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DAC, EDA and the Unbearable Lightness of Blogging

Posted on | July 31, 2009 | 11 Comments

Summary: The Electronic Design Automation (EDA) industry may be dead (or dormant) but its communications strategies aren’t. Engineer- and corporate-bloggers are finding their way very quickly through the evolving social media world.

I pulled up to the Moscone Center for the 46th DAC this week and thought for a moment I was at the wrong convention center. At the height of the day on Tuesday, when scores of people should be shuffling between the north and south halls, there was no one to be seen; a veritable post-apocalyptic wasteland on Howard Street.

Inside, however, there were signs of life after apocalypse, at least among companies grappling to understand how to communicate to engineers as their trade press withers.

The highlight of the convention was Synopsys’ Conversation Central program, and it seemed in many ways like the 46th DAC was about social media more than it was about design tools and ip. (Twitter: #46DAC, #EDA, #snps). I was honored to  be invited to run one of the kitchen-table-style conversations (which I blogged about Thursday (The Changing Media Landscape at DAC; picture from the session below) and captured some of it on UStream). But I was really interested to sit in on J.L. Gray’s session (So You Want to be a Blogger?) and get caught up with Harry the ASIC Guy (Harry Gries), who ran a session on how to use social media to get a job.

Gray’s Perspicacity

Gray’s session got Freudian in a sense: why do we do it? What do we need to be wary of?

The session I attended Tuesday afternoon pulled the veil back on what many see as cool, onerous, scary or just plain silly. The reality for those of us who do it is (in no particular order) fun, time-consuming, enabling burnout, leaving us searching for what’s next, legally murky.

This last point is one that has been discussed in social media circles for some time, but really hasn’t been sussed out completely. If you’re working for a company (as Gray is for Verilab) but writing your own blog (his is Cool Verification blog), what’s the company’s IP and what’s yours?

“Everybody doing a blog who works for a company has the same problem.”

In most corporate contracts, what you do on company time is the company’s property. So is Gray’s blog his? Verilab’s? Is Karen Bartleson’s standards blog hers? Or is it Synopsys’? She acknowledged the answer is unresolved.

H.L. Gray (center rear) talks about blogging at Synopsys' Conversation Central at DAC

J.L. Gray (center rear) talks about blogging at Synopsys' Conversation Central at DAC

Gray’s blog, Cool Verification, is a great source for insight on EDA and verification challenges (which, stats tell us, may comprise 75 percent of a given design). Gray noted that he owns Cool Verification, and he has an employment agreement with Verilab. As he’s evolved as a blogger, he’s gotten to understand the boundaries of not only how he writes about topics but how to build a wall around Verilab information that he really can’t write about.

Education of a blogger

Gray got into it in 2005 when there really weren’t many EDA blogs (or semiconductor blogs for that matter). By 2007 DVCon he signed registered as probably the first official blogger in our industry’s history. He said he felt odd walking into the press room as an official member of that secret society (Oh, J.L., if you only knew…)

Gray’s advice for those dipping their toes into the blogging waters is write what you enjoy writing about (better yet, are passionate about) and find a niche. Still, he’s wondering what’s around the bend:

“When I sat down in ’05, I didn’t know any of you. I wanted this to be conversations between people. Now everybody does a blog. Is blog the way to build that community? Is there a next step?”

Cooley’s Take

Synopsys blogger Karen Bartleson and DeepChip's John Cooley

Synopsys blogger Karen Bartleson and DeepChip's John Cooley

Gray followed a session hosted by John Cooley, who, in many ways, helped drive the evolution of engineering community in the 1990s as the conversation moved from the old BBS systems to Web sites. But Cooley seems to have forgotten his roots and his logic lessons at the same time. Bartleson said Cooley (I didn’t attend his session) dismissed the entire notion of what we define as social media: blogging, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. when it comes to business/engineering utility. He argued it has no ROI and therefore is a waste of time. Funny, because starting DeepChip at the time had unproven ROI too. I was surprised that a guy so much on the cutting edge a decade ago is forgoing an opportunity to build on the community he’s enabled.

Bottom Line(s)

There were several actually:

  • This DAC was clearly about the rise of social media, as both companies and engineers experiment with how to use digital technologies to communicate, work and network in the current age. (Harry Gries’ Conversation Central session on how to land a job using social media was excellent).
  • Almost counter-intuitively, larger companies are embracing social media more readily than smaller companies. Synopsys, in the EDA, is among the most active participants. Huge kudos to Bartleson, Rick Jamison (read his excellent CC summation on his Listening Post blog) and Yvette Huygen for what they’ve done to build community for creating Conversation Central. Another big company, Denali, ran EDA’s Next Top Blogger contest and annointed Karen Bartleson the winner (although apparently this was announced at the Denali party (see Gray’s Flickr pics) and memories tend to dim in the after of those parties… ;  ) They still haven’t posted the results as far as I can tell).
  • The momentum of adoption is quickening. Engineers, marketers, communicators with two, three and four decades of experience have tended to approach social media with fear and loathing. Not everyone is a convert and not everyone has to be, but big numbers of people have waded into social media and found it to be not as daunting as they’d thought. Once you jump from the plane, the parachute ride can be exhilirating.

But that said, it remains to be seen how this works out with the core audience: engineers. Journalist colleague Paul Dempsey put it bluntly in the press room Tuesday: Engineers, he said, engineer; they’re not communicators. So the notion of social media (which is at its core about communications) may not be as effective in electronics than it is in other sectors.

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11 Responses to “DAC, EDA and the Unbearable Lightness of Blogging”

  1. Paula Jones
    July 31st, 2009 @ 4:19 pm

    I think big companies are leading the way because the staffs at small companies have been cut to the bone and they don’t have the “luxury” of time to do this. Plus some companies hire rent-a-marcom people who don’t know enough to intelligently converse with this technical audience. I’m very lucky at Tensilica that they value social media and I’m assisted by Grant Martin, who has his own blog on ChipDesign.

  2. Jeff Hardison
    July 31st, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

    Great coverage social media at DAC, Brian. I still argue that there’s more to North American electronic engineers’ reluctance to get involved with social media than the argument that they’re not communicators. I know many Web software developers and IT administrators who aren’t naturally social, but spend a lot of time blogging and microblogging. [Interestingly, Chinese electronic engineers do spend time on social media according to McBru’s surveys (but that could be due to those 20-somethings having grown up on communicating via the Web)]. My prediction is the next wave of social media — greater privacy through niche, gated social networks — will entice more electronic engineers than previously, as all of this sharing of information in public has not meshed well with the competitively secret North American electronic engineering industry.

  3. Karen Bartleson
    July 31st, 2009 @ 4:46 pm


    I appreciate your participation in “Conversation Central” tremendously. Let me how if I can return the favor.

    Nice writeup!

  4. David Lin
    July 31st, 2009 @ 5:35 pm

    Convo Central was certainly one of the valuable highlights of DAC’09 (forever affectionately known as #46DAC). I wish I had more time to participate in these sessions, but this summary and other off-line discussions helped fill in the gaps.

    Like JL, I have been wondering about the “next step” for building an online community. So far, the community seems to be a blogging community consisting of electronics journalists, EDA marketeers and design or verification consultants. We’re still missing the full-time engineers … where are they? How do we engage them? Is John Cooley the only one having real conversations with them (online)?


    p.s., sorry about the prolonged delay in announcing “EDA’s Next Top Blogger” … during the party, it was revealed that Karen Bartleson was crowned the winner and several tweets conveyed that information in real-time. The Denali site and the sites will be updated next week with results from all 3 contests (Blogger, Community Superhero and Idol) with pictures, video and more … pls stay tuned.

  5. Brian
    July 31st, 2009 @ 6:54 pm

    Jeff, would love to see/cover some of those McBru engineering studies, or the next one your folks do. Keep me in mind.
    I agree that there’s more nuance to be explored on this audience’s behavior.
    We had a poster years ago in the bathroom of our hundred-year-old cabin. My old man put it there. It was a shot of a huge rock outcropping on the Mendocino Coast somewhere. It read: “Things Take Time.”

  6. Lou Covey
    July 31st, 2009 @ 11:29 pm

    Nature abhors a vacuum and human beings are social by nature. Media has provided and core for societal interaction for thousands of years in one form or another. As our current media paradigm morphs into a new form of delivery, those who are adept at using the new medium — and who can monetize it — will be the new scribes of the 21st century. It doesn’t matter if most people now like what it is becoming, it will be what it will be.

  7. SKMurphy » DAC 2009 Blog Coverage Roundup
    August 2nd, 2009 @ 3:55 pm

    […] Brian Fuller on Harry Gries and John Cooley Conversation Central Sessions in “DAC and the Unbearable Lightness of Blogging”. […]

  8. John Ford
    August 3rd, 2009 @ 10:12 pm

    David, Re: “We’re still missing the full-time engineers … where are they? How do we engage them? Is John Cooley the only one having real conversations with them (online)?”

    I am a full-time engineer, and I try to write for the same. DFT is a small niche, so I don’t reach the masses, but I do, when I’m on, raise issues that real engineers respond to.

    However, for a real community to exist, it seems like there needs to be a populated forum – where real engineers trade Q&A real time.


  9. Brian
    August 4th, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

    To John’s point: Maybe with the inundation of information, we’re about to come full circle. You remember EETnet, the old BBS (and many others)? Those were great communities for engineers passionate about sharing information.

    Maybe an official (lousy word) community in which engineers know the boundaries is a more trusted environment for communications that wild and wooly social media. We know from studies that engineers rate information from their peers higher than any other source, so such sharing in a trusted environment makes a lot of sense.

  10. David Lin
    August 4th, 2009 @ 3:52 pm

    John: Sorry, no offense intended … I seek out and follow engineers like you (and John Busco and others) religiously. I simply want more! 🙂

    -Dave Lin

  11. Sean Murphy
    August 14th, 2009 @ 9:49 pm

    “Almost counter-intuitively, larger companies are embracing social media more readily than smaller companies.”

    This was one of the most thought provoking observations I have read in the post-DAC coverage. Certainly websites were put up by both large and small companies, customer self-service tools like Synopsys Solvit and Cadence SourceLink were much more sophisticated than smaller company solutions, the Verilog clone firms relied on FTP distribution of product before the majors,…

    I agree that the current approach to social media is not disruptive but I think we will see some collaboration models from small global teams that the majors may be slower to adopt. They may be quicker to adopt tools that make them more transparent to customers, in particular in their development plans and status.

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