Presentation of the 2001 Phil Kaufman Award to
Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli

Alberto Sangiovanni-VincentelliAlberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli

Presented on November 8, 2001
Richard Newton
 

It is a very special pleasure and an honor for me to present the eighth annual Phil Kaufman Award to Professor Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli—academic, entrepreneur, businessman, and a personal friend for more than a quarter century.

But where do you start to describe his career, his impact on EDA and on the lives of so many of us in academia and in industry, on his many students, and business leaders throughout the world? Everyone I have spoken to about Alberto believes they know him well, and yet they only really know a fraction of this man who works so tirelessly in all of these areas of endeavor and many more. Tonight I will take a few moments to describe to you the Alberto I know, and will share the insights of a few key people who have had the chance to walk beside Alberto for a part of this amazing journey.

I’ll begin at the Politecnico di Milano, one of the most distinguished universities in Italy, where Alberto graduated as a Dottore in Ingegneria (summa cum laude) (Doctor of Engineering) in 1971 and served as Professore Incaricato of Electrical Engineering from 1974-1976. At 27 years of age, he was already making his mark as the youngest Associate Professor in the University. I first met Alberto in 1975 when he and his young family came to Berkeley for what was to be just a six month stay as a NATO Fellow. I was a new Ph.D. student working with Professor Don Pederson and Alberto was a Research Associate, a guest of Professor Ernie Kuh. When Alberto arrived in California , he was utterly disappointed. The first insight I will share with you about Alberto is that quality, in all its forms, is an essential element of everything in Alberto’s life—from his research, to his business relationships, to the wine he drinks and the food he eats and, most of all, to his personal relationships. Perhaps this is an influence of his parents, of his early family life—the only child of an aristocratic Italian family. But having seen “America” on the big screen in Italy —with its beautiful Hollywood Villas and green, rolling hills—arriving in California only to stay at the Golden Bear Motel on University Avenue in Berkeley was a bitter disappointment, to be sure! He and his family were ready to return home immediately. So when his six month stay was ending, at the encouragement of the Berkeley faculty, then department chair David Sakrison invited Alberto to stay at Berkeley and even consider applying for a permanent faculty position. Not wanting to offend the Chair, Alberto explained that his department chair in Italy really needed him back and so he had to leave. Now at Berkeley , when we’re onto a good thing we don’t give up so easily, so without Alberto’s knowledge, Sakrison wrote to Alberto’s chair at Politecnico di Milano asking how come Alberto couldn’t stay an bit longer at Berkeley and then, by chance, Alberto bumped into his Italian boss on his way back home at the airport in Milano. “Oh, by the way,” he told Alberto, “I wrote back to Sakrison saying you are welcome to stay longer at Berkeley if you like.” Ugh! He was stuck, so he returned to Berkeley as a visiting Assistant Professor the following year and never left.

But Alberto was a system guy back then. Sparse matricies, numerical analysis, linear placement for printed wiring boards, were his areas of emphasis. He traveled in the circles of researchers like Ernie Kuh, Leon Chua, and Charlie Desoer and knew very little about real circuits, let alone integrated circuits, back then. It was in the late 1970’s that Alberto caught Don Pederson’s eye.

“I first became acquainted with Alberto when he was a young Assistant Professor in EECS,” says Professor Don Pederson, himself a Kaufmann winner. “Alberto was eligible for a permanent position in Circuit and Systems Theory Groups in this country, as well as in his home country, Italy. Although Alberto was not formally skilled in electronics, it was clear to me after observing him that he had the talent needed to move effectively into new territory, and I approached him to join our IC group. In short order he was able to grasp the broad range of abilities that are needed to be effective in this area and from the outset he has been a key faculty member in our group. It is astounding that he has been able to do so much in electronics.”

I joined the faculty at Berkeley in 1979 myself, and we immediately became fast friends and colleagues for life. As an impetuous pair of young faculty, we began to take on the world of CAD, and then EDA, believing we could see a different future—a better future—and wanting to be sure it came to pass. Now not being one who believes in a predetermined destiny, I believe that at any given point in time, there are many possible futures that can come to pass and the one that is eventually manifest is influenced strongly by those that believe in it, that strive to make it happen. So my second insight for you tonight about Alberto is that one reason he has been as successful as he has been in his distinguished career is that once Alberto sees a future, once he believes in a future, there is no one in this world who works harder and with more determination that Alberto to make it come out the way he thinks it should. No one! And he has also had the ability—the talent, the respect, the relationships—to literally influence the future of this industry more than once. As Professor Luciano Lavagno of the Politecnico di Torino and Research Scientist at Cadence Berkeley Labs puts it, “Working with Alberto is always exciting and stimulating, because he has a great ability to use all his experience about what is happening in EDA, design and fabrication to look forward and predict what is going to happen, what is going to be hot, what is going to be problematic. He then pushes towards a solution without regard to the difficulty, to the fact that “no-one has been there before”. Raw focused energy is the key aspect, that he puts in his work and in his life.” This is truly the mark of an entrepreneur!

Alberto’s academic career is unparalled. With over 500 technical publications to his name and fourteen books—spanning the areas of EDA, control theory, systems theory, and applied mathematics just to name a few—Alberto has educated and mentored a generation of distinguished university faculty and industry leaders. Among his many awards, he includes the Distinguished Teaching Award of the University of California , awarded to only the top few percent of faculty on our campus.

Early in his graduate career at Berkeley, Professor Jacob White, one of Alberto’s Ph.D. students and now a distinguished faculty member at MIT was working on the new Waveform Relaxation (WR) method while Professor Res Saleh, one of my own students, was working on what we called Iterated Timing Analysis (ITA)—two accurate but fast methods for simulating large digital circuits. Alberto had been giving talks about WR in which he claimed that WR had guaranteed convergence properties while ITA did not. As Jacob says, “I tried to convince Alberto that once you discretized the differential equations, WR had the same convergence properties as ITA. Alberto was very patient with me—at the time I was not doing very well as a student—and he had every reason to believe that I was simply confused. However, the very second that my argument was clear to him, Alberto changed from being a patient listener to an enthusiastic one. The fact that I was suggesting that what he had been presenting was wrong did not concern him at all. He was interested in only two things: getting the right answer and expressing his pleasure that one of his students had figured out something that he had missed.”

“Of course,” Jacob continues, “this incident demonstrated to me that being the one who is right is unimportant, while getting to the right answer is important. But for me, the idea that my advisor would be pleased that I had uncovered an error really helped me understand what it means to be an academic. The job is not about leading your students, the job is about having students stand on your shoulders and see further than you did. That is one of the most important lessons I learned from Alberto.”

This is just one of many such experiences I could quote from any one of the more than 50 Ph.D. students Alberto has guided to graduation over the past quarter century—another amazing achievement.

As Gerry Sullivan once shared with me as we walked along a stretch of beach near Monterey many years ago, “I have finally worked out why you Berkeley guys do so well—you just work so much harder than everyone else.” In Alberto’s case, that should read harder, smarter, and with an unrelenting passion to succeed in everything he embarks upon; whether as an individual, as part of a team, or as a mentor. He will pull you along with him; at that moment you are considering giving in, making a compromise, Alberto will spur you on for that extra mile. And the satisfaction you share with him at that moment of success makes it all worthwhile. Like a “runner’s high,”it is an experience you will never forget and one you will strive to repeat time and time again.

“No matter what Alberto tackles, he succeeds in making an impressive set of contributions,” says Professor Bob Brayton of IBM Research and now Berkeley. “Our logic synthesis collaboration was marked by lots of excitement, enthusiasm and fun. It was fun, since we shared the common conviction that a firm mathematical foundation and proven results leads to better understanding and to better algorithms. At DAC in ’82, I remember sitting on a couch in the lobby of the Las Vegas Hilton, working with Alberto on the remaining algorithmic piece of the two-level logic optimizer ESPRESSO. When we finally got it, we were so excited—it was far better than winning at the casino!”

In 1981, Alberto joined Jim Solomon, then at National Semiconductor, and me as we sought for ways to get some of our early Berkeley CAD tools and ideas supported by industry. After six months of talking with companies like Daisy Systems, Mentor Graphics, Comsat General, Valid Logic Systems, and even the Microelectronics and Computer Consortium (MCC) in Austin Texas, and finding no takers, Jim decided to start a company to support and develop our ideas for commercial use as SDA Systems and eventually Cadence Design Systems.

I’ll leave it to Joe Costello, former CEO of Cadence to describe Alberto’s influence on that company from the very beginning: “Alberto helped to shape Cadence (then SDA Systems) long before I was there. He sent his students, worked the strategy, and guided the product. He agonized when the company struggled to get off the ground. He talked to customers to get them to work with us. He criticized, counseled, consoled. He tried to get us to think big when we were small. He tried to get us to work with an even smaller company, Synopsys, as it was born, but we didn’t understand. He supported our moves to merge with ECAD, Tangent, Gateway when others didn’t agree. He was a scientific advisor and a consultant. He worked with our engineering team year after year, inspiring them, challenging them, spurring them on. He provided insights into where we should go and who could best take us there. He pushed and pushed and pushed to make us great. He personally created Cadence Berkeley Labs with Patrick Scaglia. He established it in the US and abroad, thereby institutionalizing forward thinking in the company. He worked with our leading edge product groups like Alta. But at the same time he did not forget our roots and worked just as hard to make sure that our core product lines and teams stayed current and competitive. But Alberto’s contribution was not limited to technology. He was every bit as present on the business side as an investor and a board member. He engaged with just as much enthusiasm in the board meetings as he did as a scientific advisor or as the leader of Cadence Berkeley Labs.

As I re-read these words, they look so pathetic when I stand them up against reality. Words are such a weak tool to encapsulate what Alberto has meant to me personally and to Cadence. I wish that I could share with you a video kaleidoscope of the times that we have spent together. It would better capture some of the energy, passion, and emotion. You would better understand the highs, the lows and the ultimate victory. But still when I run the video in my mind and stand it up against reality, it is also too narrow, too thin, if you weren’t there to see it as it unfolded.

How can I help you to understand Alberto’s contribution? Perhaps, since you weren’t there, a symbol would be best. When you think of Cadence, remember that the ‘a’ in Cadence stands for Alberto—without the “a”, without Alberto, the company would just not be the same.”

Ray Bingham summarizes Alberto’s ongoing contributions to Cadence as follows: “Alberto has had a profound and lasting influence on Cadence as a company and on me personally as an individual. As Cadence’s Chief Technology Advisory, Alberto provides boundless intellectual capacity and bandwidth, which I leverage when considering various business, technology, strategic, and political issues. In other words, he’s my ultimate reality check.”

Now one of those companies that Joe mentioned was Tangent, and Aki Fujimura, now President and COO of Simplex Solutions was a founder of Tangent. Aki recalls that: “Steve Teig and I both benefited tremendously from Alberto’s insights and guidance while we were rolling out Tangate fourteen years ago. Alberto was instrumental in evangelizing the shift from a channels-and-rows based semi-custom architecture to the sea-of-gates/sea-of-cells architecture that the whole world uses today. Alberto’s greatest strength is his unique blend of technical breadth and depth, his intuition for people, and his business savvy.”

Just a few years later, Alberto was also a key contributor to the founding team of Synopsys and was the founding chair of the Synopsys Technical Advisory Board. As Aart De Geus says, “Alberto has the amazing talent and drive to simultaneously recognize break-through technology, talented people, and a business opportunity. So often he has acted as a powerful catalyst in amplifying the work of the people around him. I will always be grateful for his contribution in starting the most exciting EDA company of all time—whichever one you happen to think it is…”

Alberto’s Ph. D. students, in particular Rick Rudell and Albert Wang, formed a core part of the product team for Design Compiler, the most successful single product in the history of the EDA industry to date, and Design Compiler was influenced very strongly by the Berkeley work of Bob Brayton, Alberto, and their students in the area of multi-level logic synthesis.

In 1991, Cadence and Synopsys had grown to the point where they were beginning to compete in the marketplace and Alberto was forced to make a choice. I can personally attest to the fact that this was one of the most difficult choices Alberto has ever had to make. He agonized long and hard on it and, frankly, at the time he could have gone either way. My third insight into the man: over the years I have learned that Alberto likes to be involved in just about everything. For two reasons: first he, like many of us, has a very hard time saying ‘no’ to people he likes and respects. Second, when Alberto makes a commitment, you can always count on him to see it through, no matter what it takes, and he found himself in a situation where he had personally committed his energy to both teams—teams that were now in an irreconcilable conflict for him. I know those were some of the toughest days for Alberto as he worked through that situation. To this day, I know he has a strong love for both companies.

Of all the contributions Alberto has made to our industry, the two that he is personally most proud of are his work in guided analog synthesis—defining a new approach to the automated design of analog IC blocks, through “the Red Book” as he likes to call it—and his work on system-level design. While Alberto has collaborated closely with many of the leading researchers in EDA and control systems over the years, in these two areas he has truly paved the way for us all. He really began by advocating system-level design research in earnest back in 1988, stressing the importance of a comprehensive view of systems—not just the chips, the importance of software and hardware, that the methodology was key to finding a common ground for effective system design, and that one had to study embedded systems and their application in the real world if one was to find a rigorous, well-founded and yet practical approach to the design and verification of complex embedded systems. Who among us had not heard of “communication-based design,” or the importance of “orthogonalization of concerns,” or “function-architecture decomposition?” These are just a few of the concepts Alberto has developed and evangelized for years now, and all are finding their rightful place in our modern design systems.

But like all of our Kaufman awardees, and like Phil himself, in the end it is as much the person as it is about any specific technical contribution or new business idea—it is how they have inspired people throughout their careers, through their own personal example. As Aki Fujimura said,

“What makes Alberto great is that whether you’re meeting him for business or for academic advice, the first thing he wants to talk about with you is… you. We all know that he genuinely cares about us as individuals and that this comes first before anything else for him.” Ray Bingham told me earlier this week that, “Alberto’s deep humanity as a person…as a man…exudes itself in everything he does. That humanity gives him license to inspire and touch people in many ways. He certainly has played an inspiring role in my own life. And our industry is extremely fortunate to call him one of our own.” I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Alberto for his steadfast friendship and support over these many years, through the mostly good times and the occasional tough passage. On behalf of your many, many friends throughout the world, thank you, Alberto.

On behalf of Mrs. Kaufman, EDAC, and all present here tonight, I am honored to be able to present the Phil Kaufman Award to Professor Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli, a colleague, a mentor, and a friend to many of us here tonight and around the world. As I wrote this speech, I tried to conclude by summarizing what makes Alberto special—what are those essential characteristics of this man that make him so important to us all—but I found that I just couldn’t do it. I share Joe Costello’s perspective when he says that words are such a weak tool to encapsulate what Alberto has meant to us all. So I leave you with these few anecdotes and testimonials of the many we could all share about this founder of our industry and leave it to you to build your own picture of Alberto and his many contributions. But I know you all agree with me when I say it is clear that Alberto stands as a very worthy recipient of this prestigious award.

So please raise your glasses as we toast Alberto tonight. Professor Kurt Keutzer speaks for all of us when he says, “Through his technical efforts Alberto has done much to define what EDA is today, but much more than that, Alberto has set the highest standard for what it means to be a researcher in this field.”

To Alberto!