DAC's Dynamic Duo: Marie & Pat Pistilli

What an honor to be able to write this column about Marie and Pat Pistilli, founders and guiding lights of the Design Automation Conference for over 40 years.

Wherever you are today, here on the first day of the 44th Annual Design Automation Conference – whether on the floor of the Exhibition Hall, manning the registration desk, presenting at a tutorial, appearing on a Pavilion Panel, attending a workshop, interfacing with customers, or rushing off to attend to yet more endless details for an event that’s happening tonight, tomorrow, or the next day – please stop and take a moment to read this.

Because as you study the assembled comments below from a variety of people who have known and worked with the Pistilli’s over the years, I think you will agree with me that the EDA industry, and DAC in particular, owes a huge debt of gratitude to two people who’s personal dignity, discipline, sense of professionalism, and commitment to each other, their family, and their industry have set the tone from the very beginning for the conference that they launched and fashioned.

Years go by – faster for some of us than others – and it is the rare individual who is able to look back with pride at a clear set of accomplishments, an obvious accumulation of contributions that improved the quality of life for the people and professions around them. Rarer still the couple who is able to look back together at a joint set of accomplishments and contributions.

Marie and Pat Pistilli are such a couple. They established this conference, it has been their life’s work, and we are all the richer for it.

It is not enough to say thank you to the Pistilli’s. The greater obligation is to continue on in the manner with which they have labored in the industry for decades – working with respect for the technology and, more importantly, with respect for the people who advance the technology.


Many friends and associates …

Thomas Pennino – I have known Marie and Pat Pistilli since I started my career at Bell Labs in Whippany, New Jersey. At the time, Bell Labs was recruiting people to work on the Nike Anti-Ballistic Missile System. Pat was a significant contributor to a unique software design program to synthesize electronic chassis hardware using defined transistor modules from schematic logic and then to automatically wire the chassis. This was very advanced electronic design software, developed by Bell Labs for the Nike Command and Control computer, itself a very advanced computer. Its purpose was to process information from the acquisition radar, then target and guide the defensive missile. Pat was my teacher, and then later my mentor in this exciting and technically demanding development.

Pat was on the leading edge, inventing EDA, helping to establish the industry. IBM was also building large mainframes with their own unique logic and hardware and also doing their own EDA software tools. There was no EDA industry and little, if any, activity in the universities. A professional electronic design environment did not exist outside of the industrial research labs.

In addition to being on the leading edge of EDA, Pat – along with his life partner Marie – were “organizers” in their community, church, and at Bell Labs, bringing together their fellow workers for outings, vacations, and to support community and church events. It was only natural that Pat and Marie, recognizing the vacuum in Professional EDA, would create a forum to share technical information for this young industry. They collaborated with their IBM research colleagues to form the first DAC in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1963. The first conference included about 60 professionals sharing their work and ideas in EDA. Pat was the first DAC chair. He was chair three times, the only person to serve more then once.

A few years later Pat was recruited by Bell Labs to move to the Denver, Colorado area where a new factory and laboratory were being built to design and manufacture PBX switches. Pat’s electronic design experience was needed to automate the design and manufacturing process. Pat and Marie continued to voluntarily manage DAC, including, at times, personally covering expenses. The conference grew rapidly, keeping pace with the exponential growth of electronics industry.

As a team, always a team, they were part of a tight community volunteering their time to DAC for both the technical program and organizing committee. The DAC office was their basement in CO and was filled with papers to be presented, programs, and of course, the colorful DAC shirts. The conference was such a success that the rest of the Executive Committee asked Pat and Marie to manage DAC full time. This was a risky and difficult decision for them both since Pat was in a successful, secure career at Bell Labs. With Marie’s urging and support, their love for DAC won out. Pat left Bell Labs and, along with Marie, formed MPA (Marie Pat Associates, Marie always first).

The rest is the well-known history of their devotion to DAC and the EDA industry. I am grateful to have been friends with Marie and Pat, and to have witnessed their significant accomplishments.

Hillel Ofek – As you know, for many years DAC was run strictly as a volunteer organization. All members of the committee involved their families and in a way this created a "DAC family". The people most responsible for this were Pat and Marie Pistilli. As a matter of fact, in the early years, DAC was always scheduled in June right after schools closed, so all attendees had the opportunity to bring their families along. Locations were also picked to be interesting to the children. Since Pat was the constant factor over all years from the beginning, it is his leadership that created such a unique set-up within the professional world.

Pat always pretended to be the number one in DAC. Only those who worked closely with him knew that long before the conference started to have exhibits, Marie actually called the shots behind the scene. She always was the perfect balance for Pat. Once MPA was formed, she stepped out of the shadow and assumed her important role as a member of the MPA leadership.

Pat and Marie represent a rare case of a couple who always treated DAC as their child. They both love the conference and the people who participate in it!

Al Dunlop – Pat and Marie Pistilli have had a significant impact on EDA. They were not the heads of a large EDA company, but instead have nurtured the whole profession.

Pat Pistilli was one of the early EDA people. He was involved in early board design systems that enabled many of the AT&T electronic switching systems to be possible. Although he later turned his entire focus to running DAC and other EDA conferences, he knows and understands the underlying technology of EDA.

For many years, Marie was behind the scenes at DAC. Before exhibits were part of DAC, she was the silent partner with Pat. Marie then took over the exhibitor interface part of DAC. It was Marie's attention to detail and mild mannered personality that made the exhibit part of DAC so successful.

The Pistilli's have tied the academic and industrial sides of EDA together by including them both in DAC.

Bryan Ackland – There are many technical conferences that support a token product exhibit area. And there are many trade shows that provide a token technical program (usually vendors talking about their products). But DAC is the only conference I know of that provides both a first class, professional research-grade technical program and a highly successful, comprehensive trade show. This is a direct result of the vision provided by Pat and Marie Pistilli.

Coming from a technical background at Bell Labs, Pat placed high value on the integrity of the technical program. He built up a large body of independent reviewers for the conference. He would not let vendors influence the technical program, and made sure that technical sessions were free of advertising, sponsorship and recruiting. But, he also saw the opportunity to allow the surplus from a successful trade show to subsidize the technical program, and maintained a quality that would have been difficult based on technical registrations alone.

At the same time, a successful trade show requires one to pay close attention to the needs of vendors and attendees. Marie was an expert at this. She set up small teams of vendors who acted as a liaison between the vendors and the conference committee. She set up a rules committee that maintained a professional atmosphere on the trade show floor, without cramping the creative talents of the vendors’ marketing teams.

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