David Patterson joined the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley in 1977, where he now holds the Pardee Chair of Computer Science. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and is a fellow of both the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) and the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).

He led the design and implementation of RISC I, likely the first VLSI Reduced Instruction Set Computer. This research became the foundation of the SPARC architecture, used by Sun Microsystems and others. He was a leader, along with Randy Katz, of the Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks project (or RAID), which led to reliable storage systems from many companies. He is co-author of five books, including two with John Hennessy, who is now President of Stanford University. Patterson has been chair of the CS division at Berkeley, the ACM SIG in computer architecture, and the Computing Research Association.

His teaching has been honored by the ACM, the IEEE, and the University of California. Patterson shared the 1999 IEEE Reynold Johnson Information Storage Award with Randy Katz for the development of RAID and shared the 2000 IEEE von Neumann medal with John Hennessy for "creating a revolution in computer architecture through their exploration, popularization, and commercialization of architectural innovations."