As an aside, investors in Forte’s first round of funding reads like a Silicon Valley Who’s Who: Andy Bechtolsheim, who was that series’ largest investor; Gordon Bell; Steve Blank; Paul Huang; and Jon Rubinstein.
Meet Sean Dart of Forte
Sean Dart is Forte’s CEO and is highly technical, an unusual combination in today’s business climate, but vital to an emerging EDA company. Sean grew up in a small town 400 miles north of Sydney, Australia, and moved to Sydney to study computer science at New South Wales University.
Forte CEO Sean Dart
His decision to study computers was a curious one, considering Sean had never seen a computer. The decision came after talking to career counselors. He was a good student in all subjects but preferred scientific studies. The advice he received was that computing was the up and coming field. This appealed to Sean because he could combine his interest in math with the practical, giving him an opportunity to merge the intellectual with a job. And, he loved it.
Today, everybody has a personal computer, so it’s difficult to imagine the days of computer centers. [Maybe for Nanette, but not for others, such as your Contributing Editor]. Sean said that he and his colleagues used hand-marked cards, not even key punched cards. He mused that even later, the 30 VAX terminals from the computer lab at his college had one-thousandth the capabilities of an iPhone.
Sean’s first job out of college was working for STC (Standards Telephones & Cables) in Australia designing embedded programming for PBX systems. After two years, he was designing operating systems for small business computers and then moved on to Olivetti. He was subsequently transferred to Colorado to work with AT&T to customize telecommunications equipment for the Australian market. Once that project was abandoned, Sean and his American wife moved to Switzerland where he worked for a company that second-sourced ASIC designs. His role was to manage the network and develop tools and utilities to support the design services team. The company needed utilities, especially for verification, to help retarget designs.
After a fashion, the company decided it was making more money in the tools area and became an ESDA company, Sean’s introduction into EDA and a forerunner to high-level synthesis. The company, Speed Electronics, was sold in 1997 to Mentor Graphics.
After 10 years in Switzerland, the Dart family, that now included two children, relocated to Silicon Valley in pre-Internet 1997 but quickly discovered that the SF Bay Area was an expensive place to raise a family. After looking around the EDA companies in the Seattle and Boston areas, he liked what he saw at Chronology in Redmond, Wash., less than 20 miles from Seattle.
So in 1997, after only five months in Silicon Valley, he and his family moved to a town 15 miles east of Redmond. “It’s a great place to live,” he noted.
It’s at this point that we need to hear more from Brett Cline, who truly has his finger on the pulse of the high-level synthesis market and someone who has been a major contributor to Forte’s success. Brett may be a bit more informal than the consummate executive of old, but one is not fooled by the informality. Anyone who talks to him will pick up on his competitive streak. “Massively competitive,” he admitted, “I hate to lose and don’t accept losses that well. I push myself to do things better and I try to encourage others to exceed as well.” He admires winners, but firmly believes that it’s important to be a team player as well, something that’s apparently important as well to the 35 or so Forte employees.
You may have also heard that Brett is one marketing executive willing to dress in costume, as the situation calls for it. In 2003, he donned a hockey goalie uniform to present a DVCon paper titled, “Why You or Your Replacement will Use SystemC for System Design,” claiming he needed the padding for his defense in front of a room of skeptical RTL designers.
In 2005, Brett dressed in a chicken suit at DAC after losing a bet to John Cooley, editor of ESNUG and DeepChip. They agreed to a “Gentlemen’s Bet” over whether SystemC adoption would be more than 50% in the results of the DeepChip Verification Census. Brett said it would, John Cooley said it wouldn’t. John Cooley ruled that day, “but he was counting the votes,” laughed Brett. “It would be interesting to see if he is willing to make that bet again now.”
Brett Cline in the chicken suit,
© 2012 Forte Design Systems/Brett Cline
Brett Cline still in the chicken suit talking with John Cooley
© 2012 Forte Design Systems / Brett Cline
Brett is a friendly New Englander who grew up in Manchester, CT. He moved to Boston to attend Northeastern University and worked at GE as a co-op student. EDA has a few Northeastern grads, but younger readers may not know that Northeastern is renowned for its five-year co-op program where students get real-world experience by working in companies before graduating (Other schools of course offer co-op university programs, such as the University of Cincinnati where the Contributing Editor obtained his engineering degrees).
After graduating, Cadence in Massachusetts came calling because Brett’s background included both hardware and software. Brett was put to work on a waveform project, then VHDL simulation graphical tools and was tasked to work with the SimVision team. He enjoyed working with the sales and FAEs, and eventually moved into technical marketing for many of the same products he had spent time building.
SimTech recruited him in 1997 to be the East Coast application engineer, before SimTech was acquired by Summit Design that same year. In 1998, he ran marketing for the ex-SimTech products, then picked up corporate communications responsibilities as well.
It was in November 1999 that Brett called a friend at CynApps about joining. He knew the legend of Dr. John Sanguinetti from late nights at Cadence working with the Verilog-XL and NC-Sim teams to compete with VCS and Brett was eager to meet Dr. Sanguinetti.
Brett liked much of the CynApps story, especially the verification piece, but he remained a bit skeptical about behavioral synthesis, a still unproven technology. He wasn’t certain the electronics industry was ready for behavioral synthesis, but he became more and more excited about CynApps’ entire product portfolio, including a simulation library that could be marketed as an open source product with C++ simulation, services and debug and analysis tools that captured his imagination. He signed on and then CynApps acquired DASYS in January 2000, which further cemented the focus on behavioral synthesis.
Concluding remarks about John Sanguinetti
The first thing one learns about John Sanguinetti when talking with him, is his modesty. The second is his candor.
When asked what influenced him to study computer science, John said, “A fter my freshman year of college, I had a summer job in the Navy Department in Washington, D.C. where I wrote output reports in Fortran for a shipyard simulation program that was being developed. I learned Fortran from a self-study course that the government had. After that, I took as many programming courses as I could. This was 1967-70, when Computer Science was not much more than programming courses.”