Growing Among Sharks
By: G Wayne
Copyright © 9/9/11
I honed my skills at a company created by a bunch of Stanford graduates that just enjoyed electronics. They designed a product that worked under water to justify purchasing a company speedboat. That all changed when they went public and the relaxed work atmosphere vanished.

An offer from National Semiconductor caused me to change jobs again. These were the big boys in Silicon Valley and they wanted me to play on their team, a silicon products manufacturer in the heart of Silicon Valley. I started out working with add on memory systems. They were about the size of a phone booth (if you can remember what a phone booth looked like) and contained up to 10 MB of random access memory. Today, two hundred times that amount of storage will fit on your key ring and by the time this is published . . . well, I hope this gets published.

An opening came up for a technician in a department that developed bit-slice computer parts. I was not sure exactly what bit-slice meant, but it had to do with computers and that was enough for me. They chose me because I could go through a matrix of transistors and determine its logical function. I actually turned down the position thinking that it dealt with large scale computers that could not be used for my own projects. During a chance meeting with the microprocessor development manager, I asked if there were any opening in his department. He said no, but suggested that I apply for a current opening in the bit slice department. When I informed him that I had been offered the position and I turned it down, his jaw dropped and he studied me as if determining the extent of my brain damage.

"Are you serious?" he asked. "You just closed the door on an opportunity of a lifetime. Do you have any idea of how outstanding the opportunity you turned down is?"

"No," I said, starting to regret my decision.

"That department is run by one of the top computer science engineers in this valley and bit-slice computer parts are the hottest thing going today. If you could learn what's going on in that department, those expertise would guarantee you a career that could last the rest of your life?"

"I didn't know that. I thought if I learned about microprocessors, I could build things with them," I said as the realization of how badly I had screwed up began set in.

"You really should go back to Max and beg for that job."

"I'll do that right now, but I don't think he will be too interested in hiring me, considering that I've just turned him down."

"Good luck," the director said with a sympathetic look.

I felt horrible facing the man whose job offer I just turned down. "Hi Mr. Baron, I wonder if I could talk to you for a moment?" I said through the open door of his office.

He looked up from his monitor and smiled, "OK, come in. What can I do for you?" he asked.

"Mr. Baron, sir, I was just talking to the microprocessor development manager, and he enlightened me as to what a huge mistake it was to turn down your offer. I had no idea of what an outstanding position you offered me, and how instrumental it could be in improving my, my life. If you could possibly overlook my stupid decision, I will make sure that you'll not regret hiring me."

His welcoming smile faded as he explained, "the whole group considered your interview to be outstanding, but I'm sorry, we already offered the job to somebody else and he has accepted the position."

I politely thanked the man for his consideration and offered my services if another such position ever opened up (fat chance). We shook hands and he wished me luck, but I was fairly sure my mistake was final. For the next couple of days I plodded through life like a zombie. All I had to do was say yes. I had shut the door in the face of providence and turned down the opportunity of life.

Three days later the phone at my workbench rang and I answered with a lethargic hello.

"Hi G, this is Max. Do you have a few minutes to spare? I'd like to talk to you about something."

"Why sure Mr. Baron, I can be there in 5 minutes."

"I will see you then," he said and hung up the phone.

While walking to the research and development facility I considered what he could want. Another position could not have opened up so soon, and the person hired in my place had probably already started working. Again, I stood outside Mr. Baron's office wondering what to expect. I taped lightly on the door and a voice on the inside asked me to come in. The flow charts and schematics that adorned the walls of this high-tech command center captured my imagination. How great it would be to command the vast knowledge contained in those drawings.

He finished typing, and looked up in time to catch my stare. "Do you know what you are looking at?" he asked.

"No, not really. It looks like some sort of flowchart."

"That is a representation of the microcode for predictive branch." He studied me for a second, and I could detect no hint as to the nature of why I was standing in his office. "Would you like to learn more about that sort of thing?" he asked, and I was beginning to feel like I was being toyed with.

"Yes, I really would."

"Glad to hear it, because I'm offering you the technician position . . . again," he informed me as I watched a friendly smile bloom over the visage of feigned disgust.

I stood there, shocked at my good fortune although not believing what I was hearing; something was wrong. "Why yes, I certainly accept the position. I'm so surprised; I thought the job was taken. What happened?" After the words came out, I realized I should have stopped at "Yes".

"Well, I talked it over with upper management, and they seemed to think that it is better to hire from within the company for new positions."

As I realized what was happening, I became awestruck. This was so unlikely and yet it was happening to me.

"Thank you so much Mr. Baron, I will do my best to make sure that you never regret this decision."

"That seems like the right attitude. Are you ready to get started?"

"Now! What about my other job? I told them I would be back in a half hour," I said, starting to panic.

"Well, you see, you work for me now. Everything has already been taken care of. You can go back and say your goodbyes on your own time."

I smiled and relaxed, but only for a second. "Wow, that's great. I'm ready to start now," I said, and I'm sure if I were a canine I would have been vigorously wagging my tail.

He got up from his desk and led me down the hall pass the offices and into the lab. I marveled at the computers and specialized electronic equipment that covered the benches and felt pride that this was my new home.

"G, could you come over here for a minute?"

I quickly walked next to Max.

He pointed to a card cage containing several boards. "Do you know what this is?"

"No, not really," I said as if failing the first test of my new job.

"That's called a computer."

"Uh huh."

He then pointed to a stack of paperwork that was over a foot high. "Do you see that collection of documents?"

"Yes."

"That tells how it works."

As I considered my new challenge, he walked out and I was alone.

I felt slighted at first, how could this man just leave me there with no idea of what I supposed to be doing. Then I realized I had just been allowed to sink or swim, and do it on my own terms.

For weeks I sat down at the bench with the stack of documentation and my monolithic marvel, trying to understand how this electronic puzzle functioned. After discovering how the computer operated, I started to decipher how the circuitry functioned.

I remember a chance meeting with the applicant who had been hired and then turned down because of me. We met one day in Halted Electronics, a high-tech salvage company in Sunnyvale, CA. When I told him who I worked for he said, "Thanks for stealing my job." I quickly exited the store when a punch in the mouth seemed eminent.

Periodically, Max would stop in to see how I was doing and to make sure that I was working in the proper direction. If I had wandered, he would offer a terse course correction and then leave me to my own devices. I got to the point of directing the computer to execute instructions while capturing the electronic signals they produced on the oscilloscope and logic analyzer.

Just at the time I relaxed after attaining my goal of understanding this magical piece of equipment, Max walked into the lab. I was sitting, slouched back in my chair with my hands behind my head and feet up on my workbench as if I were a visiting conqueror that had just finished sacking a village.

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