Interview with

David A. LAWS

2013

 

 

RB:†††† Hello, Iím Robert Blair for the Silicon Genesis Archives at Stanford University Library.Silicon Genesis was founded by Rob Walker.Today, June 7, 2013, we will talk to David Laws, the semiconductor industry veteran originally from the United Kingdom, where he graduated in physics in the early sixties and then worked for Plessey.He joined Fairchild Semiconductor in the UK in the late sixties and moved to Silicon Valley in 1968 with Fairchild, just as some of the big changes were occurring in management, following the departure of Dr. Robert Noyce and the arrival of Dr. C. Lester Hogan.From there, he moved to Advanced Micro Devices in the mid-seventies with Jerry Sanders and stayed there for a decade.He recognized the programmable integrated circuit wave early on and then moved to Altera Corporation as Vice President of Marketing to work for another native Brit, Rodney Smith.He was then recruited as CEO of QuickLogic, another programmable integrated circuit company here in the Valley.Today, David is retired and is very active at the Computer History Museum here in Silicon Valley as the curator in the Semiconductor Special Interest Group.Heís also a very avid writer and traveler and currently resides in Monterey, California.Now letís talk to David and hear his story.Today is June 7, 2013 and today weíre going to talk to David Laws, semiconductor veteran originally from the United Kingdom that spent virtually his entire career here in California.Today weíre going to interview David for the Silicon Genesis archives at Stanford University.So David, welcome to Silicon Genesis.And letís start off by asking you about your early days, your childhood.Where were you born?Why did you do physics?Tell us about those early days.

 

DL:†††† Sure.Thank you for inviting me Robert.Iím honored to be here.I guess my beginning was in wartime west London, suburb of London and apparently I was born about two months early because I was intrigued by all these sounds of bombs exploding outside.My mother tells me I wanted to come out and see what was going on.[laughs] The houses across the street were going down apparently at that time.And so my earliest memories are probably ones that were implanted of the last days of the war and the recovery of England in the early 1950s.Went to the local, what would be called public, schools here but are not public schools in England, of course.And during my time at what was called grammar school, which would be equivalent of high school here, it became obvious that my favorite subjects were in physics, little less in math, chemistry and ended up going to university in the north of England, to Hull, where I studied physics for three years and graduated in 1962.I then had to decide., so now I have a degree in physics, what do I do with this?At that time in England, demand for physics came from two directions.One would be teaching.The other was to go and help the Atomic Energy Authority make bombs.And I didnít want to teach and wasnít smart enough to make bombs and drifted into industrial training,.itís like an apprenticeship after graduating, in the automobile industry. Worked for a couple of years there going around all the different departments of the factory learning how the operations were and realized that I really did want to get back to physics.And found a job with Plessey Company in London designing UHF transmitter receiver systems.So thatís the career up to that point.

 

RB:†††† And how did you come across Fairchild in the United Kingdom which, of course, was represented then by SGS Fairchild?

 

DL:†††† I had done a little bit of semiconductor physics because in í61, í62 semiconductor technology was pretty limited at the undergraduate level.You learned about diodes and a little bit about transistors.And at Plessey, we started trying to apply semiconductors to these high speed transmitter receivers.I remember the first device I used was a tunnel diode. ,.I had to build a 300 megahertz oscillator and amplifier.And so somebody Ė a rep came in with some tunnel diodes, put them on my bossí desk and I do remember he opened the window, it being a hot day in London, and the wind came out and blew these two tunnel diodes off.And they were so small they disappeared into the pile carpet.And we never found them again. [laughs] The rep had to come back with some more the next day.But this was my introduction to semiconductor technology.And after a while, a friend of mine worked for Mullard, the British subsidiary of Philips in London, and said theyíre looking for someone to do some marketing work in the semiconductor area.I went along, interviewed with them and ended up in a department where I was sort of applications, information guy on the phone for using phototransistors and other special semiconductor devices built by Mullard.This was fun.Learned a lot in terms of what was involved in the commercial business of building and making chips in the very early days.But my parents lived in a town called Ruislip, in west London.And just around the corner from them was this little startup Ė what looked like a startup business called SGS Fairchild.And they said well thereís some people making chips down the road.Maybe youíd like to go and see what theyíre doing.And I talked to them and it turned out that this was Fairchildís first venture outside of California in terms of setting up an overseas business.And they had established a subsidiary company together with two Italian companies, Olivetti and Telettra Ė to create a company called SGS, (Societŗ Generale Semiconduttori) that had signed a license agreement with Fairchild and to be Fairchildís manufacturing partner and distributor for Europe.And so I joined them, I guess it would be around í63 or í64 in a product marketing role with all these exciting new devices that used this thing called planar technology.And this was just at the time they were bringing out the second generation of integrated circuits which was RTL, Resistor Transistor Logic.And so it was an exciting time in the industry and a great time to get started.

RB:†††† And about four or five years later, of course, which is where I got involved with Fairchild, they parted with SGS and went direct in Europe in 1969 and they decided to headquarter out of Germany.So thatís where I engaged over in Germany at that time.And it was then Fairchild Direct and SGS became its own company.

 

DL:†††† I remember that because there was some talk about my possibly going back to Europe for a while to help get that thing set up.But I was enjoying California too much at that time.I chose not to go that route.

 

RB:†††† So now youíre at SGS Fairchild in London or the outskirts of London as a product marketing guy.So that probably brought you to Mountain View sooner or later.

 

DL:†††† Actually not directly.What happened was I had always wanted to go out in field sales and get some more experience in terms of the full aspect of marketing.And I discussed it with my boss and he says okay, weíll find you a job in sales at some point in time.And about three months later I got a call and they said, yep, we have a sales position for you, junior sales position.I thought thatís great.Where is it?East London, West London, South London.They said well actually itís in another country.Itís in Scotland.I said Scotland?Nobody lives in Scotland.And thatís when I went up to Edinburgh and turned out I had a wonderful couple years up there.Lived in one of those big old stone houses at the top of Dundas Street just off Princes Street.And Iíd go out during the day selling to largely American companies that were being funded by the British government to establish factories in that area because of the decline in the steel, coal mining and other industries.They wanted to encourage electronics.So I was calling on NCR and people at Hewlett Packard, IBM, and a whole bunch of other companies at that time period.

 

RB:†††† Yeah, I remember a lot of American companies came to Scotland for the relatively low cost labor and plenty of space, General Instrument and as you say (talking at same time).National as well, yeah.So that was interesting.

 

DL:†††† That was a great time.Iíd spend the day going in talking to engineers and talking to managers of the companies and have no problem whatsoever conversing with them.Iíd go out at night to meet with my Scottish friends at the pub and understand about ten percent of what was going on around me until I learned the local brogue.

 

RB:†††† So what happened after Scotland?

 

DL:†††† There was a change coming up in the immigration laws in the U.S.And Iíd had this idea of one day going to California and we can back up on why California was in my mind in a minute.And I realized at that date, and it must have been 1968, there was a certain date after which the allocation Ė national allocations for nationalities immigrating to the U.S. would, instead of being done on a country-by-country basis and the basis was set by the makeup of the U.S. population about 1910, which had a huge British allocation and I think about fifty Chinese were allowed in each year based on that.It was going to be everybody gets on the end of the line.So suddenly when I realized that was coming up I approached my boss in SGS Fairchild and said look, Iíd really like to try to get out to California a few years, get some experience, can you help me with your contacts through SGS to find a position there?And sort of nothing happened very much.Then all of a sudden I got this phone call, a real California accent, guy called Bill Welling was on the phone.And Bill calls and says can you meet me at the top of the Hilton at 7:00 on Sunday night?Meanwhile Iím up in Scotland so, of course, I quickly drove down to London, met Bill at the Hilton bar overlooking Hyde Park.Thought oh boy, this is U.S. style.I think I want to work for this company.And halfway through, we went downstairs, we got a cab and we drove to the Royal Kensington Hotel. We sat at the bar atop of there looking down on Kensington Palace and I thought this is the kind of company I want to work for.And they did offer me a job.And I came to the U.S. and I worked for Bill for a couple years in headquarters sales in Mountain View.

 

RB:†††† Thatís really interesting just to divert for a second.I saw an ad in the London Sunday Times for Fairchild.Thatís what got me going.And they also interviewed me in Kensington.So I went up to London and met a bunch of people, Digosher and Ralph Bennett and Company.And that was the same sort of in London location where they were looking for people for their potential operation in Germany.

 

DL:†††† Expense accounts must have been pretty good in those days.

 

RB:†††† Yeah, I think it wasÖ

 

DL:†††† Fairchild was making good profits.

 

RB:†††† They had a good time, yeah.

 

DL:†††† Back up a little bit.My interest in California had come about when I was working on a summer job at university.I had somehow ended up working in a warehouse that was owned by the RAF [Roal Air Force] where there were spare [aircraft] parts.A chit would come through the window and Iíd go off and find a piece of an engine or a piece of a wing or whatever it was that was required.And times were slow; I guess not too many airplanes were crashing in those days.But my boss said hey, you look bored.Hereís a book.You might enjoy this and he threw this tattered paperback at me.He says itís got a couple dirty bits in it.Youíll enjoy this.And it turned out to be a book by this guy called John Steinbeck that Iíd never heard of.And this was To a God Unknown.It was one of his very early books.And indeed, there were two dirty bits in it.But I got really intrigued with this style of writing.Iíd never come across anything like this. And over that summer, I read every single book I could get off that Steinbeck written, including Cannery Row, East of Eden, Grapes of Wrath.I said one day Iím going to go to California.So that was probably the motivation to combine my desire to see California from learning about it from that perspective with the incredible growth opportunity that was apparent in semiconductors in Silicon Valley in the late sixties.

 

RB:†††† So did Fairchild come through for you on the transfer?

 

DL:†††† And Fairchild came through.Actually it was a different employer altogether because SGS was not a hundred percent owned by Fairchild.They came through.I came over.Flew into San Francisco Airport May of 1968.Incredible time in the industry.

 

RB:†††† So did you end up on Ellis Street at the headquarters there or -

 

DL:†††† Ellis Street was just under construction when I was there.I ended up in a building on [Whisman Road] Ė it was called the American Standards Building.I remember going in my first day Ė Iíd been there a couple of hours and all of a sudden there was this incredible boom and the whole building shook and I thought oh an earthquake!Already, Iíve only been here two days.It turned out it was a gas main exploding out on the street or something.But it was a wakeup call.So I worked there for Bill Welling and my first job for Bill was basically headquarters piece part sales Ė anything Fairchild couldnít use anymore, I had to go try to find someone to buy it.And I remember that National was starting up just then and we had a whole bunch of specialized wafers left over.We used to make our own silicon at Fairchild.And my job was to try to sell Charlie Sporck on buying these wafers from Fairchild.And so I was in there a few times with Charlie and I forget the purchasing guyís name Ė Pierre somebody Ė it wasnít Pierre Lamond.It was somebody else.And they were very happy.We gave them a good price on the wafers. But a few days later, I got this call and went over to see them. Charlie was glowering as I walked into the room, they had these wafers spread out on the table.And he took this pencil and he touched each wafer and each one flipped as he touched it.They were all warped.That was one of the biggest take-backs I had to do for Fairchild.Another interesting task was the Fairchild diode plant up in San Rafael had generated over the years barrels and barrels and barrels of reject diodes.I guess there was a tiny dot of platinum in them or some rare metal in every one of these. So these were quite valuable.My job was to find someone to buy these.And there was a outfit in Southern California that used to sell dead transistors to the transistor radio manufacturers in Hong Kong because there was a big demand for these because you bought a transistor radio based on how many transistors it had in it.The more transistors, the more expensive, the better the radio.What they didnít tell you was that half the transistors were dead and just stuck into the board.And so there was quite a market for these things.

 

RB:†††† Thatís an interesting marketing strategy.

 

DL:†††† Put extra dead transistors in the board and charge more money.

 

RB:†††† Thatís right.

 

DL:†††† Those were interesting times.A lot of cowboys.I was about to close an order for something like 200 million reject diodes but it didnít quite close.And then the big change came at Fairchild.Noyce and Moore had left.Hogan was coming in [from Motorola].A whole bunch of people came in from Phoenix.And somebody said ďWell, he probably didnít get a good price for those.Weíll put the order on holdĒ.I have no idea what happened to those.They might still be in barrels up in San Rafael for all I know.

 

RB:†††† You get a lot of diodes in a barrel.

 

DL:†††† You sure do.

 

RB:†††† So you lived through the Noyce/Hogan transition.

 

DL:†††† Yes, I did.

 

RB:†††† Can you remember any sort of visible, obvious change that occurred over -

 

DL:†††† I can remember the constant churning, people Ė and people spinning out to start new companies, a lot of upset.For the people at our level, it was actually quite an opportunity.There were so many gaps created in the organization.It was possible to get promoted quite quickly.And luckily I seemed to be able to take advantage of that.Ended up working for quite a while as the Burroughs Programs Manager.I was responsible for looking after all the activities, all the purchases that Burroughs did within Fairchild and across (?), so making sure they were being taken and looked after.And during this time, I came under the wing of Steve Zelencik.Steve was Burroughs Sales Manager and he might have been Western Regional Manager as well.He kind of acted as my mentor.So it was really useful in terms of getting to know people, moving around and understanding the industry.But several times he took me out with him on customer visits.I went out to Burroughs in Paoli, Pennsylvania where they were building very big computers, B6500 back in those days.I remember he and Herby Wallack who was the regional salesman delighted in taking this young Englishman around, raw off the boat, to show me all the places where the British got thrashed in the Revolutionary war including Valley Forge and the others.But, again, these were times when there was plenty of money for entertaining and I still remember going out with a bunch of Burroughs customers to LíAuberge Restaurant in Redwood City and ordering a prime rib and this huge piece of meat appeared on my plate.I mean, there was enough meat on that plate to feed my family in England for a week.Those were interesting times.

 

RB:†††† Did you run across Jerry Sanders while you at Fairchild?Did you overlap at all or - ††

 

DL:†††† I knew who Jerry was.Jerry was very well known.All the kinds of stories that involved Jerry and Iím sure every one of them is true.He was someone we all looked up to.I may have bumped into him at Walkerís Wagon Wheel a few times.I bumped into a lot of people at Walkerís Wagon Wheel, some of them Ė bumped into them because they were on the floor, of course.But at Wagon Wheel, I met Tom Bay, I met Bob Noyce.I met a lot of the people who are names in the business.Friday evenings at the Wagon Wheel used to be the time to either go commiserate over something that went wrong or celebrate some kind of success or get hired.It was a fascinating place.Wagon Wheel, by the way, was a bar on the corner of Whisman Road and Middlefield.No longer there but was a stalwart place for the industry for many years.

 

RB:†††† Now replicated at the Computer History Museum.

 

DL:†††† Now replicated Ė we have a piece of the bar in the Computer History Museum.Absolutely.

 

RB:†††† So how long were you at Fairchild, David, and what triggered you to move onto Fairchild?

 

DL:†††† Letís see.I joined SGS in í66, moved to the states in í68 and I must have left Fairchild about í72 or í73.And, again, it was startup time.Everybody was constantly getting calls from venture capitalists and startup founders for opportunities and I was tempted.I really had a very good career at Fairchild.Got heavily involved with bipolar memories and very involved in getting Isoplanar memories out into many new designs.So my name got around.And I got a call from several places.The most intriguing one that came up was actually Litronix.Litronix was a startup manufacturer of optpelectronic devices, particularly LED displays for for watches, then for calculators.I thought well, this is a new aspect of business.Itís a startup company.Iíll give this a try.So I joined them in a product marketing role.And rode the calculator boom for a couple of years.That was an interesting company.It was making about twice the margins of Intel and growing at twice the speed of Intel, based on the calculator business.[laughs]But the management made some serious errors along the way and were not able to diversify sufficiently out of this mainstream calculator business before the crash came.Lots of stories there.We were selling to everybody.One of the biggest customers was Commodore.Commodore were very big in calculators in those days, run by the infamous Jack Tramiel.And Jack had this habit of not liking to pay his bills too much but he had eight vendors for LED displays.So heíd go from one to another to another to another and so he put off paying bills forever.And finally my boss said weíre not going to sell to this guy without cash on the barrelhead.So they arranged for a cashierís check to be available.When Chuck made the delivery.He picked up the cashierís check and raced to the local branch of Bank of America as fast as he could.Before he got there, Jack had called the manager and said these two guys were in my office.They stole a check.Donít honor it.And so for the first time in my life, [laughs] a bank refused to honor a cashierís check that they had issued three hours before.I donít know if Litronix ever got the money back on that order.Eventually the company went public by a backdoor route.They had made some kind of sale of shares that didnít meet all the SEC requirements so they had to make a rescission offer to buy the shares back before they could go public.Making that rescission offer essentially made the company a public company.So the whole IPO just fell through totally.A lot of very disappointed people disappeared in different parts of the industry.Litronix was eventually purchased by Siemens and I think they disappeared from the scene.

 

RB:†††† What got you back into the mainstream integrated circuit?

 

DL:†††† Well I could see the issues that were coming up for the company.And I got a call from Signetics to go and interview with them and took a job, product marketing manager for one of their divisions.And turns out that was not a good decision.One of the reasons was one of the jobs that I had in England that I donít believe I mentioned.I worked for Mullard for a while.Mullard was owned by Philips and I knew the big bureaucracy and the issues that would be involved in going back to work for a big company like that.And at that time in Silicon Valley, I did not want to.So when I joined Signetics, before I joined them, I said look, I hear there are rumors that Signetics might be taken over by Philips and I donít want to end up back working for Philips again.Donít offer me the job.But they did anyway.[laughs]I joined them.Three months later, Philips walked in and purchased Signetics.And about this time, AMD was right next door in the parking lot, Advanced Micro Devices, a company started by Jerry Sanders and about eight other people who I had known at Fairchild.And one of my bosses were there, Terry Jones. Terry gave me a call and said hey, we need a product marketing guy over here.Can you Ė would you like to join us?I donít know why you joined Signetics.And I said Iím not sure why I did either.[laughs]So I left Signetics, moved to Advanced Micro Devices early í75 on Thompson Place in Sunnyvale.That was an interesting time at Ė in the industry.There had been a huge crash just the year before.I didnít realize quite what shaky ground AMD was on until Jerry Sanders came up to me and said glad you joined us Dave.Youíre very brave.[laughs]Said we nearly went out of business about three months ago.And that was a time when they had Ė I think theyíd done about $28 million in sales.The previous year they had dropped back to about $23 million and all the distributors were busy returning Ė they had several months or if not quarters of negative sales - taking back product from distribution.But it turned out to be a very good move for me.I worked for a gentleman by the name of Tony Holbrook.Tony was a managing director of one of the business units within Advanced Micro Devices.Jerry had set the company up with lots of little business units that would basically work with three or four fabs in the company.And this was bipolar logic and interface products at a time when bipolar integrated circuits were still a very important part of the business.In fact, MOS was really just getting started.So I worked for Tony for a while.Tony moved up into another role and I worked for Gene Conner for several years in assorted marketing roles, product marketing manager, director of strategic marketing for all bipolar products.And again being restless, I was always looking for what the next growth opportunity was.I talked to Tony and said Tony; Iíd really like to manage one of the business units here.And he says but youíre not a manufacturing guy.We only have manufacturing guys running business units.And so he talked to Jerry and they said well, weíll give the kid a chance.And they gave me the job of managing director of the bipolar programmable logic business unit.They had just licensed the PAL Programmable Array Logic technology from MMI.And so I was the first non-marketing managing director with in AMD and set up a business unit to exploit the programmable array logic market.Turned out to be a great opportunity.We did very well.Built a good position in the marketplace initially with second source products and then later with a device called the 22V10 that was very successful in the marketplace and became known as a solid money earner for AMD.

 

RB:†††† You spent a little over ten years at AMD actually?

 

DL:†††† Thatís correct.

 

RB:†††† And so during that time you had plenty of exposure to Jerry who, of course, is a real character and Ė in our industry.So tell us a little bit about Jerry as you saw him, working for Jerry.

 

DL:†††† One of the best things that happened to me, I think, is when Tony Holbrook was promoted to president of the company and I was working for Tony as vice president of business development Ė was I got to see Jerry on a daily basis and see how he worked and his style, yet not have to work directly for him.It could be very painful for some people.Jerry was just a magnificent leader.He was able to motivate people, to challenge people, to Ė found ways to motivate his people to go get done whatever he wanted doing.On the other hand, if you worked directly for him, it could be very, very painful.I saw a lot of people crumble [laughs] under Jerryís tenure.But as a salesman, he was absolutely masterful.His style was flamboyant.He was famous for wearing his green velvet suits into Hughes as a salesman at Fairchild. And he just built on that as he grew the company.I remember stories that I believe he bought himself a house down in Southern California, I believe it was in Malibu.So he likes to spend weekends down at Malibu, weekends and the week Ė during the week at Silicon Valley. And he had a black Bentley, a chauffeur-driven black Bentley that chauffeured him around Silicon Valley.And he had a white Rolls Royce in Southern California and he would explain that so he knew which end of the state he was in when he woke up in the morning, just look at his car.

 

RB:†††† He probably got the Bentley idea from Wilf Corrigan maybe.

 

DL:†††† Probably.

 

RB:†††† What brought you to an end at AMD David, after a decade?

 

DL:†††† Again, it was a time of Ė a second round of startup activities.And the experience I had had in running the programmable logic business for AMD got my name known as understanding how to do marketing in this product area.And there was a company called Altera started up by Rodney Smith who Iíd known as applications engineer at Fairchild.And then four other people including Jim Sansbury and Michael Magranet and Bob Hartmann who all had some background or technology expertise.And their idea was to try to take this new CMOS technology and apply CMOS, which allowed you to build much more dense devices on very much smaller chips to providing a programmable device that the customer could use to create an application specific circuit for use in their system.And so the challenge at Altera was to take CMOS technology, apply it to an existing kind of architecture, programmable array logic, and build a new market based on making much more complex, much lower power devices.And I saw that as a great opportunity in the marketplace.

 

RB:†††† Rodney, of course, was another Brit who made a big impact here in the valley on technology.Unfortunately, heís no longer with us today.But his mark was clearly left by being CEO of Altera forÖ

 

DL:†††† Rodney did a great job. Rodney was a tough guy to work for.[laughs]Did not tolerate fools lightly lightly but he ran a tight ship and ran Ė created a very successful company.And one of the people I got to know really well at Altera was somebody I had known just peripherally at Fairchild was John Duffy.John was the founding marketing and sales vice president at Altera and then as that job grew, Rodney decided to split it into two pieces.I had marketing.John Duffy had sales and so it was a great experience working with John for many years at Altera.

 

RB:†††† Yeah, John was a pleasure to be around.He was at Fairchild, of course.I knew him there.And a real professional sales -

 

DL:†††† I learned a lot from John and enjoyed his company.

 

RB:†††† Yes.So at Altera, you were there for four or five years I believe.

 

DL:†††† Yeah, yeah.The challenge at Altera was persuading engineers to do the job differently.They were used to buying either custom circuits or standard products.And here was a product that sort of was somewhere between the two.It was a standard product you could buy off the shelf.Yet, you could customize it and put it into your system.And these were the very early days of personal computers, PCs.And so one of Alteraís major focuses was coming out with a set of tools that would allow an engineer to program the device on the workbench, rather than having to go out to a custom circuit manufacturer to have it made.It was kind of a new idea and took a lot of education, a lot of sales, a lot of tools, and the idea of getting engineers to use a personal computer on a daily basis in the job was relatively new.And so we spent an incredible amount of time at Altera going around the country giving seminars and presentations and showing people how to do the job.So it was very heavily involved with education and persuading people hey, this new tool can enable you to do a job much more effectively, much more easily and you control your destiny.

 

RB:†††† Yeah, that was, of course, one of the first major product shifts where software became really, really important part of the semiconductor industry rather than just being gates off the shelf in 7400 format.Software now was differentiator for one product line versus another.

 

DL:†††† Thatís right.And that was the challenge.People wanted to buy something standard they could use in every design.And so there were a lot of battles between Altera.And another very successful startup at that time, Xilinx, that had a different kind of solution to providing a programmable unit. And we were head-to-head with Xilinx on many, many design challenges.Where it was high density and lowest cost, Xilinx would win.Where it was high speed and easy to design with Ė Altera would win.

 

RB:†††† And theyíre still resolving that today, 25 years later.

 

DL:†††† [laughs] I think so.Still both extraordinarily successful, very profitable companies.

 

RB:†††† Exactly.Both of them have done with their differences.And todayís itís pretty much a two-man race in that business.

 

DL:†††† I think Altera was about a one or two million dollar company when I joined.I stayed with them for about four years, through the IPO.And I think it was just over $100 million when I left.

 

RB:†††† So after Altera, then you got a nice promotion.

 

DL:†††† Right.Yeah, I Ė at Altera, Rodney was a tough guy to work for.He really was.[laughs]And so when an opportunity came up to see if I could do what he did and not have to live with Rodney every day, I thought Iíd take a chance.And I was approached by Pierre Lamond.Pierre was a very successful venture capitalist, one of the partners in Sequoia Capital along with Don Valentine.And Dave Marquardt was with TVI.And Dave was very successful.He was the only venture capitalist to be allowed to invest money in Microsoft, and Irwin Federman who had previously run MMI, Monolithic Memories, Inc., the inventor of the PAL.And with that crew, in terms of having venture money in this company called QuickLogic (it was called Peer Research at that time.)I decided to give it a shot and took the job as CEO of that company.QuickLogic was founded by three interesting characters is probably the best way to describe them, John Birkner, Andy Chan and H. T. Chua, who had basically invented the programmable logic business.They didnít have the first device.They had the most successful device when they were at MMI.And they spun out and they wanted to do that again with the startup they called Peer Research and I joined them in the role of CEO.Again, an exciting opportunity but I think I misunderstood a little bit about the technology battles that we were going to face in that company. Basically what they required was a custom process.And we had to go out to companies and say okay, weíd like to take your standard MOS prices and weíd like to add a little wrinkle with stuff called amorphous silicon to build some special fuses.And we did manage or the Ė before I joined, they had made an agreement with VLSI Technology to add this special module to their fab process.And bringing up the technology was a challenge so it took us about a year longer than it should have done to bring the product out. And then the product was quite a bit slower than we had expected.The major advantage that we offered was a very high gate count and a relatively high speed. We were putting all of one or two thousand gates on a chip, which programmable logic in those days was a high gate count.Real gate arrays were probably 20, 30,000 gates a chip in those days as I remember.Customers loved the product where it fit.It was easy to use.John Birkner had come up with a great CAD package to enable customers to design with it. But we just did not have a big speed advantage and certainly did not have the cost structure that either Xilinx or Altera could offer.So we won a lot of designs where that little bit of extra speed made a difference.

 

RB:†††† Thatís really interesting because I had a similar experience because I ran an FPGA company called Crosspoint Solutions.Again, a custom process which turned out to be the Achilles Heel.You werenít on the standard industry process so you got left behind and you needed a tweak and a fuse and so on and so forth.And it ended up being the death of that.So -

 

DL:†††† Yeah, the issue was by the time theyíd learned how to make this special process, the base process had moved on to the next generation of lithography.So the speed advantage we had in the old process was not as big as it should have been for that generation.We built an interesting little company at QuickLogic but it got to the point where I looked at the multiples that were being made by startup companies going out and based on the amount of money that had been invested in them, and I could see that with another 20 or $30 million dollars into the company in order to get it to the right sales level and the right profitability level, they would just not be a very good multiple on the investment either for the investors or even for the founders.And I put together a merger deal between QuickLogic and Lattice Semiconductor. The investors would have made a bit of money and the founders would have made a bit of money, but they would not have got really rich off of this.And at the last minute, that fell through for a whole variety of reasons.And at that point, I realized I was the hired gun, the founders were the intellectual property and so we parted ways.They stayed with the company.I brought in a temporary CEO to replace me and I moved on to basically a consulting role for the rest of my career.Turns out that what I didnít bank on was the huge boost in high tech stocks over the next few years after I left.And, in fact, people who invested in QuickLogic actually came out reasonably well.Iíd held some stocks so I did well on that too.But they got a multiple, way, way, way more than ever would have been determined by normal market times.

 

RB:†††† QuickLogic morphed into pretty much a standard product company over time, right?

 

DL:†††† I believe so.I havenít followed them recently.I think they still use some [programmability] there but basically embedded processors and things on their technology I think theyíre into.

 

RB:†††† But in the programmable chip space, history shows that the two leaders have prevailed and nobody else has seriously challenged theÖ

 

DL:†††† Even Actel that was the third chance.We were the fourth after Actel.

 

RB:†††† But again, an antifuse company thatÖ

 

DL:†††† Another antifuse company.

 

RB:†††† The Achilles Heel for the processing.And yeah, absolutely.So after QuickLogic, so now youíre been there, done that and so whatís been going on since QuickLogic in the lastÖ

 

DL:†††† I did two or three years of consulting, and was eventually named CEO at IMP, International Microelectronic Products.And I ended up there because them because they had an interesting idea to do a programmable analog device, programmable operational amplifiers and things.I thought well, thatís an intriguing tweak on the programmable theme.It was great product.People loved it but you could probably do the same thing with an opamp and a couple resistors for about a fraction of the price of a programmable version.So it never really did take off.After the CEO left,they asked me if I would look after the company for a while.Basically IMP was a foundry company with an old process.So we were doing specialty foundry for quite a few people in the valley.Biggest customer was analog company up in Folsom, Level One.Bob Pepper ran it.Eventually it was bought by Intel. They built special purpose telecommunication circuits.[IMP also] did quite a few circuits for disk drive companies.But not being able to invest in improved technology meant that that company was not going to be around for a long time.And after two or three years of doing that, and I was doing some other consulting business on the side, it was bought by a group of Indian investors.And eventually it basically went bankrupt and out of business.

 

RB:†††† So after thirty odd years in the semiconductor industry then, David, you didnít feel like starting yet another semiconductor company?

 

DL:†††† Right.

 

RB:†††† So what caught your eye after you sort of turned your back on the semiconductor industry fulltime?

 

DL:†††† I had always enjoyed writing and traveling as a marketing person in semiconductors, which I did a lot.And ended up doing some travel writing. I wrote quite a few articles for the San Francisco Examineron basically traveling California and got involved back again with my Steinbeck roots that originally introduced me to California.And I did a little Ė couple of articles on Salinas and the place where Steinbeck grew up.And I was invited to go back to the hundredth anniversary celebrations of Steinbeck that was held at Hofstra in Ė Hofstra University and had to give a presentation on what modern day Steinbeck country looked like to people that might never have been there.And I made this presentation and a bunch of people came up afterwards, Iíd made some PowerPoint slides, and said could I have copies of your photographs?This was the very early days of digital cameras and Iíd taken them on a little Ė two megapixel camera.You can blow that, at 300 dots per inch, up to four inches by five inches. I knew no oneís going to want to buy a four or five inch size photograph.So I came up with a booklet format that could use a lot of small-sized pictures. Did a self-publishing job on that using a PC and the digital camera, sent it down to the Steinbeck Center and it sold very well.I sold about 10,000 of these little books that I I published myself Ė printed locally and so built knowledge as being a Steinbeck travel expert, not a Steinbeck academic expert.And that led into a few other writing jobs.I did a similar book on Silicon Valley that sold very well for the Computer History Museum.And then one on California gardens.Again, self-published selling in the thousands, not tens of thousands.But enough to keep me involved and busy.And nowadays, Iíve taken the Ė basically all the work that I put into those and transferred those into the app format.So I have all three books now on a iPhone app, iPad app, learning again about the new marketing tasks that the entrepreneur has to do to sell digital, electronic publications.I got heavily involved with the Peninsula Open Space Trust, a private organization that collected funds and started buying up properties on the San Mateo coast to protect them from development.POST eventually grew into one of the biggest land trust organizations in the country, very successful.Run by Audrey Rust who did a magnificent job of raising money and basically protecting a lot of the land around Silicon Valley, that otherwise would have been developed, for future generations to enjoy..

 

RB:†††† Most of the, I say most, many of the people watching this video will be familiar with the Computer History Museum here in Silicon Valley which, of course, started off as an assembly point for computers.Very large chunks of metal from the fifties, sixties and seventies, all assembled in one big hangar.Now, of course, all of these computers were dependent on semiconductors.And I know youíve been very active in ensuring that the semiconductor component, if you will, of the Computer History Museum gets a higher profile.So tell us a little bit about that.

 

DL:†††† My youngest son and I went back to the East Coast to Boston.We were looking for some schools for him around high school time.And I said well weíve got a few hours to spare here in Boston, why donít we go to the Computer Museum that Iíd heard was on the wharf in Boston, been started by a guy called Gordon Bell and his wife in the lobby of Digital Equipment Corporation, Marlboro, Massachusetts and they had moved it to a more public space several years before.And somebody told me where it was and we wandered down there and it was one of these big old brick warehouses on the waterfront.And it was dark and it was quiet.The doors were closed.I said well, where had it gone?And somebody said well we think itís transferred to the Cambridge Science Museum.So Mark and I went over to the Cambridge Science Museum and they said well, no, weíve got a few of the pieces that kids like to play on computer wise.But all the good stuff went back to the West Coast.We think itís somewhere in Palo Alto.So, in fact, it turns out that when I got back to this area, I hunted down this computer museum.It was called The Computer Museum History Center in those days I think.And they had all these old computers crammed into a warehouse on Moffett Field with plans to build a museum on the Moffett Field site in cooperation with the UC Santa Cruz.Looking around there, I stumbled across this big iron framed thing with a big Fairchild logo across it. It turned out to be one of the projects Iíd worked on when I was at Fairchild.As I mentioned earlier, one of the areas I worked in at Fairchild in marketing was the bipolar memory group.And about 1971 or so, I got a call from Rex Rice.Rex was running the R&D group at Fairchild, the digital systems portion of R&D in Palo Alto and he said weíre making a bid on a semiconductor memory project for one of the Burroughs machines back on the East Coast.It was supposed to use a plated wire memory but theyíre not fast enough and so we have this 256 bit, if you can imagine a 256 bit memory chip and weíre going to try to build a memory out of this, in order to save the project for Burroughs and I need some help writing the proposal.Can you do that?So I didnít do much than correct his punctuation and make it a bit more flowery at the front end.But lo and behold, Fairchild did win this award.And, built what was the probably the first commercial semiconductor memory system, 131,000 bits I think it was [laughs] of high speed, bipolar memory that went into the Illiac IV computer was the machine that it was destined for.And so when I walked into the Computer History Museum Center there in the warehouse, there was this box that I had helped bring to life back in those days.Thought this is intriguing.Iíll get more involved with this outfit and I signed up as a docent.And the job with a docent was to go and explain why these pieces of equipment were important and what roles they played in computer history.I had a lot of fun learning about all these other aspects of how computers really worked.I never really did know.I knew how chips worked but I didnít know too much about computer architecture.Did that for a couple of years.And the PR person at the museum left and they said well you know a bit about PR, could you come and help us do this?Said well, Iíll do that.I need to get paid a little bit of money if Iím going to spend a lot more time in the museum.Docents are obviously unpaid.So I went in and for about four months did the PR job at the museum for the Computer History Museum, which by this time had moved into a very fine building on Shoreline Drive in Mountain View, the former international sales headquarters of Silicon Graphics.Gorgeous high tech, very modern looking building.The museum didnít have a lot of money to spend on exhibits at that point in time.Basically had the computers spread around with nice labels and smart docents to introduce customers to it.So I did that for them for several months.And they hired a fulltime PR person so I backed off that.They said weíre trying to start a semiconductor special interest group here in order to involve people in Silicon Valley with helping us develop the expertise and the exhibits that will appropriately reflect the history of Silicon Valley.So I again took Ė I think it was kind of a two-day a week job as Staff Director for the Semiconductor Special Interest Group. It was getting people who were involved in the semiconductor industry to spend a bit of time at the museum helping us build a collection.And I did that for three or four years.The latest incumbent of that job is Doug Fairbairn.Doug who we mentioned earlier, Doug was one of the founders of VLSI and is doing a great job of expanding the work that I started.But I remained involved with the museum and eventually became a part-time semiconductor curator.So my job is to help them decide which chips, which individuals, which technologies are important in order to record the history of semiconductors in computers, in general, and specifically, my person interest, the history of Silicon Valley.(talking at same time)

 

RB:†††† Last time I was at the museum which was fairly recently, the semiconductor display now is really impressive.And so I think your early work there is very well recognized.And Doug, of course, is well qualified to continue that on.So -

 

DL:†††† Yeah.It was a lot of fun.The challenge is how do you take something thatís microscopic and stand it next to a giant Illiac machine and make it equally interesting to the people.And obviously the thing that makes chips interesting are the people, the stories and the people that made them possible and the challenges they faced and overcome. And quite often, the most interesting stories are the ones that didnít make it.The ones that arenít well recorded.

 

RB:†††† And, of course, most recently some of the interesting discussion is around the original shop, the labs in Mountain View that some of the archives of that will end up at the Computer History Museum which will be really nice.So thatís really interesting.

 

DL:†††† Shockley was the forerunner of Fairchild.The eight founders of Fairchild all came out of Shockley in 1957 and started Fairchild.And so recording the history of Fairchild has been a big favorite of mine, in terms of trying to get stories.Iíve done oral histories of a number of Fairchild pioneers, most notably the group of four people who donít get a lot of recognition for building the first integrated circuit at Fairchild, Jay Last, Lionel Kattner, Bob Norman and Isy Haas who took Bob Noyceís concept and went through the challenges of making it real.A year of struggling without any real tools.And they didnít have computers to help design integrated circuits.The best tool they had was a slide rule.But even when I joined Fairchild in í68, there were very little tools available.I do remember when we were doing forecasts that I believe the digital marketing department had a calculator.And there were 20 of us had to have access to this calculator to do the monthly forecast.And the lower you were on the totem pole, the worst time you got.And I seem to remember one Wednesday morning being in at 4:00 because thatís when [laughs] it was my turn to use the calculator to do the forecast.But the Ė probably the biggest or most important artifact that we have managed to collect recently at the museum has been something like 1,334 notebooks that were the patent and engineering notebooks of the founders of Fairchild that were kept by the legal department after the engineers moved onto other jobs.So from about 1957 through the mid-80s, they amassed this huge trove of engineering notebooks. They are essentially the founding documents of Silicon Valley.

 

RB:†††† They were ultimately bequeathed by Texas Instruments.

 

DL:†††† Thatís right.

 

RB:†††† I understand, which is, of course, really nice.

 

DL:†††† Right.When National Semiconductor purchased Fairchild, they acquired all these notebooks.They knew they shouldnít destroy them but nor did they want to make them public because lawyers see no benefit in exhibiting anything that can possibly lead to lawsuits or anything else.So they sat in the archives at National until after Texas Instruments purchased National about three years go.And TI eventually decided that they really didnít need these anymore.And so we got them at the museum the middle 2012.And weíre now in the process of documenting what we have, restoring some of the most notable books and trying to raise money in order to make them electronically available to the public.So one of my tasks was to go through these notebooks and select the 200 most important and write up an abstract of each one, tell whatís in there and write a short bio on the authors.And we managed to raise some money from a very good friend of mine, Paul Newhagen, who was one of the founders of Altera, to support some of this early work.I wasnít going to read 1,334 engineering notebooks, handwritten, 120 Ė 152 pages each, which is over 20,000 pages to decide what was important.I came up with an algorithm that allowed me to figure out which authors were the most important, the ones who had written the most papers, the ones who had got the most patents, the ones who were notorious for starting companies and narrowed that down to about 200.I finished that project about two months ago. So now there is public information on a couple a hundred of the most important books.And they really are a fascinating set of stories.

 

RB:†††† I think thatís really a milestone, David, in the semiconductor industry that A) that all of that material has not been lost.And secondly, itís been, you know, compiled into a format that will be publicly available with modern tools.I think thatís a great accomplishment.So very interesting.

 

DL:†††† We get a lot of opportunities like that.Got an email out of the blue last week from a gentleman on the East Coast, his dad had just died and I had interviewed his dad at the museum so thatís how he knew my name.And heís got 50 bankerís boxes full of stuff there.Do you want it?So the challenge is to go triage that and decide what is worth keeping, what is not.But thatís 30 yearsí worth of history at Bell Lab that if the son wasnít smart enough to look at this and say this might be valuable, would be lost to posterity.I donít know whatís in there yet.But we are sending someone to find out.

 

RB:†††† Thatís really good.So looking back, David, after, you know, this really interesting career and moving halfway around the world, did you enjoy it?What would you do differently?Would you do it again?

 

DL:†††† Would I do it again?[laughs] They were wonderful times, Bob, they really were.The timing was just absolutely incredible.When you and I both came to the valley, everything was Ė you could get your hands around Ė things werenít so complicated that you couldnít understand what all the issues were, what the technologies were, what people it took to do it.Iím not sure Iíd want to do it again today in the present market but I would certainly choose to do that again.And it was as much luck and Ė the combination of luck and judgment, being in the right place at the right time with the Ė having gathered the right skill set at school and focused on the right areas.Yeah, it was a great time.Just seeing the industry go from being able to put five or six transistors on a chip back in the early sixties to daily putting two billion transistors on a microprocessor chip today and the changes thatís wrought both in the valley for good and ill and throughout the world, in terms of the way we work, the way we interface. Iím thrilled to have been part of that era.

 

RB:†††† So what are you going to do for the next few years?

 

DL:†††† I always manage to keep busy.[laughs]Interesting little project right now involves the beginnings of the PC operating system business.It is not widely known that it all happened in a little Victorian house in downtown Pacific Grove. 801 Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove was the headquarters of Ė Intergalatic Digital Research Inc. where Gary Kildall came up with the idea of the BIOS and the CP/M operating system for personal computers. Employed 200 people in downtown PG in the 1970s.Gary, of course, was aced by Bill Gates.Bill did a deal with IBM to get DOS that was essentially a clone of CP/M into the IBM PC, and built Microsoft on that program.Gary thought he had a deal with IBM but what he didnít know was that IBM were going to price Bill Gatesí DOS at $70 and CPM at $250 and guess which operating system won.But if Kildall hadnít invented that and Gates didnít manage to get a clone of it from Seattle Computer, Kildall might have been in the role that Gates is in.

 

RB:†††† So Pacific Grove potentially has another Shockley Lab story.

 

DL:†††† We have a Shockley lab story there and my task right now is to work with the city of Pacific Grove to put a plaque in front of that building.And now Iím understanding all the intricacies of working with public bodies in getting plaques in place.Theyíre very supportive. They want to do as next year is the fortieth anniversary of CP/M.Iím determined to see that plaque in place for that.[laughs]

 

RB:†††† Thatís great.

 

DL:†††† Iím also working with the Big Sur Land Trust transferring my allegiance from POST down to the Big Sur area.A friend of mine who used to run one of the POST units is now working with the Big Sur Land Trust.So heís scaling the cliffs in Big Sur, spraying their pampas grass probably one day too.

 

RB:†††† Okay.Well David, thank you very much.This has been really, really interesting.And youíve had a fascinating career and hopefully that will be memorialized here in this video on the Stanford archives.So thank you very much for attending and we appreciate your time.

 

DL:†††† Thank you for the opportunity Bob.

 

RB:†††† Thank you.

 

DL:†††† I enjoyed doing it.