the Anita Borg Institute), Jan Willis (Co-founder of eBeam Initiative, previously SVP at Cadence), Deirdre Hanford (Synopsys EVP for Customer Engagement), Dr. Limor Fix (Intel R&D Director, past DAC Chair), Dr. Mary Jane Irwin (Evan Pugh Professor & Robert Noll Chair in Engineering at Penn State), Dr. Mar Hershenson (Founder of Barcelona Design and Sabio Labs, subsequently acquired by Magma Design Automation), Sabina Burns (Senior Director of Corporate Marketing at Synopsys), and Nanette Collins (President of NVC Marketing and PR) — all of these powerful, highly successful women made appearances over the years at the Workshop for Women in Design Automation, either as speakers, or as Marie Pistilli Award winners for contributions to Women in Design Automation, or as General Chair of the Workshop — or in some cases, all three.

But circling back to DAC this week in San Francisco: For all of the effort, organizational energy, and commitment put forth on behalf of the daytime Workshop for Women in Design Automation, not one of them in my experience electrified the attendees with the magic that informed the dinner Drs. Hassoun and Groeneveld hosted at Kuleto’s on Wednesday this week. And why is that?

Well, to end on a simple and straightforward idea. It was the wine. The wine and the intimacy. The wine and the intimacy and the lack of event structure. Ultimately, it was the wine, the intimacy, and the joy of sharing a relaxed, candle-lit evening meal with like-minded people who want to have it all.

Who want to succeed as individuals, who want their organizations to succeed, who want to have a life of the mind, and want to blend these things into a life that’s also rich in beauty, hearth, home, dignity and opportunity. And if this long list of expectations doesn’t define Women in Design Automation, in general, and DAC co-Founder Marie Pistilli, in particular, I don’t know what does.


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