Silicon compilation takes place in three major steps:
- Convert a hardware-description language such as Verilog or VHDL or FpgaC into logic (typically in the form of a "netlist").
- Place equivalent logic gates on the IC. Silicon compilers typically use standard-cell libraries so that they do not have to worry about the actual integrated-circuit layout and can focus on the placement.
- Routing the standard cells together to form the desired logic.
Johannsen, Mead, and Edmund K. Cheng subsequently founded Silicon Compilers Inc. (SCI) in 1981.
Edmund Cheng designed an Ethernet Data Link Controller chip in 1981-1982 using structured design methodology, in order to drive the software and circuit-library development at SCI. The project went from concept to chip specification in 3 months, and from chip specification to tape-out in 5 months. Fabricated using a 3-micron NMOS process, the chip measured 50,600 square mils in die area, and was being marketed and manufactured in volume-production by 1983 under license from SCI.
John Wawrzynek at Caltech used some of the earliest silicon compilers in 1982 as part of the "Yet Another Processor Project" (YAPP)
In 1983-1984, the SCI team designed and implemented the data-path chip used in the MicroVAX in seven months. MicroVAX's data-path chip contains the entire 32-bit processor, except its microcode store and control-store sequencer, and contains 37,000 transistors. At the time, chips with similar levels of complexity required about 3 years to design and implement. Including those seven months, Digital Equipment Corporation completed the design and implementation of the MicroVAX within one year. 
- Johannsen, D. L., "Bristle Blocks: A Silicon Compiler," Proceedings 16th Design Automation Conference, 310–313, June 1979.
- Edmund K. Cheng, "The Design of an Ethernet Data Link Controller Chip", 26th IEEE Computer Society International Conference, COMPCON Spring 83, San Francisco, Feb 25-Mar 3, 1983, pp. 157-160.
- "Silicon compilers and foundries will usher in user-designed VLSI" article by Carver A. Mead and George Lewicki. Caltech. "Electronics" magazine 1982 Aug 11.
- "Silicon compiler lets systems engineers design their own VLSI chips", article by Stephen C. Johnson of Silicon Compilers Inc. in "Electronic Design" magazine, October 4, 1984, pp. 167-181.