I like puppies, kittens and long walks on… Oops! Sorry. Different community…
I have loved the future ever since the launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth, which was launched by the Soviet Union on 4 October 1957. I was eleven years old. One day in my life the world was as it had always been for billions of years, the next day we were in the space age.
I lucked into a sixth grade science class where the class built a Jacob’s Ladder and a Tesla coil and we wound our own individual motors and generators. I was hooked. I got a ham license at age thirteen and started building my own equipment.
I (and many classmates) joined the Navy (and other services) eight months after the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, the very brink of all out nuclear war. When Star Trek TOS first aired I was in (1966) Vietnam, but saw most episodes as they first aired after I got back. The last two years of my hitch were at the Naval Electronics Lab Center (NELC) as an engineering tech/Navy comm expert with the team developing the first shipboard satellite terminal for the first ever tactical satellite. The first Navy weather satellite down link development happened next door. Our team was called to field test sat com for the Apollo 9, 10 and 11 recovery teams… and my equipment worked all the rest of Apollo missions. I’ve touch an object that had been in space, had my head inside the smelly 9 capsule and then saluted, met and shook hands with astronauts McDivitt, Scott and Schweickart. WOW!
Shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that I saw the movie 2001 five times upon its release and I was probably within the first dozen or so of people to enter the theater to see the first showing of Star Wars on its release day in San Jose. Nearly my whole department played hooky from work that day and stood in line with me.
My career field was pretty much decided before I had a chance to choose. I returned home to Silicon Valley and went to work in the semiconductor industry at Fairchild. There I got my first minicomputer and learned to program machine binary code. Then one magical day assembly language parted the clouds and descended in a beam of light to land on my desk in the form of a yellow roll of punched paper tape! My semiconductor work was with bipolar memories. I developed the very first automatic PROM programmer/duplicator. My first job in hard disk drives was with Ampex in 1975 making 14-inch disk pack drives the size of washing machines for mainframe storage. I also got to play with IBM’s mainframe. The penultimate HDD job in the late 1990s was writing all the company’s factory test software to manufacture, test and ship 1.8-inch drives for laptop PCMCIA slots. Of all my HDD work, developing servowriters was my favorite. My resume is on LinkedIn, just to say, “I was there.” I have been extremely lucky with a career doing what I loved and loving what I did.
The technology locus of my career started with analog vacuum tube systems. RTL logic was my first exposure to digital design quickly followed by DTL logic. When TTL came on the scene, I was rearing to go. My first microprocessor project used Intel’s 8008 followed by the 8080, 6502 and the 6800 series chips. LSI and SMT technologies were coming on strong when I retired in 1998 due to health reasons.
After learning assembly code I learned BASIC, Fortran, Forth, Prolog, Lisp and a few other languages. I found the K&R C language, my fave, just before ANSI took over C development. Then I learned C++ when it was released, SmallTalk and Java came next. Coding was always an adjunct to my hardware work until I realized that as a software eng I didn’t need to select, order or stuff parts.
Engineering is the coolest occupation ever. I used to joke that engineers are the modern wizards: Instead of cloaks, we wear lab coats. Where once we had magic wands, we now wield scope probes. Rather than chanting obscure incantations we now write code. My professional motto is,
“Engineering Turns Science Into Art.”
So, there is the broad sweep of my career. I hope this was appropriate here. I was quite lucky. Too bad personal lives don’t go as smoothly, haha.
I have had the good fortune to work with some of the brightest people on earth gathering near my home. I feel flattered they let me play with them. The tech industry back then was the genuine united nations. Every gender, nationality, race, religion, education… every human modulation was represented by those with the drive to relocate from all over the planet to my backyard and become the change agents that made modernity… for good and ill. Wells Face Fargo Book aside (greed is eternal) the problems we see today will be solved tomorrow and those solutions will cause their own problems for the next generation. That is progress.
This technical future turned out so very cool. I like what you are doing with it. If we can say my generation established the digital foundations, what you all have done with it thrills me… Best of all, I am thankful for the opportunity to ride along with the greatest revolution in the history.
That being said, I’ve been out of the business for nearly twenty years… out of touch, mostly. That makes this community so important.