Thursday, December 15, 2016

Roy Clay with Dave Packard

One of the curious things about HP's entry into computing is that neither of the founders seemed particularly stimulated about being in that business.  It was the fastest growing, most 'high tech' of the businesses emerging after World War II, but HP assiduously avoided joining the fray.  It wasn't for lack of talent.  Doug Engelbart hired into HP in 1957, only to discover that Hewlett in particular and Barney Oliver (running HP Labs) weren't interested.  He quit the next day, and found work at what became SRI, where he pioneered much of the modern PC world, starting with the mouse and networks.

They nearly let Kay Magleby go, but by defining the first HP computer as an Instrument controller, Packard was appeased enough to let the project proceed.  Clay would run afoul of Hewlett on several occasions, one being Clay's penchant for playing early morning golf before coming to work.  As Clay told us two days ago, he liked a 6:00 or 6:30 am starting time, which allowed finishing by 9:30 or so, and getting to work by noon.  Hewlett was incensed when he learned from son Jim what they were doing.  Jimm working for Clay,  also liked golf as it turned out.   Vindication for Clay and his team came when one night about ten pm Hewlett's home machine failed, and they answered his call to the plant since they were still working.

Magleby and Clay would go on to hire Jimmy Treybig, Jim Kasson, Mike Green and others who later formed the Tandem founding team when Hewlett got nervous and cancelled the Holiday Inn order because it was "too much business and not enough scientific"

Top managers for the computer group at HP were on a merry-go-round.  First Bob Grimm, then  Jack Melchor, then Tom Perkins, then Clay on an interim basis awaiting George Newman, followed by Carl Cottrell and Bill Terry before Paul Ely--eight GMs in five years, a worse record than HP CEOs since Carly.   Magleby gave up when Perkins was hired; Clay gave up when Newman was hired.  Perkins started a fabulous VC firm when he left, and promptly hired all of Clay's team, using Clay as an advisor.  

Packard was away at the Defense department for President Nixon; when he returned,  he asked Clay to return to HP "to get us out of computing altogether"--this mere months before the disastrous HP 3000 introduction in autumn 1972.  When Clay refused, Packard wouldn't talk to him for five years.  And then Paul Ely proved to be the right selection, and the rest, as they say, is history.

No wonder these names aren't enshrined--HP for several years was just 'not sure' whether this was a good idea.  And the cultural clash was profound as well.  Years later, both Hewlett and Packard would agree that actually they were timid, to say the least--Packard volunteering, "Well, we didn't really louse it up too badly."  Small solace for those who worked so hard to make HP successful in this game.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Interview with Roy Clay

Roy Clay, one of HP's unsung heroes,was beaming yesterday afternoon when I walked in.  He lives in Montclair, CA up above the Oakland Hills looking out across San Francisco Bay.  It's a pleasant modest home, up a winding curvy road that would be envied in Monaco.  He was seated in a wheelchair--at 88, he told me he was 'glad to be here,' that he felt a couple of years ago that he might not be.

The smile was the same as always; his shy but clear eyes and soft voice belied his strong handshake.  We'd last met a few years ago--maybe twelve--when Ray Price and I were doing research for our book, The HP Phenomenon.  Which, by the way, is still selling, and seems to have gotten a bit of rejuvenation with the new publishing of Robert Burgelman, Webb McKinney and Phil Meza's book about HP CEOs, Becoming Hewlett-Packard.  

For that interview in 2004,we did not have the benefit of much background material on Roy, but the past decade has been good for getting his legacy more firmly grounded.   And this time, with the enthusiastic support of Gardner Hendrie, a long-time Computer History Museum (CHM) devotee and the inventor of the first 16-bit minicomputer in the world (HP's was second), we managed to get a video crew into Clay's home to record his recollection of some of the tumultuous times and innovations that he experienced.

Clay was granted an op-ed piece in the San Jose Mercury-News in 2014, speaking to the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.  Headline: "It could have been me!"  Clay indeed was arrested, handcuffed, and hauled out of town when a teen-ager just after World War II--fearing for his life.  A few years later, he was the first African-American (not called that, then) to graduate from St. Louis University, in mathematics.  He eventually found work at the fabled Lawrence Radiation (Livermore) Labs, but in the 1950s, blacks weren't allowed to buy a home in the Livermore Valley, so he commuted from San Francisco.  He recalled three other African-Americans on the staff at LRL.

A new opportunity opened in Palo Alto in 1962, when Minnesota-based start-up Control Data opened a software research center.  Clay not only was the first black hired in 'high-tech' in what would become Silicon Valley, he was the first CDC hire in Palo Alto, and CDC was the first computer company in the Valley building 'true computers' (IBM of course was already in the Valley, but only with a peripherals division, one that would invent nearly all disc drive technology).  Clay soon found that nothing important was going to happen in Palo Alto for CDC--everything of consequence was in Minnesota at headquarters (premonition of Xerox and XeroxPARC?) or at Seymour Cray's home in rural Wisconsin.

So he answered a small advertisement in the Palo Alto Times for a 'systems programmer' for Hewlett-Packard, and after a couple of interviews, Dave Packard and Kay Magleby hired him as HP's first professional software developer, and first professional African-American.   Clay recalled for us when he met Art Fong, HP's first Asian-American professional who had started for HP twenty years earlier.  Clay averred that Packard was merit-based and certainly 'color-blind' -- quite a trait for those times.

Our book mentions Clay's role several times, and is to date the only HP-based book that does so.  But we did not realize the degree to which Clay influenced things at a time that HP was pretty nervous about being in the computer business.   We'll cover some of that in subsequent posts, but for now, let me just note a couple of other factoids.

Clay nurtured other African-American colleagues, including Ken Coleman in his early career.  And Clay became Tom Perkins' 'go-to' guy for a while on Venture Capital 'evaluations,' especially for Tandem Computer since most of their early team came from HP, and in fact Clay had hired them.

We tallied it up--Clay was early at CDC and HP, and evaluated Tandem, Intel, and later Compaq for Perkins, and he trained Coleman who in turn was instrumental at Silicon Graphics and Apple, and Coleman's wife was likewise at Software Publishing which spawned a series of software firms.

So it isn't surprising that some later called him "the godfather of Silicon Valley software."  And in fact in 2003 he was inducted into the Silicon Valley Hall of Fame, alongside Hewlett and Packard and Noyce and Moore.  He is today quite proud of that, rightfully so.

But I was equally, maybe even more, pleased to learn what else he did.  For starters, he was the first African-American on the Palo Alto City Council, winning three terms and once becoming Vice Mayor.  And he was the first of his race to be allowed to join the Olympic Club in San Francisco (after they lost a lawsuit about women and minority exclusion)--although they ordered him 'never to show up.'   An order which he ignored--and a decade later, he became President of the Olympic Club Golf Association, organizing eventually the biggest tournaments they'd ever held.

We left his home somewhat awestruck by the glimpse we had gotten of this remarkable individual--not just for his accomplishments, but for his humility, his perseverance, and his perspective.  HP, and the Valley, and all of us really, have had such a privilege to have him in our community.

Monday, November 7, 2016

HP computing 50 YEARS today

I couldn't resist.  The Computer History Museum gave me carte blanche to write up a post for this auspicious day in HP history.

Here it is


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

At 50, memories get fuzzy

I mentioned in the previous post, being honored to be included at the HP Labs 50th anniversary celebration.  I was surprised though that there was little focus on what the Labs did to begin, how they got started, who did what, and etc.  Even the products that emerged early weren't mentioned.

Now, this was the PC/handheld devices/printing group, so they might not be expected to enthuse about the HP2116A, which will have its 50th anniversary from introduction on November 7.   So the stories they had were about the imagination to look at a coffee brewer and think of an exploding ink jet bubble as a delivery mechanism for ink.  The HP 35 was prominent in the pictures, and there was an HP 9100, but no HP 2116 that I saw.

And the date for HP Labs founding wasn't exactly Sept 27.  It was November 1, 1966, just as so many other HP organizational things happened at the fiscal year start.  But in truth, Barney started HP Labs in 1961, when the four divisional labs were pulled out from under him, leaving him with what we called "Central Labs."  I was invited to join this group in July 1962, and I had to pass his 'test' of what conformal mapping and convolution integrals meant, and could I handle that mathematics.  (By the way, such math is today very important for computer graphics and 3D modeling).

I then joined the oscilloscope group, which proved fortuitous as a group for the Central Labs.  The issue was we would move to Colorado Springs in 1964, and several key members of the group (including Rod Carlson, Dick Monnier, and Kay Magleby) elected to stay in the Bay.  The 'scope lab was the only group at HP building tools for computer companies in the early 1960s--everyone else was busy with communication tools (radio, TV, and microwave).  I went to Springs.

Well, the upshot was that Magleby went to Stanford for a PhD on HP support, for Paul Stoft in the Central Labs.  He came back with the idea of an Instrument Controller, which became the 2116.  Dick Monnier led the HP 9100 project, the first computer with a built-in CRT; and Rod Carlson became the head of the Network Analyzer which used the 2166 as the data acquisition and processing engine for microwave data.   Meanwhile, I built the HP 1300A in C Springs as the HP 2116 CRT display--whien IBM, DEC, and virtually everyone else insisted that ASR-33 teletypes were enough.

So, in point of fact, HP Labs started not only its computer ideas long before November 1966, but also the semiconductor work for what we called Boff Diodes for sampling heads, three-five compound work that led to LEDs, and SSI for small-scale integration before the semicolon houses were going.

Otherwise, you'd have to say, "Boy, this research lab not only researched, but productized the HP2116 in 7 days--almost Biblical in capability"

Great fun all the way around

HP Labs @ 50

Wow!  I was extremely privileged last night, to be invited to and able to attend the 50th Anniversary of HP Laboratories, in the Customer Service Center of Building 3U at the 1501 Page Mill Site.  This was put on by HP Inc.

It was led by Shane Wall, Global Head of HP Labs for HP Inc., and featured CEO Dion Weisler, plus a panel of two Board members (Stacy Brown-Philpott, and Aida Alvarez)  and HP's HR VP (Tracy Keogh), moderated by a dynamite Fortune magazine writer (Leena Rao).

The theme of the evening was "Where HP is going over the next 30 years" and how Diversity is a big part of that perspective.  Dion gave voice to that with thoughts about creativity and innovation coming from disparate perspectives--he has lived and worked in ten countries on 4 continents.  He had a terrific example of a Japanese engineer trying to build a 'noiseless fan" for a small laptop, who found inspiration in the silent flight of an owl when he went on a nature trip.

I watched our big snowy owl circle our trees at dawn yesterday, probably three major swoops, all silent.  I never tire of watching (and "listening") to owls; we had a Great Horned Owl on our Colorado ranch when I was deep into Logic Analyzers--though I cannot claim the owl helped me invent.

Turns out Aida Alvarez is on HP's Board, was the first Latino Cabinet member for any U.S. President, and long on the Walmart board.  I used my iPhone (wish HP had invented it) to find my daughter's bio--Sharon Orlopp, for those of you interested.  She retired last year as Sr. V.P. of Walmart with the title Global Chief Diversity Officer.  Turns out Aida told a story about Sharon without naming her--building much higher diversity success for 2 million employees.

Natch, I had to ask Alvarez later, and yes, she got excited and said, "Yup, Sharon is 'the one' and if you're her dad, that's a great link for these values--they might just be the OLD HP.  And I thought YES, INDEED.

Shane at the end intro'd a few guests--three of us were HP Labs alumni (only three?  like where was Joel Birnbaum, John Doyle, Gary Gordon, Zvonko Fazarinc or so many others who did great things). There was Chandrakant Patel, HP Senior Fellow and Chief Engineer and there was Keith Moore (who invited me).  And only about 15 other HP folk.  Turns out the room was MOSTLY journalists, and HP was giving them 2 days of 'view' into the future.  

That future revolved around 4 fundamental trends--1. Megacities (10M or more folk) will go from 10 in the world today to 50 by mid-century; 2. More than 50% of people alive in 2050 will be older than 50 years old; 3. The Dark Continent will light up, as will every home on the globe; and 4. Hyper-globalization will result in hyper-localization as 3D mfg takes over 'everywhere' for all products.

It also involves 4 major technologies that HP is working hard on--1. 3d Transformation of Mfg; 2. Internet of "ALL THINGS" (stronger than Cisco's pitch); 3. Microfluidics via MEMS machines; and 4. Hypermobility

CEO Dion captured this well, saying the Old HP used to invent, refine, and then CREATE NEW CATEGORIES, and that somewhere about 20 years ago the CATEGORY CREATION ceased.  He expects and plans to stimulate its return, and he vowed that supporting Diversity is the best way.

I was delighted with the entire evening.  More though from a "historian's view" in the next post.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Connecting Clouds

A few weeks ago, I posted "Cloudy weather ahead" citing HP's abandonment of the Public Cloud.  This was days before the HPE/HPI separation, and the reaction of many to the post was 'confusion' to say the least.

"How could HP be abandoning the Cloud?" was the most popular refrain.

And of course they weren't, in terms of hybrid clouds, etc.

But this cloud business is ... indeed cloudy.

In today's SF Chronicle, I published a small article entitled, "Last mile: the home stretch for Hybrid Clouds"   You can see it at

The observation essentially is that where the Cloud technology and deployment issues stand is akin to where connecting networks was in about 1985, before widespread adoption and deployment of routers.

Having done some work re Cisco history, I was struck by how few firms understood the power and the ease of connection for multiple disparate networks.  It took nearly a decade for most of the Fortune 500 to 'get on board,' astonishing as that might seem today.

IT directors, recall, are not paid to be risk-takers, but instead to be fully risk-averse.  We med with many of them when I ran R&D/Product Marketing for Informix circa 1991.  After one dinner with a number of IT CIOs, my wife on the way home said, "WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?  DULLER THAN...."

It fits, and still fits today.  The issues today of course are complicated by cyber-security issues, contending vendors, and costly revamping of the core stack privileges.  But they were back then too....

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the article

Silicon Photonics

One candidate for considerably improved computing performance is SILICON PHOTONICS

To the question of what has DARPA or other government agencies done for us lately, the news from the Obama administration on this front seems encouraging.  To wit, the formulation of AIM Photonics last year.  Michael Liehr, at SUNY, is the CEO/Director.  I don't know him.  The Deputy director is John Bowers, an incredibly capable researcher based at UCSB (Univ of Calif at Santa Barbara).  He is assisted by Rod Alferness, also from UCSB.I;ve worked with them in the past, and have the highest regard for them.

The task though is a tough one.  It is housed at SUNY Albany, with strong goals and capable leaders.  But recall SEMATECH, and its abortive start in the mid-1980s, even though DARPA and Craig Fields did monumental work to aid U.S. firms in their fight vis-a-vis Asian chip manufacturers.
SEMATECH eventually morphed, and moved to SUNY Albany, creating the NanoTech Complex, a key reason that the Si Photonics labs are being located there as well.

Also recall MCC in Austin, again with much fanfare (Dields eventually ran it) to 'save American leadership in software'  

Let's hope the lessons of those approaches are embodied in the AIM Photonics effort.

Below is the first slide of a quasi-public document describing the new facility

There are two levels of support beyond the government sponsorship-- Industry with three tiers of supporting level, and academia with an analogous three tiers.   Below are the logos of the first tier of industry--clearly some big names (recall, for example, that Intel stood aside from SEMATECH until Bob Noyce was willing to head it up).  Keysight (our old instrument friends from HP) are in Tier 3.  Cisco, Juniper and Texas Inst have all said "we'll play" but haven't ante'd as yet, so are in no Tier.

Herewith the lead schools  (note, Caltech and Stanford are in Tier 3, Berkeley and UC San Diego in Tier 2).

I'd be interested in any thoughts you have on this topic