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.

 

 

Western Drive of 1995

Sep 2, 2016

San Jose, CA to Arches National Park Visitor Center & Park Headquarters - Google MapsArches National Park Visitor Center & Park Headquarters to San Jose, CA - Google Maps Ben at Promonotary PointRaj-Ann at Promonotaery Point UtahCharu and Jyoti at Promonotaery PointNavneeta, Simmi, Ruby and Raj-Ann at Jackson Hole WyomingCharu, Navneeta and Kanwal at Grand TetonEnterring Yellowstone Waiting for Old Faithful Old Faithful erupting Buffalo Yellowstone Gang at YellowstoneBen at Devil Tower in Wyoming Mt. Rushmore Crazy HorseCalamity Jane and Wild Bill Hicock graves in Deadwood Deadwood Downtown Wooly Mammoth Pit Mammoth Site in WyomingRocky Mountain National Park Grand Junction Colorado Colorado National MonumentDelicate Arch at Arches National Park Utah Arches National Park Utah Bryce National Park Bryce National Park 1Grand Canyon Grand Canyon from air Essential Ben at Hiking Grand Mark getting ready for Grand Canyon Hike Randeepgetting ready for Grand Canyon Hike Hiking Grand Canyon 1Hoover Dam State Line Upi and Pinki joined us in Las Vegas At Excalibur Las VegasUniversal Studios In Hollywood Our Van

 

In the summer of 1995 I rented a 16 passenger Ford Van took 8 kids and two adults on a 30 day, 6000 mile western drive that spanned  ten states. This trip pre-dated smart phones, GPS and Google maps. I and my daughter meticulously planned the trip using Delorme Software package on a PC. Software not only helped as plan the route, it also helped us make the reservations at Best Western Inns along the route. Software also highlighted all the sites worth seeing  within a 20 miles of our main route.

Kids included  Raj-Ann, Ben, Charu, Jyoti, Arpit, Randeep, Simmi, and Navneeta (all cousins). They had to be over 9 years of age and had to be able to take care of themselves. My sister Ruby and my brother in law Mark Holt joined on this epic tour. Each person was allowed one duffel bag as every thing had to fit in the van and we planned to do laundry at least every third day.

We traveled through California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado and Arizona; in case of Nevada and Wyoming we were in and out a couple of times.  We saw great Salt Flats, great Salt Lake,  Sundance , The Mormon Temple in salt Lake City; the Promontory point where the Pacific Central and Union Central railroads joined each other in 1868;   National Parks or National Monuments visited included : Grand Tetons, Yellow Stone, Devils Tower, Mt. Rushmore, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado national Monument, Arches National Park, Bryce canyon, Zion National Park, CanyonLands and Grand Canyon.  We stopped in the Old West town of Deadwood,  where Wild Bill Hickok and Annie Oakley are buried.  Wooley Mammoth Pit in Wyoming where hundreds of mammoths were trapped and buried in a  land slide was one of the many interesting side tours.  Visiting Crazy Horse monument was another one.We visited Hoover Dam, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Hollywood, Universal studios and Hearst Castle. We traveled on the storied Route 66. On average we drove only 200 miles a day and made numerous side trips  to take in local sites. We visited, Winnemucca Nevada; Salt Lake City, Provo and Ogden Utah; Jackson Hole, Sheridan and Cheyenne Wyoming; Rapid City South Dakota; Sidney Nebraska; Denver, Vail and Grand Junction Colorado; Los Angeles, Hollywood, Santa Monica and San Simeon California.

I have included maps of the trips in the photos. It was a fun filled trip with Yellow Stone and Grand Canyon without the doubt being the highlights of the trip. Trip was run with a military precision and went without a hitch for the most part. It has been 21 years since the tripand kids still talk about it from time to time.

B52 Bomber mission

Aug 1, 2016

I flew a 9 hour training mission on B52 Bomber (https://www.wired.com/2016/04/gods-green-earth-b-52-still-service/) in July of 1976 from Fairchild Air Force Base ( http://www.fairchild.af.mil/ ) in Spokane Washington. I was a system engineer at Singer-Link, which was designing a flight simulator for B52 (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/06/us/b-52s-us-air-force-bombers.html?_r=0) at the time. The flight was a part of our introduction to the plane. B52 was already in service for 24 years at the time. It is still flying with USAF.

B52 was a part of the nuclear triad that included nuclear submarines and ICBMs that US had as a nuclear deterrent. It was designed to be a high altitude, long range bomber and with aerial refueling could stay airborne for very long times. It is powered by 8 jet engines and is massive in size and carries a very large payload. During the Vietnam war, which had just ended, it would fly from Guam for bombing runs over Vietnam. It carries two set of crews; one doing the actual flying and the other resting. Plane had three stations: pilot and co-pilot, a down stairs station for the radar and fire control and a third station in the back for a gunner. Gunner station is not accessible to the pilot during the flight.

It does not have any creature comforts at all. I rode in the radar station and was seated on what essentially was a wooden stool for the whole mission. It was freezing cold as it was the lowest point in the plane. AC intake was next to my feet and it blew very cold air up my legs. Incidentally, men’s urinal tube was next to my left year.

We flew all over western United States. We went south to Nevada Firing range and made several practice bombing runs. We were refueled in the air. After 9 hours of very uncomfortable flying we returned back to the base. Since plane had been refueled, it still had plenty of fuel. Pilot decided to do ‘touch and go’ runs. Pilots have to do a certain number of landings and take offs to stay current on the plane. After several of these, I finally had to pull my plastic bag as I could not handle it any more. This flight is probably one of the most uncomfortable thing I have done in my life.

During my Singer-Link days I had ‘secret’ security clearance and was a part of teams that designed many Air Force and Navy simulators, including E2C, F4 Phantom, F111, C130, EA6B and Tornado. I flew on several different planes during those years.

I finally left Link in 1979 after 9 years. I was itching to get in to commercial world. Silicon Valley was already a hot bed of entrepreneurship and I felt stifled working for a defense contractor which was totally decoupled from its surroundings. I had become a master of hardware design but I was not sure I would fit in the commercial world. We already had microprocessors (8080 and Z80) by then. I had no experience with them as we were only allowed to used mil-standard parts which were always a few years behind.

It took me no time to find my footing in the commercial world. By the end of 1981 I was itching to try my luck in the start-up world. I along with two friends launched Excelan as networking pioneer in the spring of 1982.

Ray Noorda

Jun 13, 2016

Noorda and Novell Ray NoordaIMG_2431

 

 

Ray Noorda was the CEO of Novell. He had bought in to failing Novell Data System and had turned it around. He ditched all the proprietary hardware and software and focused on Network Operating System software and  file server software on standard PC hardware.  He shipped complete systems by OEMing hardware for servers and NIC (network boards) from third parties. Under his leadership Novell grew rapidly and emerged as the market leader.

Starting at roughly the same point in 1984, Novell by 1989 had gone three times as far as Excelan as far as revenue was concerned. It was even farther ahead in profits. Even though, I was very proud of what we had achieved at Excelan, it all paled when compared to Novel. This was very educational for me as I was very contemptuous of Novell’ low spending on R & D, only 3% of the revenue; Excelan was spending almost 20% on R & D. Excelan was very proud of its technology prowess. Excelan could network PCs, both Apple and IBM variety to UNIX machines of all types; it could also connect them to DEC mini-computers and IBM mainframes. All this using industry standards of TCP and Ethernet. Excelan was seen by its customers as a savior as they had been buying all sorts of computers for various jobs. Novel, however, was a big innovator in Sales and Marketing. Novell practically invented the tiered VAR channel (Authorized, Gold and Platinum). It developed a third party product certification program (Novell Labs); it developed an education program to train and certify Network Engineers (CNEs); it had its own trade show (Network World) and its own trade magazine (LAN Times). Novell did not give a damn about standards; it just focused on file sharing between the IBM PCs using a file servers using a proprietary protocols. As PC’s sales soared, so did the sales of NetWare.

Novell acquired Excelan in 1989. After the merger I joined Novell board and worked as EVP of Novell and its CTO. Right after the merger, Novell decided to get out of the hardware business all together. With a big infusion of technology from Excelan, Novell very quickly was able to position itself as an enterprise networking solution with its Netware 3.11; which provided file sharing between PCs, Mackintoshes, UNIX machines, DEC minicomputers and IBM mainframes. This was Nirvana for enterprises. By 1991, Novell sales, profits and stock prices were skyrocketing. Novell stock grew 10 fold in two years. Excelan shareholders and employees had done well. Merger was seen as made in heaven for them and I was seen as a genius by one and all.

I championed acquisition of UNIX from ATT and to sell binaries on the Standard hardware through Novell channels. Novell did acquire UNIX but company had always seen UNIX as an enemy. Even when it owned UNIX, it was not able to overcome its visceral hatred of the UNIX as UNIX effort was not Utah based. Ray was of two mind, he liked the idea of UNIX being commodotized but bowed to his NetWare troops.

At this juncture Novell toyed with an idea of merger with Microsoft. Several meetings took place and a deal was agreed to also. Microsoft’s acquisition of Fox-Pro database without talking to Ray first put a kibash to it. Ray had always hated Bill Gates; used to call him Pearly Gates. But after merger was called off, this hatred only grew. Ray acquired DR DOS to go after DOS franchise, just when Microsoft was successfully transitioning to Windows. He also tried to merge with Lotus; acquired; Wordperfect and Quatropro from Borland to come up with alternate bundle to Microsoft’s Office. All this defocused Novell, which had done well being being a tightly focused company.

Meanwhile NetWare team decided to upgrade to NetWare 4 without being backward compatible and without offering the broad connectivity that NetWare 3.11 had offered. NetWare 4 was a big flop. Novell went into a steady decline. It hired Bob Frankenberg from HP as its new CEO to replace Noorda. Bob was not up to the job. I left soon after that.

At the time of merger discussions Novell’s market capitalization was about $12 billion as against Microsoft’s $20 billion. Three years later, Novell’s market capitalization was about $2 billion, roughly the same as cash on its balance sheet. Microsoft’s had soared to $600 billion. Ray Noorda had in fact destroyed Novell by going after Microsoft for no good business reasons.

I learnt many lessons during my six years at Novell. First and foremost was about the value of focus, especially in R & D. My 20% investment in R & D exposed the weakness; Excelan was getting only $5 of revenue for every dollar it put in to R &D. A whole lot of unproductive engineering effort! Novell was getting $33 for every dollar it put in R & D. Second lesson was that a business is never too big to fail. A CEO with two minds sends very destructive messages to the organization as it starts an internal war.

Ray Noorda was a brilliant but a flawed man. He was seen by his Utah minions as a traitor for expanding out of Utah and buying UNIX and rest of us saw him way over his head when it really mattered.