Early Silicon valley Days

Nov 20, 2016

After being laid off from RCA Computer Systems, I moved from West Palm Beach, Florida to Sunnyvale in Northern California in December of 1971. I had a job with Singer-Links. I also had a job from Scientific Data Systems (SDS), later to become Xerox Data Systems, in El Segundo in Southern California. But I liked Northern California better for some reason.

Singer was doing Flight Simulators. Flight Simulators were transforming from analog machines to digital machines and I was one of the first digital engineers hired by Singer. I went to do flight simulators for various Navy and Air Force planes; among them were E2C , F4, F111, C130 and B52 bomber.

The area that came to be known later as Silicon Valley was still called Santa Clara Valley. It was full of fruit and flower orchards, and not yet the sprawl it has since become. Intel, National and AMD were start ups. New Semiconductor start-ups were sprouting up on a daily basis. Signetics, Intersil, MMI ; just to name a few were founded after i got here. Valley did have established companies; IBM, HP, Lockheed, Philco Ford, Memorex and Kaiser Electronics come to mind. IBM Compatible companies were sprouting also. Amdahl  was started by the Gene Amdahl, who was the architect of IBM 360 and IBM 370 mainframes. Name Silicon valley was first used around 1974 in gossip rag ( a paper version of a modern day blog)  that used to circulate weekly. I can’t recall the person’s name who published it, he sure used to have juicy gossip about who is moving from where to where and who is doing what to whom.

Having being laid off a couple of times, I was anxious to focus on stability and growth. I was determined never to be laid off ever again, or at least not be blind sided by it. I always had my resume ready and was applying for jobs all over all the time. I interviewed just about every company there was in computer business. It was several years before I was confident enough to stop doing that. I did keep up with continuing education by taking early bird courses offered for working professionals in systems, software, business and law at Santa Clara University.

I had taken to Silicon Valley like fish takes to water. It was pure nerdy environment. I also had become and took the look of a proper nerd, with plastic pocket protector and all. I started to shine at my job very quickly . My job designation was  ” Logic Designer”, a new field which was different from “Circuit Designer”. When I started doing logic design, the building blocks were very basic. “And”. “Or” and “Not” gates and single flip flops. We did not have to use even more basic components like transistors. We built massive systems, using tens of thousands gates and flip flops and hundreds of boards. It was all done using paper and pencil and drafting table. All engineers had drafting table in their offices.

Having been gone from India six years, I and Ann took our first vacation to India in November of 1973. It was a great family reunion. I had left as a 22 year old and came back as 28 year old married man. I had totally lost touch as the news from India was sparse. India had become very cynical country since I had left. My family, especially my father took an immediate liking to Ann. Right after I came back, news came that my father passed away. It was hard on me as I could not afford to go back.

Suffice it to say I excelled at what I did at my job. I got couple of patents and was promoted frequently to become a senior staff engineer, the highest rung on the technical ladder, in about half a dozen years. The things couldn’t be better positioned on the professional front. On personal front, I and Ann also settled down nicely. Bought our first house in San Jose. Raj-Ann came along in 1976 and Ben in 1979. We were enjoying upper middle class life. I also became a US Citizen on 1975. I sponsored my brother Bobby for green card and he came over on less than six months in 1976. I eventually sponsored all my brothers and sisters even though they had no immediate plans to come US. It came in handy later as they got their approvals before the the changes in the law.

I went back to India again after six more years in 1979, this time with Ann, Raj-Ann and Ben. It was hard as it was post emergency India. Janata Party government was in power and it was tottering. “Indira in India and India is Indira” slogans were still on walls all over. I had to go back for my sisters wedding in 1980. This time I returned with my brother Upi. So slowly family was starting to migrate to US. All my 5 brothers and only sister, even my mother, eventually emigrated from India. Last of my brother Tony came in 1991. We are an extended family of 38 people in SV now.

By 1980, every thing was going rosy for me until I realized that life had been passing me by. I was about 35 and was becoming a lifer at a defense contractor. It was considered an ultimate sin in the valley. I had reached the highest rung of technical ladder and had no prospect of getting on the managerial ladder. Companies like Apple, Atari and had started. I was feeling left behind. Then I was totally destabilized as a person after I read in the papers that one of my underling, David Jackson who had quit a couple of years earlier, ha d started a computer  company. I could not bear the thought of being an employee when David had become an entrepreneur. I had to get back to the commercial world.

I quit my job at Singer but soon discovered that I was not seen as a star I thought I was. Defense contractors were looked down upon by commercial companies. I had to take a big pay cut to get a job at Zilog. It was not that long before I rose to the top again at Zilog.

By late 1981 I was ready to try my hand on my own. IBM PC had been introduced  and the world had changed. There were a plethora of computers out there and I felt some body is going to have to connect them. Digital, Intel and Xerox jointly announced a protocol for networking called Ethernet and also announced that they will have chips ready in about 3 years. I saw my opening as I did not have to wait for the Ethernet chips. Being a hardware  wizard I felt I could implement the protocols using off the shelf available chips.

Thus Excelan was born in early 1982.