Interview with Eric Hennenhoefer, DVClub Founder
Eric sits down with us to recall some of his earliest memories of DVClub, how it all started, and why it's so popular
1) Eric, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule as a VP at ARM Research. DVClub will be celebrating its 10th Anniversary in Austin, at the Norris Conference Center on September 9th. When you founded DVClub in 2005, did you ever imagine DVClub being active across North America and around the World, 10 years later?
No, I didn’t. When it first started, I assumed we’d get a couple of dozen people and it would mostly be a user group type event. These types of groups typically struggle so I didn’t really have any visions of it expanding like it has.
2) Can you describe DVClub’s inception? How important was Cadence to DVClub’s founding and ongoing charter?
The story is roughly this: Cadence called me and said, “Hey, we’re having an event. Can you help us get people to attend?” My response was that I wouldn’t go to that event myself because EDA companies will meet me whenever I want to discuss their tools. Engineers don’t need to go to an event for that. We decided to have coffee and discuss the topic anyway. I felt that what engineers really want to hear about is real engineer problems and solutions, not presentations from vendors. Cadence told me that they couldn’t run an event like that, but they could sponsor it. The idea was this: We could have a free lunch and some good networking and discussions. Cadence would be able to come to the event, but would not make any presentations. This would have a different tenor and really be a user event. Only a small number of service providers would be let in, and we would do all of the work to put it together ourselves. I thought, “Hey, why not? I would go to that.” It had a nice taste and it wasn’t marketing. That was the start of DVClub. Cadence put the money up front, and now the challenge was on me to do it.
Cadence had and continues to have a very important role in DVClub. They saw value in the concept right away, jumped on it and supported it unconditionally throughout. We’ve had recessions, management changes, and other sponsors have come and gone, but Cadence has been flexible and unwavering through it all.
3) How would you describe DVClub’s Original Charter? Is today’s DVClub true to its original purpose?
I believe the original charter is still on the DVClub.org web site, but it is basically to provide a forum for verification engineers to get together with peers, learn, and have fun. It wasn’t just about networking and wasn’t’ just about learning. It was about both, and it was about having fun. It also wasn’t just learning about how to do your job, it was about verification as an important career. One talk in Silicon Valley, for example, addressed the issue of how US engineers should best respond to the ongoing trend of outsourcing work to India. That’s a career discussion. I believe DVClub has remained true to that charter to this day.
4) How would you describe the very first DVClub event?
I remember it being more like a party. We got a lot more registrations than we thought, probably twice as many. It was crowded and we were scrambling around to get things like projector to work. It was exciting.
Mike Pedneau and Kelly Larson spoke. There was a talk on using embedded PSL for runtime checking and one that centered around high and low value engineering. At that time, lots of jobs were being outsourced to lower cost regions of the world, and US engineers needed to be developing high value engineering skills (methodology, etc.) if they wanted to survive. So again our charter wasn’t just to talk about technical topics like PSL and how to do our jobs, we also wanted to talk about verification as a career.
5) What are some of your fondest DVClub memories? What were some of the obstacles you faced along the way?
My fondest memories are just that it keeps going and I get to see these people from time to time. It’s sort of like seeing your friends and saying “Hey, we should do this more often.”, but for DVClub, we actually DO do this more often.
Most of the obstacles we faced were lots of little annoying things. Getting a venue, a web site, having time to get speakers, etc. We had problems like the web site getting hijacked, an admin person quitting, etc.
At the same time that DVClub was starting, I was part of an entrepreneur group in Austin and had learned some valuable lessons. I knew how to get sponsors – they want access to decision makers which is what we provided. I also knew, however, that while volunteers work well at making plans, they aren’t necessarily good at following through with all of the details to implement those plans. I therefore knew that we needed good admin support to make it work, and the sponsorship from Cadence and others enabled that to happen. We could hire admin help and partition the work appropriately. Busy professionals hate making name tags, finding venues, sending newsletters, and planning lunches. The engineering community can help with introductions to potential speakers, lead planning sessions, etc., but we didn’t try to get them to do any of the administration work. We also spread the load and didn’t always call upon the same people to lead a planning dinner, meet with a speaker, etc. All of this helped us avoid some inevitable pitfalls that groups like this tend to fall into.
We learned other things along the way as well. For example, we did the first event with two speakers and have done the same with a lot of events over the years. It’s easier to get two, 20-minute talks vs. one long one. By having two talks we increased the odds of attracting interest because even if one topic didn’t interest someone, the other topic might have. From the speakers point of view the size of the DVClub crowd was sometimes a problem. The crowds were often becoming too big and intimidating for some speakers which made it harder for us to get speakers. People didn’t want to give a long talk to a big crowd but they were more open to doing a short, 20 minute talk. Having two short talks therefore enabled us to attract more speakers.
6) How did you manage to introduce DVClub to so many geographical markets? When and where did DVClub go after its original founding in Austin?
It was mostly pull. We started in Austin and assumed it would be just Austin at first. We had a few in Austin and they were very successful. We also started a newsletter.
Word got out and I got a call from TI in Dallas. They wanted to sponsor a DVClub there. Later on Jon Michaelson from Cisco in Silicon Valley called. Jon had written a book on verification and was active in DAC and the verification community. He asked about having one out there, so we had one out there. All of our expansion cities were a result of someone asking for it. We provided the infrastructure and the local community took it from there.
7) How would you explain DVClub’s popularity?
The event shows the value of the verification profession. The fact that we have had billionaire founders of companies and other top ranked speakers come to our events is testament to that.
DVClub is a celebration of the verification engineering career. It says that we’re here. We’re important. We’re learning stuff that’s important.
8) When did DVClub truly become global?
I’m not sure of the timeframe but it was Mike Bartley from TVS (Test and Verification Solutions) in Europe who first successfully duplicated DVClub in Europe. At first it was done with DVClub US speakers because it was quite common for US engineers to be there on business, but that has evolved over time. There are now DVClubs in Europe, India, China and other parts of Asia.
They key to expansion to Europe and beyond is that DVClub provides the model but the local leaders and sponsorship models dictate the format that works best for them. Europe is distributed and hence does a lot of webcasts for their events, sometimes with India because the time zones work out. Lunch time in Europe lines up with dinner time in India. A lunch time DVClub in India is also impractical because it’s hard for people to get there, so DVClubs in India are dinner events. Sponsorship models vary internationally as well. India, for example, rotates their sponsors. The same sponsor does not sponsor every DVClub.
We therefore allow each location to operate in a manner that best meets their local culture and needs.
9) Thanks to you, ARM is now a Premier DVClub Premier Sponsor. How does ARM benefit from its association with DVClub?
For ARM it’s really about them being a responsible corporate citizen. Verification engineers play a big part in ARMs success and the success of companies throughout the world. In the grand scheme the sponsorship is not a lot of money and DVClub is important. Verification engineers are important. ARM has trouble finding good verification engineers just like everybody else. ARM and these companies can’t lose their ability to verify SOCs.
10) Paradigm Works with the help of their Chief Verification Technologist Kelly Larson is running DVClub in North America now. What advice do you have to Paradigm and Kelly to ensure that the next 10 years of DVClub are as successful, if not more so, than the first?
Keep the same format and remain true to what has made it a success these past 10 years. It is not a marketing event. It’s about education, networking, fun, and the celebration of verification engineering as a profession.
Also make sure you have a good support staff so that it can be a member guided event.
Norris Conference Center
Austin 10-year Celebration Event
2525 W Anderson Ln #365, Austin, TX 78757 September 9, 2015, 11:30 - 1:30