Remembering Early Times at HP

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Hurdling to Freedom, by Les Besser

- Chapter 6 -

California Here I Come





CHAPTER 6 - Table of Contents:


This stack of HP equipment revolutionized microwave measurements in 1967. The HP 8410 Network Analyzer (top)
characterized complex impedances from 10 MHz to 18 GHz. The HP 8741 Reflection Test Unit (middle)
separated forward and reflection signals, and the bottom sweeper supplied the test signals.


California Here I Come

From the small window of the room, I watched the guards inspect my car. One used a pole with a mirror attached to check the undercarriage the car. Another took my suitcase out of the trunk but instead of opening it, he climbed inside the trunk. Next, he scrutinized the inside of the car, trying to remove the seats. Then it dawned on me—they were looking for my mother. Possibly someone in her Budapest apartment building had seen us leaving together and thought I might try to smuggle her out of the country.

After the fruitless search ended, they let me go. Only after I passed through the second border gate did I feel safe again. The Austrian guard briefly looked at my passport, and I was soon on my way to the Vienna airport. Within a few hours, I boarded a Lufthansa flight and headed to Frankfurt. The connecting 707 jet to San Francisco, with a scheduled stop in Montreal, took off three hours late. The delayed departure worried me, because I had planned to spend time with my sister at the Montreal airport. Booking my return flight with a layover in Montreal would have cost several hundred dollars more. The cost-free alternative was to see each other during the scheduled four-hour stopover.

When I expressed my concern about the delay to the flight attendant, she assured me that the departure from Montreal would also be pushed forward.  Hearing this good news calmed me, and I slept during most of the eight-hour-long transatlantic flight.

Upon our arrival, I inquired again how long the plane would stay on the ground. “We’ll be three hours,” the flight attendant told me. “But watch the departure information board for changes, in the event we can leave earlier to make up for some of the delay.”

As I began to walk down the stairs from the plane, I was surprised to see my nine-months-pregnant sister and my brother-in-law, Péter, standing near the base of the stairs next to a Jeep. After greeting me, Péter explained that he knew one of the immigration officers at the airport. When he learned about the flight delay, Péter contacted the officer, who allowed us to meet on the tarmac. “This will eliminate the time wasted by the arrival and re-boarding processes,” my brother-in-law told me.

The officer drove us to a deserted runway. “You have nearly three hours to chat,” he told us. “I’ll be hunting for rabbits.” He sauntered away.

We had much to tell each other. I recounted my experiences and observations from Hungary. Their conversation focused on the arrival of their first child, expected to happen within a few days. “You’ll be an uncle soon,” said Éva. “If it’s a boy, we’ll name him after you.” I was flattered.

Time passed by quickly and the immigration officer reappeared, carrying two long-eared creatures. “We’ll have rabbit stew tonight,” he announced with a proud smile. “I’ll check on your flight now.”

He turned on the two-way radio in the vehicle and began to speak in French. After a short time, he looked at us in alarm. “Your plane is ready to depart,” he said to me. He started the Jeep and raced back toward the terminal. When we arrived at the 707, the ramp stairs had already been pulled away and the engines were running. With the exception of my passport and ticket, all my belongings were inside the plane.

“What happens now?” I asked in panic.

The officer picked up the phone again. After a short argument with someone at the other end, he turned to me. “You’re in luck. The pilot agreed to let you on.”

In a few minutes, two men hurriedly rolled the stairs to the plane. The front door opened and an attendant rushed me in. The door slammed behind me as I ran to my seat amidst the angry glares of the other passengers. As I was buckling my seatbelt, the plane taxied to the runway and took off.

It was an uncomfortably close call. I learned later that the excitement had affected my sister as well. She had gone into labor on the way home from the airport! My niece Sandy was born that evening.

One of the CU engineering students who had a summer job with a firm at in San Carlos had driven my car to California. Shortly after my arrival, he met me at the Palo Alto hotel where I was staying. The old Chrysler had handled the long trip well, and I was glad to have it back. The next day I reported to work at Hewlett Packard’s Microwave Division.

magMeasure Magazine July 1966
Courtesy of the Hewlett Packard Company

The attractive receptionist in Building 5 greeted me with a friendly smile. “So you’re the new engineer I’ve read about,” she said. Seeing my astonishment, she handed me a copy of the HP monthly publication Measure, and pointed out the article entitled “Hungarian Freedom Fighter Joins HP.” The write-up included the photo that had appeared in the Denver Post a month earlier. “Looks like you’ll need no introduction,” she added while calling Personnel. I thought of explaining to her that I had played an insignificant role in the revolution but decided to do that later when she was not on duty. It would be a good excuse to ask her out.

During my wait, I recalled the article in the Dubuque newspaper that introduced me to the students after my disastrous SAT test. The HP publication described me in a far more favorable light. I kept the magazine so I could send the article to my mother.

A member of the Personnel Department asked me complete the various personnel records. He also informed me that the San Jose newspaper wanted to interview me later that week. I took the news with mixed emotions and hoped that the reporter would not be aware of how poorly I did in my job interview for HP.

My new supervisor, Harley Halverson, took me around the lab and personally introduced me to everyone who worked in the spectrum analyzer section. They had already read the article and welcomed me as a member of the “HP Family.” Harley gave me a large amount of reading material on microwave test instruments. He also assigned an application engineer to teach me how to use an important graphical design tool—The Smith Chart. As it turned out, my tutor, named Julius Botka, was another Hungarian—a graduate of the same technical high school I had attended. We quickly became good friends, and he introduced me to some of the practical aspects of microwave engineering. During the next two weeks, I realized how little I knew about the subject and was grateful to HP for giving me the opportunity to learn state-of-the-art technology. I thanked God for the privilege of working for such a great company.

Following recommendations from Personnel, after work I visited several nearby apartment complexes. I found a furnished one-bedroom unit, only ten minutes from HP, for a monthly rent of $150. The two-building complex had a large, beautifully landscaped courtyard with two swimming pools surrounded by bikini-clad, sunbathing tenants. It was the nicest place I had ever lived.

I learned that one of the HP managers was dating the receptionist, so I dropped the idea of asking her out. Encouraged by the leads I had received from the computer-dating service at CU, I decided to try a dating service again. I filled out a questionnaire attached to the Palo Alto Times and mailed it to their office. This time the price was higher, $5, but it paid off. Every two weeks I received three new leads, and my love life was off to a good start.

For exercise, I joined the soccer team of a local ethnic German group called the Harmony Club. Most of the players were German-Americans. We played weekly games against other teams up and down the San Francisco Peninsula. In addition, fierce volleyball games took place in the HP atriums at lunchtime. At the end of each game, the winning team stayed on to face a new challenger. Along with the other players, I quickly gulped lunch in the cafeteria and rushed to the volleyball court. If my team lost, I spent the rest of my lunch hour playing Ping-Pong at one of the many tables surrounding the courts. Because my former health club experience had taught me that membership prices were negotiable, I also managed to join a gym at a discounted price.

During my first few weeks of orientation, one of my colleagues taught me how to use the Smith Chart [*an intuitive and popular graphical design aid, used frequently in microwave measurements and circuit design]. I noticed that every time he needed to mark a location on the Chart, he used a combination of a straight-edge and a compass.

“Don’t you have a special ruler calibrated to the Smith Chart?” I asked him.

“It would be nice to have something like that,” he replied. “Some of the engineers pasted a scale on their straight-edge for this task, but I just do it this way.”

I asked Harley if the machine shop could produce plastic rulers for us for that task. “That’s a great idea,” he told me. “Give them a sketch with exact dimensions, and they’ll do it within a week. Ask for 50 pieces, and we’ll distribute them to the others in the lab.”

“Standard manufacturing tolerances are OK?” the foreman asked me when I handed him my drawing.

“They would be fine,” I told him, not wanting to admit my ignorance about production specifications.

The rulers became very popular among our engineers, and Harley praised me for creating the tool. Then, at the end of the month, he showed me the charge received from the machine shop: $2,000!

I was outraged and rushed to the foreman with the statement. “How can you charge forty dollars each for those little plastic rulers?”

“You said you wanted standard manufacturing tolerances, that requires precise checking of dimensions and ANGLES. We had to build a special test fixture to measure the angles.”

I was astonished and demanded to show me what he meant. When he did that, I could not believe my eyes.  An elaborate fixture was put together to measure the angle of the beveled fronts of each ruler―that had absolutely no significance.

Fortunately, in those days HP was highly profitable, and cost of my mistake was easily buried into the overhead. Nevertheless, it was a good lesson to me to become more careful in the future.


Left: Picture of the $40 (1966 price) plastic ruler. Right: Enlarged edge view, showing the beveled front. 
An expensive fixture was built to measure the angle of front side.

After my second week at HP, Harley assigned me my first design project. Instead of working on an internal section of the next-generation Spectrum Analyzer under development, my task was to design an external stand-alone component, called a “low-noise impedance converter preamplifier.” My project would enable microwave professionals to probe the performance of circuits and systems without interfering with their operation.

Some of the reading material Harley had given me covered the principles of low-noise concepts, but I still did not know how to start the circuit design. My colleagues told me that an expert on that subject worked in Building 1. “He is Dutch and a very friendly person,” one of the engineers told me. “Go and ask him for advice.”

HP had open labs instead of private offices. I easily found the cubicle of the Dutchman. His desk was covered with books and papers, and his workbench was a mess. He was in the midst of some calculations, using a slide rule [*Before electronic calculators became available, engineers commonly used logarithm-based slide rules to simplify scientific computations.] Not wanting to disrupt his work, I turned around to walk away but he had already noticed my presence.

“May I help you?” he asked. He spoke with an interesting accent.

“I heard that you’re a world expert on low-noise design. I am new and don’t know how to start my project.”

“Well, pull up a chair and let’s talk about it.” He shoved the books aside to make space on his desk. “Tell me what you have to design.”

He listened patiently and then began to tutor me. We met every morning for the next several days until he felt that I was ready to start working on my project. I appreciated his assistance and promised myself that when I became more experienced, I would also reach out to anyone who needed help. Later I learned that such camaraderie was one of the many keys to HP's success.

My former CU schoolmate bought the old Chrysler and took it back to Colorado after his summer job. Many of the young single guys drove Mustangs, but I wanted to be different, and bought a red Plymouth Barracuda. Next, I wanted to find a girlfriend. The dating bureau sent me five new contacts every month, keeping me busy socially.

Near the end of the summer, HP had its annual picnic. The company executives, including Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, grilled steaks for the employees. We played various games, including a challenge soccer match. To express our gratitude to the referee―our lab manager, Paul Ely―after the game the players jointly wrestled him to the ground and sprayed him with whipped cream. I enjoyed all the activities. Being part of the festive environment reinforced my conviction that HP was the best company in the world.


Upper left:  The article in the San Jose Mercury showed me with my supervisor. Note how design engineers dressed for
work in the 1960s.  My first design project was an external component for the $9,500 Spectrum Analyzer shown in the picture.
Upper right: Dribbling the ball while playing on the World All Stars team at the company picnic.
Lower left: Spraying the helpless referee, who happened to be our boss, Paul Ely.
Lower right: The end result for his skills and impartiality during the game. He was a good sport and did not fire any of us.

By the end of the year, things were going extremely well for me. I switched to another apartment and completely furnished it. My job was challenging, and I loved the friendly, collegial work environment. Taking advantage of the constant flow of computer-dating contacts, I kept busy meeting as many women as I could. Life could not have been better.

In the early part of 1967, I developed a cough. When it did not go away after several weeks, I went to see a doctor in Palo Alto. “Nothing to worry about,” he told me, and prescribed a cough suppressant.

I took the medication for two weeks, but the cough persisted. It was particularly bothersome during soccer games, so I decided to go back to the doctor. This time he was away, so I saw his partner, Dr. Hecker, a pulmonary specialist. After his examination, he sent me to have a chest X-ray. Looking at the films, he told me, “You may have pneumonia or perhaps something even worse. Let's perform a sputum test.”

I could not imagine what could be worse than pneumonia. When the results of the test came back, the doctor had me sit down in his office. “I'm afraid you have tuberculosis,” he said somberly. “It requires immediate clinical treatment.”

“There must be a mistake,” I protested. “I am in top physical shape. How could I possibly have TB?”

The doctor explained that generally someone already sick with TB passes germs through the air. Because I had been exposed to TB in my childhood, my body was more susceptible to the disease. “This is not something you picked up recently. I feel that you were probably exposed several months ago,” he said.

I suddenly remembered visiting Aunt Manci in Hungary the previous summer. She had had severe coughing spells while we visited with her. Mother wrote me later that Aunt Manci had been hospitalized with TB in the autumn and passed away a few weeks later. Possibly my resistance had been weakened by my hectic lifestyle during my last year in school, and I had contracted the sickness from her.

When Doctor Hecker heard that I lived by myself, he said that I would need around-the-clock care, and had to be admitted to a TB clinic and begin taking heavy dosages of antibiotics immediately. The nearest available facility was the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose. By California law, I would have to stay there for a minimum of three months.  He explained that before I could be released, two consecutive monthly sputum tests would have to show negative results. Every sample is cultured [*The samples are kept in a moist, heated environment to encourage bacterial growth.] for a month before going through a microscopic test for TB bacteria. Additionally, TB tests were recommended for all those I had been in close contact with during the past six months.

The news hit me hard. How will this affect my job? How can I pay for my apartment, the furniture, the car, and the hospital expenses if I don’t work? I sat there not knowing what to do next.

While I was collecting my thoughts, the doctor called Valley Med and found space for me. Next, he asked me to go home and make all of my arrangements by telephone to minimize personal contact. Still overwhelmed by the news, I drove back to my apartment.

My supervisor at HP was extremely understanding and promised to look into my insurance coverage. As for my project, he would review its priority with management. When I talked with the building manager, he was very cooperative. He agreed to place my furniture in storage, so I would not have to pay rent during my hospitalization. I contacted the girls I had been dating and urged them to take TB skin tests. They were all shocked and promised to proceed with the testing. After all the phone calls, I packed a suitcase with the items recommended by the doctor and drove to the hospital. I parked my car in the lot and left it, not knowing when I would be driving again. With a tight feeling in my stomach, I entered the place that would be my home for an undetermined length of time.

The Admissions Office clerk informed me that the paperwork had already been completed and awaited my signature. “Your HP health insurance entitles you to a semiprivate room,” he told me. “However, all those rooms in the TB ward are occupied. Until space becomes available, you’ll share a large room with several others.” He turned me over to an orderly who led me to the isolation ward on the top floor of the building.

One of the nurses took me to a room that had about a dozen beds. She pointed to the one next to the door. “Here is where you’ll stay. Please change to your pajamas, and I’ll come back to collect your street clothes.” With that, she left the room.  At this point, my morale probably reached the lowest level in my life.

I looked around and saw a group of men wearing identical pajamas in the far corner. They were sitting on the last two beds, and their conversation had stopped when the nurse led me in. As I began to undress, one of them approached me. “Are you from San Quentin?” he asked.

The unusual question surprised me. “No,” I replied, shaking my head.

“From Folsom?”


“Which prison did you come from?”

“I didn’t come from a prison.”

Now, it was his turn to be surprised. “Why are you here?” he asked in a suspicious tone.

“I’ve been coughing and the doctor told me I have TB.”

He went back to the group to pass on the information. The men stayed together and did not attempt to make any more contact with me. When the nurse came back to take my clothes away, I walked with her outside and told her about the strange questions the man had asked me. She laughed. “They all came from California prisons and probably think you are here to spy on them,” she explained. “You need to convince them that you’re a real patient.”

I took her advice and joined the group. After a lengthy questioning session, they finally believed that I was there to be treated. I learned from them that every convict received a thorough medical exam before being admitted to prison. If TB was found, a convict was sent to an isolation clinic like the one where we were staying.

The facility was not guarded. “Can’t you escape from here?” I asked.

“Why should we?” replied one. “The food is good and we don’t have to pay rent.”

His answer made sense.

Later that day I met the doctor in charge. He looked at my chart and the X-ray and prescribed the initial medications. I was to receive antibiotics both orally and by injection three times a day. At the end of each 30-day period, they would take another sputum test. “If the antibiotics work, you could be out of here in three months,” he said encouragingly.

“After my discharge, how soon can I begin to play soccer?”

“I’m afraid that part of your life has ended,” he said firmly. “You’ll never be able to do that kind of activity in the future.”

I was totally devastated. It was bad enough to share a room with a group of convicts. Now, I had been told that I would never play soccer again. That was too much to bear. I skipped dinner and stayed in bed, trying to figure out what I had done to deserve such a fate.

After the first few days, I adjusted to the slow lifestyle of the TB ward. There was not much to do, so with the doctor’s permission, I began to teach basic math to the patients. Surprisingly, most of the convicts were eager to learn what they had missed back in school. Perhaps they wanted to know how to increase the odds in their gambling or the success of their next robbery, but I did not question their motives. The classes kept us occupied.

My supervisor called with good news—management at HP agreed to place a hold on my project until I returned to work. Even though I had worked for the company only seven months, they extended my paid sick leave beyond the regular period. Their generous action further increased my loyalty to them.

Visitors were allowed in the ward, but the patients had to wear protective masks in their presence. The girl I had been dating came to see me almost every day, to the envy of my roommates. At the end of the first month, a patient in a double room expired, and I was first in line to take his place. Although it was eerie to sleep in the bed where someone had recently died, the added privacy justified the move. I had strange dreams the first night there, but after that, I slept without any problem. I continued giving the math classes to the others during the day, but my new roommate was another non-felon. It was nice not having to listen to prison stories every night.


Left: A photo taken in the semiprivate room that had a nice view of San Jose.
Right: Wearing the required mask during a visit from my girlfriend.

At the end of the second month of my stay, the result of the first sputum test I had taken in the hospital came back negative. The same day, I provided the second sample. Thirty days later, it was returned, also negative. As a result, 91 days after my admission the doctors discharged me. I still had to take medications and have regular chest X-rays for the next 18 months, but I could return to normal life!

Someone had already rented my former apartment, but the manager of the complex arranged for me to move into a brand-new building right across the street. I was glad to be surrounded by my own furniture again. Although I did not tell the doctors, I began to play soccer again two months later without any noticeable effect.

My colleagues at HP arranged a welcome-back party on my return. The company nurse administered my daily antibiotic shots, and I eagerly resumed work on my project. The only part of microwave circuit design I did not enjoy was the excessive amount of tedious and time-consuming manual computations. Two of the engineers in our lab, Luis Peregrino and Russ Riley, had written a small BASIC language computer program that eliminated most of the manual calculations. I grabbed the opportunity and began to apply the program to my project through a commercial timeshare computing system. Our lab manager supported the effort and allowed us unlimited computer time. Within a few weeks, my first prototype showed promising results. The product, however, never reached the production phase in its original printed circuit board form.

Hewlett Packard’s space-age and military defense products required smaller and lighter electronic components. Hybrid technology was replacing the bulky conventional printed circuit boards (PCB). This new approach required careful handling of each circuit under a high-power microscope using tweezers and hypodermic needles. I was fortunate to be one of the pioneers working in that area. Our division constructed a new hybrid integrated circuit facility, [*Some of the circuit elements were integrated on top of a thin ceramic or sapphire substrate while others were added in miniature “chip” form. This approach was different from monolithic integrated circuits, where all the components were constructed on a semiconductor chip.] and management decided to have my project be one of the pilot circuits to be built in that form.

Use your scrollwheel to zoom in/out
Click and drag to view other parts of the image when zoomed

Typical Hybrid Microcircuit Developed by HP by the End of the 1960s,
in this case an output amplifier for a signal generator. The technology
used chip capacitors, rf transistor amplifier chips, and inductor
traces as shown. The substrate overall dimension is 18 x 11 millimeters.

Of course, the new technology introduced new problems. If needed, the conventional PCB construction allowed convenient tweaking and tuning to obtain the desired performance. If the hybrid circuit did not work as expected, a costly and time-consuming redesign was required. Quick and accurate initial design of the hybrid circuits became critically important.

HP’s newly developed test equipment also became an invaluable tool to microwave circuit designers. The Network Analyzer allowed us to accurately characterize the circuit components. Within the company, we developed a new approach, the “S-Parameter Design.”  [*A new form of electrical measurement, based on travelling waves instead of conventional voltage and current relations.]

magPaul Ely in the Hewlett Packard Journal,
February 1967 - "Signs of Things to Come"
Courtesy of the Hewlett Packard Company

Our Research and Development lab manager, Paul Ely, faced a major decision. Should HP keep this revolutionary new approach secret or make it available to others? Knowing that they would have to purchase our test instruments in order to use it, he chose to share our new method. History proved his choice was the right one. The Microwave Division led HP’s strong growth of highly profitable products for nearly two decades. The factory could hardly keep up with the demand for the Network Analyzer product line.

I became a lifetime advocate of the new form of computer-aided high-frequency circuit design and submitted a paper about it to the WESCON Technical Conference. It was accepted, and I gave my first technical presentation to a large audience in San Francisco. At the conference, the editor of a technical magazine asked me to write an article for his publication. After my article was published in June 1968, recruiters began to contact me. By that time, however, I had become a dedicated HP employee, and refused to consider leaving the company. I turned down every offer for job interviews elsewhere.

The new design technique developed at HP sparked an interest among engineers and they were eager to hear more about it. The Washington D.C. chapter of IEEE [*Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the largest professional organization in the world.] invited me to give a presentation to their members. My previous talk at WESCON had focused on the computer-aided approach. This time, I wanted to show the details of the graphical manipulations required before using the computer. With the assistance of our graphic artists, I created colored transparencies for an overhead projector and prepared for the presentation. After giving a dry run of my talk to our group at work, I confidently headed to our nation’s capital. As an HP employee flying farther than the Mississippi River, I enjoyed the privileges of the first-class cabin, including a pair of nice slippers.

The local IEEE chairman and the other officers met me on my arrival at the airport. They took me to dinner at the fanciest Chinese restaurant I had ever seen. The walls were decorated with beautiful Oriental paintings and the seats had velvet covers. The chopsticks, decorated with gold Chinese characters, felt like ivory. The food was delicious. I washed it down with sweet plum wine.

I could not resist the temptation; before we left the restaurant, I slipped the beautiful chopsticks into my pocket. Nobody noticed, and we headed to The Johns Hopkins University for my talk. Over 100 people were gathered in the large auditorium to hear me. I quickly reviewed my lecture material one more time. Everything was in order. The chairman introduced me to the audience. I walked to the overhead projector and turned the switch on.

Swoosh! A sudden flash preceded the projector light’s failure. The bulb had burned out. I moved the bulb selector to the alternative position, only to find out that the spare bulb was either missing or was also defective. One of the local engineers rushed to help, but he could not find additional bulbs. The maintenance men had already gone for the evening. The search for another projector proved fruitless. The only alternative display they could find was a flipchart and colored marking pens.

I did my best to illustrate my points by drawing on the flipchart, but most people could not see the important details. My carefully prepared and rehearsed presentation turned into a disaster! The IEEE officers apologized profusely, but it did not make me feel better. That simple little two-dollar light bulb ruined everything.

Back at HP the next day, I was telling my Chinese-American cubicle-mate about the awful experience in Washington. While unpacking my briefcase, I came across the chopsticks and asked him to translate the writing. “If you take this from the restaurant, something bad will happen to you,” he read.

With my superstitious nature, I immediately suspected that the projector problem could have been prevented if I had left those chopsticks behind. To avoid more bad luck, I shipped them back to the restaurant with an apologetic explanation.

A few weeks later, I received a package from the restaurant. Inside, there were two sets of chopsticks and a letter. “Your friend tricked you with the translation,” it stated. “The script was a quotation from Confucius. Please use the enclosed chopsticks with our compliments!”

When I showed the note to my cubicle-mate, he laughed at my gullibility. He had already shared his prank with our colleagues in the lab. For some time, I was the target of their good-natured teasing during coffee breaks.


My "Tennis Career"

Julius Botka, my young Hungarian colleague at HP, told me that he had signed up to learn tennis. “Why don't you come with me?” he asked. “We could then play regularly.”

I had always considered tennis and golf to be the games of the upper class. I remember seeing tennis courts in some of the sports complexes of Budapest, but I never knew anyone who played the game. In California, on the other hand, we had convenient free public tennis courts. If I learned to play, it would be fun and also good exercise. I was a good Ping-Pong player in Hungary. Picking up tennis should be easy—I thought.

I was completely wrong. Controlling the ball with the larger racket was not so simple. It took Julius and me a month until we could regularly hit the ball back and forth over the net more than two or three times. However, we did not give up. In about six months, we reached a level where the game became enjoyable. We also teamed up and played doubles against some of the other beginners. To our surprise, we beat most of them.

One day an announcement was posted at the public course where we played: “Champagne Doubles Tournament at the Los Altos Country Club.” Participants did not have to be members of the club. Entries were available at three levels; A, B, and C. The first three teams in each group would receive prizes.

Julius and I signed up. We figured that doing well at the “A” level would be hopeless. The only question was whether to have a good showing in the “B” category or to win at the “C” level. We decided on the latter and practiced hard for two weeks.

On the day of the tournament, our opponents showed up dressed in immaculate white tennis attire, while we wore sport shirts and running shorts. They carried multiple rackets in fancy sports bags and carefully measured the height of the net. We sensed trouble. Our intuition was right. We finished dead last in the lowest category—ending our aspirations for playing at Wimbledon.


Being Part of the HP Family

Our lab manager needed a new secretary. One interviewee, an exceptionally cute young blonde woman, quickly caught the attention of several of us single engineers. We all hoped she would be selected. To express our desire, one of the guys slipped a note to our manager. “Hire her! We’ll teach her to type.”

To our delight, she ended up with the job. However, she could already type faster and more accurately than any of us. Unfortunately for us, she had a steady boyfriend. Still, her pleasant mannerisms and charming Southern dialect captivated us, and we enjoyed her becoming part of our lab.

In 1968, Hewlett Packard requested a permanent U.S. immigration visa for me. After the INS interview, I was sent for a thorough physical exam. When the doctor in charge found out that I had been hospitalized with TB, red flags went up. He wanted to quarantine me to find out if it was safe to allow me to stay in the country. HP hired a well-known immigration lawyer who lobbied on my behalf. After a few months of nerve-wracking legal maneuvering, my Green Card finally came through. At that point, I became a legal U.S. resident and had to register for the Selective Service. Fortunately, my advanced age of 32 saved me from being drafted into the unpopular Vietnam War.

As time passed, I learned what separated HP from most corporations. Although the company had been formed to produce innovative engineering products, it was also concerned about its employees and the local community. Hewlett and Packard aimed to hire the right people and immediately give them all the responsibility they could handle. Layoffs were unknown at HP. We all shared in the company’s profits. In the case of an economic slowdown, we would take a day off without pay every second week. Most of us went to work on those days anyway.

Engineers were allowed to use company facilities, equipment, and even electronic components to pursue their own hobbies. As long as they did the work on their own time, the company felt that designing something different helped them to widen their horizons [*Stephen Wozniak worked at HP a few years later and used the company’s parts to build his first personal computer. He showed his design to Hewlett who did not show any interest in it. After Wozniak left HP, he teamed up with Steve Jobs to launch their own company.] Several of us built our own stereo equipment with the help of HP’s largess. We exchanged design ideas and compared our products. Our lab truly had a family feeling, and I loved being part of the group.

Another interesting aspect of the organization was HP’s trust in its employees. The company’s site was not fenced in. The side doors of our lab stayed unlocked 24 hours a day, leaving the expensive parts and testing equipment unguarded. No one checked what people brought in or took out. The honor system worked perfectly.

Because our microwave test equipment had been installed in most of the U.S. Navy’s ships, HP applied for a security clearance for me. After I completed a long, detailed questionnaire, two officers from Naval Intelligence came to interview me at work.

For about an hour, the men asked questions about my past, including my childhood in Hungary. They wanted to know what relatives I had behind the Iron Curtain and how frequently I communicated with them. The fact that I was still single at the age of 32 also raised a touchy question. “Do you date women?” asked one of them diplomatically.

I assured them that I was not homosexual, but they wanted to have the names of girlfriends I had had in the past. To convince them, I turned over the list of women I had received from the computer dating service. They were satisfied and promised to come back for a second interview.

Two weeks later, they returned. “You didn’t tell us that your mother came to visit you in the United States,” said one of them as soon as we sat down in the conference room.

“She has never been the in the U.S.,” I replied.

The men looked in their notebooks. “Think again, because we have different information,” said the second officer. Both of them stared at me, waiting for my answer.

The men sounded so convincing that I began to wonder if my mother had somehow managed to come over without telling me. I had heard once about a Hungarian-American man whose wife had passed away, and he had invited women from Hungary to come and look after him. Would my mother do that without telling my sister and me? But I had been receiving weekly mail with Hungarian postmarks from her, so I rejected that possibility.

I did my best to convince the officers that my mother had not been in the U.S. I also answered their other questions. At the conclusion of our discussion, they told me that I would learn the outcome of the investigation some time later. However, because I was not a U.S. citizen and still had relatives in the Eastern Bloc, it was unlikely that I would be granted a Secret Clearance.

They were right. A few weeks later, the U.S. State Department rejected my application without providing any explanation. I was unhappy, because the job of visiting naval vessels to assist with the installation of our equipment sounded interesting to me. However, HP did not want to pursue the idea any longer. Where and how the Intelligence Officers had received the incorrect information that my mother had visited the United States puzzled me. I never did find a plausible explanation.


The End of My Dating Game

After nearly two years of frequent dating and changing girlfriends, I was becoming tired of the dating game. Most of my colleagues were happily married. The idea of settling down and having children gradually began to appeal to me. I particularly missed celebrating holiday festivities with a family and decided to focus on meeting women who had the potential to become a lifetime partner. Interestingly, once my outlook changed, I did not have to wait long.

Joyce Bogart, a 23-year-old woman who was on the latest computer-dating list I had received, sounded lively and bubbly over the telephone. She was a native Californian, and her parents lived nearby. For the past few years, she had worked as a secretary for one of the electronics companies in Sunnyvale. I felt an immediate attraction to her during our first meeting. After dating her for about three months, I liked her even more. Then, as we parted one evening, she dropped a bombshell. “I interviewed last summer with World Airways, and they just offered me a job as a stewardess,” she told me. “The only problem is, I need to move to Los Angeles.”

I did not know how to respond without sounding unhappy. How could she consider moving away when I am formulating my plans with her? Thinking about my next step kept me awake for a long time that night.

The following day, I went to work still wondering what to do. Steve Adam, a fellow Hungarian and microwave engineer in my division, noticed my long face. “What’s the matter?” he asked.

“My girlfriend has a job offer that’ll take her to Los Angeles. I was hoping to marry her one day.”

“Do you love her? Is she right for you?”


“I have a simple solution for you. Come with me.”

We walked to his car, and he drove us to downtown Los Altos. After parking in front of Paragon Jewelers, he led me into the store. “This is a friend of mine,” he said introducing me to the owner. “He wants to propose to his girlfriend and needs a ring.”

Hearing what Steve said stunned me but the jeweler did not hesitate. From one of the glass cases he pulled out a large tray of rings. “What kind do you think she would like?”

There was no easy way to back out now. After a while, with the help of my friend, I selected a nice diamond ring. Once that was accomplished, I felt relieved, thanked Steve, and began to consider how I should ask Joyce to marry me. I wanted to follow the Hungarian custom and ask her parents’ permission first. I decided to do so that evening.

The parents lived about 20 minutes away from my apartment. I had met them only once before, but when I phoned from work, her mother told me I would be welcome to stop by to see them. With the ring in my pocket, I drove over after supper.

I could tell that they were curious about the purpose of my visit. After a few minutes of courteous chitchat, I asked her father for the honor of marrying his daughter. A short silence followed my request.

“You’ve only known her for a few months,” replied Joyce’s father. “Don’t you think that waiting a little longer would be a good idea?”

I explained why I did not want to wait. Their daughter’s bubbling enthusiasm and my down-to-earth stability were complementary. We had similar interests. I felt we had what it would take to be happily married. If she were to move to Los Angeles, it would be hard for us to maintain our relationship. If we were engaged, I was assuming she would turn down the World Airways job. We could be married the following year if we still felt the same way about each other. I was 32 years old and she was nine years younger, but the age difference did not bother either of us.

They were surprised to hear that I had not discussed my plan with their daughter first. “Are you sure she wants to marry you?” asked the mother. “If she loves you, why would she consider a move to Los Angeles?”

Her questions were logical, and I did not have a good answer. I told them that in many ways I was old-fashioned and felt it was proper to ask for the parents’ approval first. Once they agreed, then I would propose to her.

I could tell they liked what I said. We talked for quite some time about our fundamental beliefs, financial outlook, and family issues. The three of us shared similar views in most areas. The only topic they showed concern about was religion. They were members of the Methodist Church and attended services faithfully. I went to Catholic mass, but only on major holidays. I assured them that I would give my wife complete freedom to decide the religious upbringing of their future grandchildren. After hearing that, they both gave me their blessing and wished me good luck in my next step.

The day before Thanksgiving, 1968, I handed Joyce a small present: a Hungarian bowl I had bought during my trip to Budapest. The ring was Scotch-taped to its bottom. She admired the hand-painted colors and turned the bowl over to see the trademark stamp. There, she saw the ring.

“Will you be my wife?” I asked.

She was so astonished that she almost dropped the bowl. “Of course I will,” she replied after overcoming her surprise. She removed the ring, put it on her finger, and kissed me.

The following February, a Methodist minister married us in a ceremony held in her parents’ home in Atherton. We stayed in the Mountain View apartment I had rented earlier, although Joyce  was eager to have us buy a house.

My father-in-law, a Standard Oil (now Chevron) executive, gave us a two-week all-expenses-paid Hawaiian vacation for a wedding present. He arranged an ideal tourist guide for us: Sarge Kahanamoku, a younger brother of the two-time Olympic champion swimmer Duke Kahanamoku.

Sarge was a well-known personality in the islands. Most Hawaiians knew him. He introduced us to all the beautiful sights, taught us to scuba dive, and took us for ride in an outrigger canoe. We watched the sun dipping into the Pacific Ocean during dinners. Hearing the gentle native music while smelling the fragrance of Hawaiian flowers created an unforgettable experience. Even now, when I look back, those two weeks represent my most memorable vacation. I was grateful to my in-laws for such a wonderful honeymoon gift.

When I returned to work from Hawaii, I found a package containing a nice silver bowl. The attached card had a short note: “Congratulations and Best Wishes, Bill.” Not knowing which Bill it came from, I went to the closest one, Bill Nelson, to ask if the present had come from him.

“No, it wasn’t I,” he laughed. I went to ask the next Bill. Same response. Finally, the third one was kind enough to tell me, “It came from THE Bill — Bill Hewlett.” He explained that every employee received one after his or her marriage. Other gifts such as baby blankets were given to those who had their first child. Those were only two of the many ways HP showed how much it valued its employees.


Left: Tasting the wedding cake. Right: Receiving the marriage certificate from the 94-year-old Dr. Luftborrow.
Our marriage turned out to be the last he performed because he passed away soon after.


Beginning to Teach Courses

One of the engineering section managers, Doug Gray, and I developed a one-day seminar on the new high-frequency circuit design and began to deliver it at various HP field offices throughout the country. The course became extremely popular, and our sales force wanted to expand the coverage to Europe the following summer. After giving the overseas seminars, I planned to take time off and visit Hungary with my wife.

Many of my colleagues were working on advanced degrees at Stanford University. HP paid all the school expenses and allowed employees to take time off work for the classes. The campus was close to our Palo Alto facility, so it was convenient to take courses during the day. Stanford offered a program that combined a Master’s degree in engineering with an MBA. Because I had taken the core business courses at Colorado, that program looked very attractive. My manager approved my plan, and I submitted an application to Stanford. Within a few days, the school turned it down.

I figured there must have been a mistake and made an appointment with the head of admissions. When I met the man, he pointed out that my grade average had dropped in my last year at CU and I had received a “D” in an engineering course. “I am afraid that indicates you are not qualified for our graduate program,” he told me.

Telling him about my hectic traveling schedule during my senior year and the various awards I had received at CU did not change his mind. I went back to work and complained to our Personnel manager. The next day, the Stanford administrator called me. “Against my better judgment, I am willing to give you a chance to prove yourself. Come see me.”

With excitement, I rushed over to his office. “I’ll let you take a graduate-level course this summer,” he informed me. “You’re an experienced designer. It would not be fair for you to take an electrical engineering course, so I want you to take a math class.” He placed me in an 800-level math course on matrix theory. I was disappointed with his selection, but this was my only choice if I wanted to attend Stanford. The course began a few weeks later.

During the first class session, I felt like I was in a foreign country. All my classmates were Ph.D. candidates in math. They spoke a language that only occasionally had a few commonly used English words. After spending all my free time studying and reading references, I received a “B” in the course. As soon as the grades were available, I proudly marched to the Admissions Office to show off my success.

The man looked at the grade slip. “In a graduate course, a “B” means failure,” he announced with disdain in his voice. “Try another university where the requirements are lower.” With that, he dismissed me. Needless to say, I was furious. It took me nearly 30 years to get my revenge. [*In 1994, after I had already received my Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering and owned a successful international continuing education company, Stanford asked if I would teach short courses on their campus. I declined their request.]

The University of Santa Clara had an “Early Bird” graduate program, but it was too late to apply for the fall semester. Classes were offered in the mornings, 7–9 a.m. They were not as convenient as the Stanford program, but I had no alternative. I enrolled in the Santa Clara program to begin the following January.

When my project’s prototype phase in microcircuit form was completed, I asked for a transfer to our marketing department. The company sent me to Max Sacks International for a three-day course on sales techniques. I had the good fortune to be taught by the founder of the company. In contrast to the brief training I had received at Vic Tanny’s gym, he showed us how to sell with integrity.

At the beginning of the course, Max handed each of us a small card. “Read through the sentence on the card,” he told us. “Then, go back a second time and count how many times you find the letter ‘F’. Write down your results.”

I read the sentence,


Next, he asked how many Fs we found. We all agreed that there were three of them.

“You’re wrong. There are six Fs in that sentence,” he said. “Look again!”

He was right. Everyone in the class had missed the Fs in the three repetitions of the word “of.” It was embarrassing to make such a simple mistake.

“The first lesson of salesmanship is to find the hidden Fs in your customer,” he told us. “Before you begin to sell someone your product, find out as much as you can about that person. You need to know what his or her interests and needs are. Then you’ll have a much higher chance of closing the sale.”

The course was fascinating. By the end, I realized what an important part selling plays in our lives. Even if our work does not require us to sell a product or a service, we often need to “sell” ourselves to others. I considered technical sales as a possible career path for myself sometime in the future. It would have been extremely helpful to have that course before working for Vic Tanny,

After returning to HP, I was assigned to work on the introduction of a newly developed digital microwave power meter, the HP 432C. Preparing the marketing plan of the product was a new experience for me. Instead of designing something, I had to explain why this instrument was better than its predecessors.

However, a few weeks later, Paul Ely, our division’s lab manager called me into a conference. “We have probably the finest hybrid microwave circuit facility in the world. So far, all of our products have gone into our test equipment,” he began. “We have come across a potential large-volume component market where our technology could present a major breakthrough. It is cable television.” Then he came to the point. “A small hybrid microcircuit could replace a bulky component in the cable boxes. I want you to come back into engineering and develop that product. If we can do it at an acceptable price, Anaconda Cable TV Company will place a large order with us.”

Although I was enjoying my new marketing assignment, his request flattered me. Of all the capable people in our division, he had picked me for that important project. I agreed to his request and moved back into the lab. Within a few months, we had produced prototypes and received an order for 10,000 units. By the fall, HP was sending regular shipments to the cable television equipment manufacturer. To recognize my contribution, Anaconda presented me with a souvenir inscribed, “CENTURY CABLE TV AMPLIFIER, MADE ESPECIALLY FOR LES BESSER, COMMEMORATING THE INTRODUCTION OF MICROELECTRONICS IN THE CABLE TV INDUSTRY.” HP filed a patent for my circuit, and I received $100 when the application was approved.

magThe hybrid microcircuit, which I had designed, is shown here in
a custom-designed gold-plated circular package, mounted on top of a printed circuit board.
The integrated circuit was constructed on a 25-mil thick, 0.5” x 0.6” highly polished sapphire substrate.
magI was comparing the measured results of the circuit with
the computer-predicted simulation. The picture shows
HP’s first computer-controlled network analyzer. (HP 8542A)

After working with computer-aided design (CAD) for some time, I realized that much of the expensive computer time was spent on mathematical matrix conversions [*The first-generation CAD programs required frequent conversions of mathematical forms to handle various types of circuit interconnections.] I discussed the issue with Robert Newcomb, a Stanford professor, at one of the IEEE meetings. He was a well-known circuit theory expert and thought there might be a simpler way to handle the math. The two of us began to explore the subject. We worked late nights for weeks in his office, to the chagrin of my wife. I found the math course I had taken at Stanford proved very helpful in solving the complex matrix equations, although Professor Newcomb did most of the analytical work. When we finally reached a promising approach, I wrote a computer program in BASIC language to test the theory and compare the results against the HP program that was also written in BASIC but used the conventional simulation technique.

Our expectations were correct; the new method did help to speed the analysis of high-frequency circuits. The professor did not want me to reveal the idea to anyone until our paper had been accepted for presentation at the IEEE International Conference on Communications (ICC), scheduled for San Francisco the following year.

My next step was to rewrite the program in FORTRAN. Because HP allowed us to use their facilities for personal projects, I did not hesitate to do that project at work during the evenings. In our lab, I could remotely access Stanford’s computer for the work. With the results obtained by that program, and with the help of Professor Newcomb, I wrote a paper and submitted it to the ICC.

mag The flyer of our one-day high-frequency
design seminar. When I provided my biography
to our art department, I assumed that Stanford
would accept me for their graduate studies.

When the IEEE Circuit Theory Group’s Bay Area chapter had its annual election of officers in 1969, the Professor Newcomb nominated me. At the University of Colorado, I had joined the IEEE as a student member, but I had not attended their meetings in California. To my surprise, most likely because I worked for such a high-caliber company, the members elected me. I began my participation in the activities of the largest professional organization in the world and continue to remain active in IEEE at the present time.

During the summer, the founder of the HP Lab division and a Director of HP, Barney Oliver, [*An interesting episode between Barney Oliver and Bill Hewlett took place in the HP Lab division. After HP introduced its first scientific desktop calculator, Hewlett commented to Oliver that he would really like to carry such a tool in his shirt pocket. Oliver measured Hewlett’s pocket, and within a year the HP team developed a pocket calculator, the HP-35, to replace slide rules. The product turned out to be a huge success and an invaluable tool to design engineers.] decided to write a comprehensive handbook of electronic measurements and instrumentation. He asked me to contribute a section on high-frequency amplifier design. I felt honored that he had selected me for the task, and dedicated several weekends to writing. HP also published a collection of articles on the new high-frequency circuit design in their Application Note series that included my magazine article, “Combine S-Parameters with time sharing.” The AppNote became highly popular, and HP distributed thousands of copies throughout the world. The publicity helped me to become more visible in our industry.



Left: Front cover of the popular HP Application Note. A few years after I left HP, the company
printed a
second edition, number 95A—without my article.
Right: The first page of my article’s reprint in the original version of the AppNote.
Both versions of these Application Notes can be downloaded from the
references listing at the bottom of this page

Employment recruiters again began to hound me. Although I was not seriously considering leaving HP, I did agree to talk with a few companies, including Tektronix of Beaverton, Oregon. After an initial interview in the Bay-area, the company flew my wife and me to their plant for secondary discussions. After the interviews, their VP of Engineering gave us a tour through a newly constructed housing development where one of the beautiful model homes was priced at $13,000! On our way home, my wife and I agreed that if same opportunities had been available in Silicon Valley, I would have accepted the job offer and bought that house.

In the latter part of 1969, the manager of HP’s Solid State Division, John Attala, left the company. A few days later, he became the vice president and general manager of the newly formed Microwave and Optoelectronics Division of Fairchild Semiconductor. Several of his former HP colleagues followed him to Fairchild. I was unaware of their desertion. One weekend, John Moll, Fairchild Microwave’s Director of Engineering, a former high-level member of the staff at HP, called me at home. “We’re looking for an engineer to head our hybrid circuit development,” he began. “Dr. Attala and I would like to show you a challenging opportunity at Fairchild.”

I thanked him but explained that I was very happy at HP and would not consider leaving. “I respect your loyalty, but we could offer you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he countered. “Let’s have lunch next week.”

Although I had not met John Moll at HP, he was an icon in the semiconductor industry for being the co-inventor of the first nonlinear transistor model. I figured there would be no harm in talking with him and agreed to meet in the executive cafeteria of Fairchild’s headquarters in Mountain View.

Dr. Moll came in with another manager. They outlined the ambitious charter of their new division. In addition to developing new state-of-the-art microwave semiconductor devices and circuits, their plan included collision-avoidance radar for automobiles, a locator for downed aircrafts, and two-way cable television communication systems. “You would be the key person to lead the cable TV product development,” they explained while showing me the plans of an 80,000-square-foot facility under construction in the hills of Palo Alto. It all sounded very impressive.

“Let us introduce you to Dr. Attala,” said John Moll, seeing that I was wavering. “He’s been in a planning meeting with Dr. Hogan, but they should be finishing now.”

Lester Hogan had come to Fairchild earlier that year from Motorola to revitalize the semiconductor operation. He brought a group of high-level executives with him, referred to in Silicon Valley as “Hogan’s Heroes”. The thought of meeting such famous people was too tempting to refuse. I agreed to go along.

At HP, only Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard had private offices. Dr. Attala’s huge office, monitored by an attractive secretary, was very imposing. We waited only a few minutes until he appeared.

John Attala, an Egyptian-born American, had striking good looks combined with personal magnetism and contagious enthusiasm. “I’ve heard about you and want you to join my team,” he greeted me. “I also loved working for HP, but our new group at Fairchild Microwave can do so much more for the world. That’s why so many of us from HP have come here.”

Dr. Attala briefly outlined his plans for the division. Then, he abruptly changed the subject. “”What is your salary at HP?” he asked.

“One thousand dollars per month.”

He looked at a notepad on his desk. “We’ll pay you twice as much and also give you an option for one thousand shares of Fairchild stock,” he offered. “Your title will be Engineering Section Manager. How soon can you start?”

My head was buzzing. Double my salary. Manage a group. Have a stock option. I had heard about people at HP receiving options but all those people were well-established managers.

Attala probably read my mind. “Fairchild's stock price is currently in the low twenties. When our division’s new products are introduced, your stock will be worth two or three times more.”

All eyes focused on me. “Let me think about this, please,” I said.

“Of course,” said Dr. Attala. “Call John Moll when you've decided, but don't wait too long!” We said good-bye, and I left Fairchild.

When my wife heard the gist of the interview, she became excited. “We could buy a house much sooner than we had planned,” was her first reaction. “At HP, it would take you years to receive that high a salary.”

She was right. At the same time, I was so attached to HP that it was hard for me to imagine working anywhere else. How could I walk away from my project and the European seminar series planned for the next summer? What would all my colleagues think about my selling out to a higher bidder?

For the next several days, I did not sleep well, trying to reach the right decision. The friends with whom I confidentially shared my dilemma unanimously suggested I seize the opportunity. Even my father-in-law, who had worked for Standard Oil Company for 25 years, recommended the change. He warned me, however, to handle my resignation tactfully. “HP is a great company, and you may decide to return there one day,” he advised me.

Finally, I made the big decision to leave the company. In a carefully worded letter, I explained the advancement opportunities the new job offered me. Although Fairchild had pressed me to start there as soon as possible, in my letter I promised to stay at HP for a month to assure a smooth transfer of my project responsibilities. In addition, I offered to take a vacation from Fairchild during the upcoming summer to participation in HP’s European seminars. My wife typed the letter and the Monday after Thanksgiving Day, I handed it to my supervisor, Bill Nelson.

He stared at me in disbelief for a moment and suggested we talk it over. “You have a good future at HP,” he told me. “Why would you want to leave?”

Without stating Fairchild’s salary offer, I replied that my mind was firmly made up. He shook his head and asked me not to discuss the matter with anyone. Then he went to talk to his manager. I proceeded with my regular duties.

Before lunchtime, Bill came back and asked me to go over to see Paul Ely. Two section managers were also waiting for me in the conference area. The Paul informed me that I would soon be due for a salary increase. After my project completion, I could transfer back to marketing, where I could advance rapidly. “Our division is growing fast and you could be given more responsibility soon,” he explained. “Also, Fairchild has a different company culture,” he added. “You wouldn’t be as happy there as you are here.”

He added that it was not ethical to join a competitor, pointing out that Fairchild might also want to go after the large CATV component business of HP. We talked for a while, but I stuck with my decision. Then, he brought up something unexpected. “I told our John Young about your resignation. He mentioned seeing you one evening making copies of a computer printout. Do you have a copy of our CAD program’s listing?”

Without going into details, I assured him that those copies were made from my personal correspondence. He did not look convinced but did not press the issue further. “It looks like I can’t talk you out of what I feel is a big mistake,” was his next statement. “In that case, you should leave HP immediately. Your supervisor will help you to gather your personal effects and escort you to Personnel. You’ll be paid for the month you offered to work here.”

I was dumbfounded by his words and asked if I had heard him right. When he repeated his instructions, I asked about my participation in the European seminars. “I appreciate your offer, but we’ll find someone at HP to replace you.” With that, he said good-bye to me without shaking my hand.

My coworkers stared at me as I boxed my books and other belongings while my supervisor stood next to me. They were unaware of what was going on. Our Personnel Manager was already waiting for us in his work area. He asked me to sign some forms, handed me a check for a full month’s salary and walked me out of the plant. After four years of working there, I was no longer part of the HP family. I suddenly felt like an orphan!

I later changed my mind to this position, as follows:

As I learned later, on that very same day two managers from our division, one from production and the other from marketing, had also resigned to join Fairchild. Several other people had already moved from other HP divisions. It appeared to HP’s management that in an attempt to take away HP’s new high-frequency microcircuit component market, Fairchild was systematically pirating key personnel from engineering, manufacturing, and marketing. Later, rumors flowed that Bill Hewlett met Fairchild’s CEO in a restaurant and protested the luring away of HP staff. Whether it was Fairchild’s deliberate effort or not, as I far as I recall I was the last HP employee to join Fairchild Microwave.

Prior to the Fairchild hiring incidents, few people had quit HP. During my four years with the company, the Microwave Division had frequently added new employees, but I could not recall anyone leaving us. Naively, without knowing that it was standard practice when an employee left to work for a competitor, I had not expected an immediate termination after my resignation. I sincerely intended to stay for the month of December and pass all relevant information about the important CATV project to someone else.

With hindsight, by revealing the software development I had worked on with Professor Newcomb, I could have prevented any suspicion that I had taken proprietary information from HP. In retrospect, I feel that not telling HP about our work has been one of the biggest mistakes of my life. Even though Fairchild’s attorney assured me later that HP could not have had any claim to the ownership of the S-Parameter algorithm, my action damaged the close relationships I had with some of my former colleagues.

In the early part of 1970, as soon as the IEEE ICC accepted my paper, [*Besser, L., “A Fast Computer Routine to Design High Frequency Circuits,” IEEE ICC Conference Digest, San Francisco, CA June 1970.] I sent a letter to my former lab manager at HP. I asked him to send someone to attend the presentation where I discussed the details of our new simulation technique, but he disregarded my suggestion. If he had sent an HP employee to my presentation, it would have been clear to the company that our approach at Fairchild was revolutionarily different from the already published method used in HP’s CAD program.



Various Documents Linked from this Page for References:


Hurdling to Freedom, by Les Besser

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