Feb 28, 2014

Guru #2, Bob Dobkin

Of the five men on the original “gurus” advertisement from Linear Technology, Bob Dobkin is the only one still living the dream, doing what he loves for a living. As co-founder and CTO of Linear Technology, his fingerprints are on almost every circuit, every document, and even every advertisement from the company – although he credits Bob Swanson for the idea behind the “gurus” ad. Financially, he could have retired long ago but he says “if I retired from Linear I’d want to go and make circuits.” “Doing analog ICs is like a hobby to a lot of people. It’s a creative outlet. It’s like painting on the canvas but the canvas is silicon.”


Dobkin was born in 1943 and grew up back on the East Coast in Philadelphia. He said he started playing with electronics when he was about six. It was all about making lights blink or buzzers go off. So it goes back well before learning anything in school. He said he thinks “…that many of the people who have good, intuitive feel for analog circuits started well before they got into school as well, building things, doing projects, and then for some of us, it ended up being a profession.”

“Nobody else in my family had any inkling to do any electronics. My parents were business people and my mother was a housewife. My brother, one brother's a doctor. The other brother's in advertising and they don't know which end of a screwdriver to pick up, much less a soldering iron. So I picked it up all on my own.”

From a 2006 interview together with Jim Williams, Dobkin talked about taking things apart. “I was nine. It was 1952. We just got our new nineteen inch black and white TV set which costs as much as a car. And it's in the living room. And I got my screwdriver and I took it apart. And my mom walks into the living room and I didn't just open the back, I had all the chassis out on the floor. I had all the tubes out of it and I'm looking at every different piece. And she just looked in and left... didn't say anything. And I made diagrams when I took it apart. I put it back together again and it worked. And I didn't think anything about it till fifteen years later when I heard her telling the story to some friends – ‘…and I walked into the living room and it was all apart on the floor. What was I going to tell my husband?’”

To which, Jim Williams added, “That's why he's my boss. He put his back together and it worked. Mine never worked again.”

At age 10, he created a contraption that electrified the family's outdoor garbage bins, so that neighborhood dogs couldn't prowl for scraps. At age 14, he made a one-transistor FM transmitter that took over a local diner's background music system, so that he could boom out comments to the cooks and waitresses. "You can always learn more equations as an adult," he said. "We can teach that. But you can't learn to be an inventor if it isn’t in your blood."

In an interview with Electronic Design, he recalled submitting circuits for Ideas for Design. “I remember one I wrote when I was a kid. It was a current source that you could pulse on or off. I don’t know how many letters I got from that,” he said. “It had just two or three transistors in it, but it was really effective in terms of people coming back to me after reading it, which means there were a lot of people out there who couldn’t do that,” he added. “Also, of course, it was useful. There weren’t many couple-transistor circuits that provided a current source you could turn on and off.”

He read hobby magazines, trade magazines or anything with a schematic. Before he went to college he had probably built more circuits than most people have when they finish. Dobkin went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the early sixties. He admits that he wasn’t a good student. There were stacks of circuits in the library and he found them more interesting than what they were teaching in class. He left before completing his degree and joined GE Re-entry Systems back in Philadelphia, working in their test instrumentation group. They had a huge calibration lab and it was full of manuals, so Dobkin would go there and read any schematic that looked interesting. In those days every piece of test instrumentation had a full set of schematics. He said he went back to visit 10 years later and many of his systems were still in use. It was a great place to learn, but he wanted to make circuits.

So he left to join Philbrick. He told me he had called Philbrick to ask questions, but the questions were too detailed so they forwarded him directly to Bob Pease. “I was working at GE Re-entry Systems at the time. And Widlar had started at National and was doing the best analog circuits at the time. I had written him some letters and he had asked if I wanted to come out and talk to him. And at the time I had also written some letters to a company up in Boston called Philbrick-Nexus. They made op amps as well. And these op amps were little modules. And they really hadn't gotten into ICs. And I'd written them some letters as well. And I got a job offer to move up there and make some IC op amps, be their chief integrated circuit design engineer. And that's where I met Bob Pease. At the time, I decided I'd probably be better off going to Philbrick. And I started off there. When I got to Philbrick, they were part of Teledyne. There were all kinds of corporate problems between one section and another making the products. I found that you couldn't get anything done and I called up Bob Widlar and I said, ‘You ready for me to come out?’And he said, ‘Come out.’ So I got packed up and I moved west to work for Bob Widlar at National. And that's how I got out west.” "The best part of being part of Teledyne was meeting Carl Nelson who I worked with ever since."

He said that not completing his degree made it difficult for him. He was lucky to run into Bob Pease. Pease didn’t care about your degree; he only cared about what you knew about circuits. And he was lucky to work with Bob Widlar. Widlar didn’t care about your degree, either, just what you knew about circuits.

Widlar was the director of analog circuit design at National, doing all the circuits himself. He had Mineo Yamatake and Ken Craft working for him. Widlar wanted to retire, so he wanted to hire someone to replace himself and that was Dobkin. Dobkin joined National in January of 1970. “Well Bob was one of the few people I considered to be a genius. He was also paranoid, very hard to get along with and drank incessantly. My interview with him was before dinner drinks, two bottles of wine with dinner and after dinner drinks. And I was still standing so I was hired. Of course, I went home and threw up a lot! And he was very egotistical. He didn't think anybody could invent things, at least back in the old days. I think he changed his mind after a while. But he was very good at what he did, made sure that things worked very, very properly. He promoted them properly. I learned a lot in terms of how to be in the analog semiconductor business from Bob.”

“We all did our own app notes. I wrote my own app notes. And he wrote his own app notes. He wrote his own data sheets. He set up the format for them. He gave his own lectures out to the customers. And, at times, he answered the customer phone calls. And that's where we learned about a technique which we call ‘design for minimum phone calls’ because when you make a million ICs; you get half a million phone calls if they don't work right.”

In the words of Thomas Lee, engineers are also congenital speed freaks. Dobkin’s first task at National was to make a faster op amp. According to Lee, “Improvements in process technology help, of course, but often the greatest speed gains are the result of clever topological choices. The LM318, designed by Dobkin, proves this assertion. Built in a process technology not much different from that used to make the LM101A, the LM318 achieved 15MHz unity gain bandwidths and 50V/µs slew rates. Compared against the best op amps of the day, the bandwidth was improved by an order of magnitude and the slew rate by two orders of magnitude.”

He also did the LM319, LM313 and LM395. (Remember, in early National Semiconductor part numbering, LM1xx was a full military temperature range part and the LM3xx was the commercial temperature version.)

The LM317 three-terminal adjustable regulator came about at National in 1976. Dobkin says, "It kind of got started because, at the time, you could make a fixed voltage regulator with three terminals—input, output, and ground," he explains. "But everyone wanted a regulator that they could adjust to whatever they wanted, and there weren't very many good packages with four leads to add an adjustment pin. That's when I came up with the three-terminal adjustable regulator."

I asked Dobkin what his favorite circuit was. His answer was the most recent of his, the LT3080. The LT3080 LDO is a descendant of the classic LM317. Dobkin was directly involved in designing both. "My solution was to substitute a current reference for the voltage reference. That allows use of a very small ballast resistance, on the order of 10 mΩ, which can be achieved simply with a few inches of pcboard trace," Dobkin said. "Using a current source means there is no attenuation of amplifier gain, which helps keep output regulation constant." It was something he wanted to do way back at National, but the technology wasn’t there. It needed low TC resistors and a lot of circuit tricks that he’s learned along the way. “That’ll still be in use years from now,” Dobkin said. “As a building block, it’s not an end in itself all the time. It can be used as many things besides just a power supply. It can be used as a power control. It can be used as a battery charger. You don’t have to put too much around it to change its overall function,” he said.

There are lots of stories about pranks. Dobkin had his fair share. He was the unindicted coconspirator in the infamous Widlar sheep story. The stories about messing with the clocks, making them run slow or fast were all his doing. It wasn’t “the golden age of pranking” so much as some hostility toward National’s management at the time. Of course, these weren’t trivial pranks. These were so well done that the sabotage was imperceptible. Along with the fun, there was a certain amount of professional pride in the pranks. Among peers, the creativity was appreciated – even by the victims.

Rob Walker asked Dobkin what inspired him to break out of National and start Linear Technology? “Too comfortable. National was really getting big. National had the idea that they wanted to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, IC maker. And the fabs — a lot of pieces that don't necessarily work well when they're homogenized. And contributor type of development. It takes smart people to do it. It takes processes that are tuned for analog circuits and it takes just handling the analog circuits the right way to get out a product that's a good analog circuit. It was getting harder and harder to do that at National. The chains of command were getting longer. The bureaucracy was getting bigger and we ended up talking over the partitions—wouldn't it be nice if we could do this, if we didn't have to use all the profits to fund microprocessors. And finally we went out and did something.”

As Bob Swanson told it, a few guys would come over to his house to drink beer, shoot pool and talk. And finally one of the guys said “look, are we going to drink beer and shoot pool or are we going to start a company?” That was Swanson, Dobkin, Brent Welling and Brian Hollins. In the few weeks between the time they quit National and founded LTC, they added Bob Widlar and George Erdi to the team. Obviously, these were the most talented and experienced analog designers in the business. In the first month they added Carl Nelson and later Tom Redfern. Linear Technology had an aggressive business strategy and, like any start-up, they needed to make money quickly. It would be many years before they would start hiring engineers right out of college. But now they do, pairing them up with experienced engineers to accelerate the learning curve.

“It takes a long time for somebody to become an analog engineer. I kind of think about the process of becoming an analog engineer like learning a language. There's all these pieces of analog circuits that you get familiar with and you know how they work and that's like the words. And when you first see a circuit if you don't have any experience, you can compute what each of the transistors is doing and what each of the currents are doing and finally figure out how it's working. And that's kind of like translating a page by having a dictionary and looking up each word in a dictionary until you finally figure out what that page says. But once you have familiarity with the circuit pieces and how they interact, you get an intuitive feel for where a circuit goes. And it's only until you get that intuitive feel you'll be able to start writing in that language or designing. You can take a big, complicated schematic and you can have an analog designer's experience and he can look at it for minute, two minutes and know what it does because he knows all the pieces and puts it together in his head.”

Along with many new designs and devices, Dobkin has also developed a strong sense of how the design process has evolved, and about creativity. "We have simulation tools, but the tools only let you test the circuits that you come up with on a computer," he says. "They don't actually do a design for you. So the design is only as good as the designer. The tools just make it easier to get that design out."

Modern IC’s are tremendously complex. According to Dobkin, when operating at very high frequencies without the tools, it would be virtually impossible to get them up and running. At some point, however, the engineers need to create something new to solve problems. "They can be more creative," he asserts. "Creativity is the generation of new and useful products. A lot of engineers like their jobs because they're outlets for creativity. Put engineers in an environment where they can be creative, and you end up with a lot of good products."

What strikes me about these “gurus” and most analog people I’ve met is the sense of fun and enjoyment. Even the curmudgeon types have a great sense of humor once they let you get to know them. It’s not just funny pranks, but they really enjoy the process of making circuits. There’s a great sense of pride in building something that customers want to buy and that competitors have a difficult time duplicating. You can see the sparkle in Dobkin’s eyes when he talks about circuits. He still takes things apart. He still studies schematics simply because it’s fun. He enjoys working among the many brilliant engineers he’s hired over the years, sharing circuit tricks. It’s just fun.

“I’ve spent my working life doing what I like,” says Dobkin.

NOTES

“Bob Dobkin: Creativity Is The Key To Design”, Ron Schneiderman, Electronic Design, Oct. 20, 2002

A review of the book, “The Rare Find”, by George Anders, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/20/the-rare-find-george-anders_n_1022311.html 

“IC Op Amps Through the Ages”, Thomas Lee

“The IFD Culture—An Interview With Hall Of Famer Bob Dobkin”, Don Tuite, Electronic Design, Oct. 1, 2008

“Why we're different, by Bob Dobkin”, http://www.electronicsweekly.com/news/components/analogue-and-discretes/why-were-diferent-by-bob-dobkin-2012-10/#sthash.1iLis9bd.dpuf 

“Interview with Bob Dobkin and Jim Williams”, April 19, 2006, Milpitas, CA http://silicongenesis.stanford.edu/transcripts/dobkinwilliams.htm 

“Inventor Updates A Classic 30 Years Later”, Don Tuite, Electronic Design, Aug. 31, 2007 http://electronicdesign.com/boards/inventor-updates-classic-30-years-later


Feb 23, 2014

Guru #1, Bob Widlar

In my arbitrary counting system, I’ve tagged Bob Widlar as guru #1. Of the five people in the advertisement, his life is probably the best documented. I recommend two excellent sources: Bo Lojek’s “History of Semiconductor Engineering” who devotes an entire chapter to Bob Widlar’s life, and Wikipedia. The Wikipedia page is quickly digestible (and free) and offers a reasonably technical discussion of Widlar’s early works. And the Wikipedia page references Lojek’s book (not free) extensively.



I won’t attempt to write a better story than either of those two sources. Instead, I will offer my reaction to both of them and put a little spin (or anti-spin, as it were) on them.

“History of Semiconductor Engineering”, Chapter 8: Robert J. Widlar – The Genius, The Legend, The Bohemian. Lojek says, “Bob was a fiercely independent individual, very happy to be by himself, and he did everything in a stunning way, which was absolutely natural to him, but completely weird to so-called “normal people.” I completely agree with that! He also said, “…the personality of Bob Widlar is a clear manifestation of unhealthy changes which occurs in our society.” By that, I believe he meant that today’s “political correctness” stifles what engineers say, do and how they pursue their ideas; and therefore, we won’t see someone like Bob Widlar again. I don’t completely agree with that – partially, but not completely. Then again, I never met Widlar. But I look around and I see a lot of character, a lot of people being true to who they are and an acceptance of eccentricity. And I think that Widlar deserves a great deal of credit for that acceptance surviving till today. Simply because he existed and accomplished what he did in the manner that he did, we integrate that into what is acceptable – at least in analog.

Wikipedia concisely covers Widlar’s childhood, education, stint in the Air Force, work at Ball Brothers, segue to Fairchild and then National and Linear Technology where his face appeared on this ad. I gave my own version of these events in my post attempting to account for 10,000 hours. Wikipedia doesn’t clarify how Widlar got his degree in the same three years that he served in the Air Force – and at the same time he wrote the textbooks for the Air Force’s instruction in semiconductors (when no suitable text existed). Wikipedia discusses the µA702 and µA709. But you don’t get a mental picture of Widlar and Talbert working nights and weekends to make the process and product concurrently, without management approval – they had other jobs. The µA702 was introduced a year after Widlar joined Fairchild – probably only a few months after management found out about it. Widlar locked himself away for 170 hours and came out with the µA709 – that’s a week (without much sleep).

On a technicality, Wikipedia makes mention of a patent dispute between Widlar and Linear Technology regarding parts LT1 through LT20. Those are not correct part numbers. In Lojek’s book, the part numbers are LT1-10, -15, -16, -17, -18 and 20. I suspect those are simple typographic errors. I know Widlar designed the LT1010. So it’s possible that LT1015, LT1016, LT1017, LT1018 and LT1020 were also his designs – I’ll check on that.

My real issue with the Wikipedia page is the personality section. The image of him as a heavy drinker seems to grow with time while the image of him as a hard-working, brilliant, prodigious engineer fades as time goes on. And that has to do with context, in my opinion. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the semiconductor industry was the “wild west.” The local watering holes (Walker’s Wagon Wheel, Marchetti’s, etc.) were packed – during lunch and all night. They were crazy times. True, even in those days Widlar stood out. But against the backdrop of today’s sensibilities, Widlar looks even wilder. His hard-working side, his genius, his many contributions fade against the backdrop of technology today. We are spoiled by the accumulated knowledge of circuits at our fingertips. It’s impossible for us to imagine a time before the bandgap reference, before matched transistor pairs and temperature compensation. Widlar worked with a slide rule. He studied the process and drove the process with Dave Talbert to create what was necessary and he invented the rest out of sheer genius.

Accepting that, I’m astonished by the amazing speed with which it all happened. Remember, Widlar worked in the applications group – not R&D or circuit design. Talbert was a process engineer for the microLogic group. They did everything after hours! Widlar joined Fairchild in 1963, released the µA702 in 1964 and µA709 in 1965. Along with “inventing the IC op amp”, he laid the blueprint for how all analog ICs data sheets are written. He wrote his own applications section. He traveled the world giving seminars – he gave a seminar in Madison Square Garden and packed the house! By the end of 1965 he left Fairchild and went to Molectro. His mere presence there was enough to convince National Semiconductor to abandon their east coast roots and build a company around it. In 1966 Widlar made the LM100 and, in 1967, the still legendary LM101. A career’s worth of products in consecutive years, bang, bang, bang. Amazing.

So forgive my soap-box speech, but I think Wikipedia needs to be changed. I’d like to see our community come up with better language than “…lived the life of an alcoholic loner.” Wikipedia can be changed. Yes, he drank (a lot) and preferred to be alone. But I can’t reconcile the image of an alcoholic loner with the technical accomplishments of Bob Widlar, with the obsessive amount of work he poured into every circuit, with the charm and humor or with the business savvy. Sorry, had to put that out there.

Think about the next analog circuit you work with. So much of that circuit exists because of Bob Widlar.

Guru #1.
Bob Widlar, center, at National Semiconductor in 1967

Feb 2, 2014

Guru #3, George Erdi

George Erdi is one of the five “gurus” in the early Linear Technology advertisement. His colleagues poked fun at him for being called an “elegant” precision amplifier designer. But he certainly was the pioneer in precision (“Mr. Precision” according to the Wall Street Journal). He was able to make a precision amplifier on a process that wasn’t built for it at Fairchild. Then he built an entire company around the concept, Precision Monolithics Inc. And then he joined Linear Technology as a founder and got his face on this advertisement.




George Erdi was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1939. In 1956, in a brief period before the Soviets crushed the revolution in Hungary, he and his mother escaped to Canada (his father had died in WWII). In much the same way as his childhood friend, Andy Grove, they walked across the border at night in the snow. In those few weeks when the revolution was succeeding, the border control was loose and 200,000 Hungarians fled the country. His aunt lived in Toronto, so that was the destination.

George had completed high school in Hungary and did not need further secondary school in Canada. In his own words, he was not a “born engineer.” Coming from Soviet-controlled Hungary, he did not speak English. “After a couple of years, I enrolled in the Engineering Department of McGill University, assuming that command of the language was not a necessity in a scientific field. In my freshmen year, however, the first course I had to take was English Literature. Fortunately, the first topic we covered was Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, written in middle English. None of my classmates understood a word of it either. Thus, I became an electronics engineer almost by default.” McGill University, in Montreal, is one of only three English-speaking universities in Quebec. (Not to be a name-dropper, but Les Vadasz was also Hungarian and also attended McGill – although George didn’t know him. Vadasz worked at Transitron, then the digital side of Fairchild before joining Intel.)

He left Montreal and went on to pursue a Master’s Degree at the University of California in Berkeley in 1965. He had been accepted at both Stanford and Berkeley, but had a scholarship to Berkeley. In those early years of the semiconductor industry, Berkeley had a small fab. He took some IC classes, but wrote his thesis in statistical communications because the IC route would have taken much longer. That is essentially where he started in analog. Andy Grove was the key process engineer at Fairchild R&D and made the recommendation for Fairchild to hire George. He says when he joined Fairchild he was basically a novice, “To quote an old joke, I did not know an integrated circuit from a segregated one. But neither did anybody else, the situation being strikingly similar to my first English class at McGill.”

Dave Fullagar joined Fairchild a week after Bob Widlar and Dave Talbert left; George joined a month later. Fullagar was George’s office mate and was intended to work on a precision amplifier, the µA725, but it didn’t work quite right. Then Widlar’s LM101 came out from National. The two office mates asked themselves why the compensation capacitor wasn’t integrated. Perhaps National’s process couldn’t accommodate a cap, but theirs could. Fullagar then did the µA741 (integrating the comp cap) and George picked up the µA725. He essentially started over and created the first precision monolithic op amp. He wrote a paper on the part, but left Fairchild before it was published – so Fairchild removed his name from it. Paul Gray, a professor at Berkeley, did give George credit, however (you probably studied from his Gray and Meyer textbook). George is also credited in various sources with the first monolithic D/A converter. The µA722 was started by Tom O’Day, who left in the middle of the project to join H-P. George made some significant changes and accepts credit as the co-designer. Not bad for a kid not even 30 years old on his first two circuits. By the way, Mike Markkula was responsible for the marketing – legendary investor and second CEO of Apple Computer.
Fairchild µA722
10-bit current source
for D to A converters
(Credit: Fairchild
Camera & Instrument
Corporation)

“In those early years of ICs in the mid-1960s, experienced design engineers had great difficulty abandoning the well-established design concepts of discrete or even vacuum tube circuits. The idea that a transistor was cheaper than a resistor was revolutionary. Everything depended on matching between resistors and transistors, not on absolute tolerances. Inductors and capacitors were unavailable.”
“I, as a beginner, did not have any preconceived notions. IC design was just as easy, or as difficult, as discrete design. My timing was right,” recalled George. 
Bob Pease was one of those designers who were raised in vacuum tube and discrete amplifier design. He devoted one of his columns to his reaction to Erdi’s first op amp.


“When monolithic op amps came along, there were some influences to ‘keep it simple, stupid’. I designed a T52AH – also labelled as Amelco's 809BE – with just 10 transistors, which worked pretty well. But op amps with 20 or 30 transistors soon had just as good a yield. And they offered more features. So, we kept learning how to add more transistors for better performance.”
“But when the Fairchild μA725 came along, we designers were really puzzled. Why would anybody use FOUR input transistors? What the heck was George Erdi smoking? If you set up a diff amp with two transistors in parallel at the plus input and two transistors paralleled on the minus input, why would that give an advantage? But the specs showed real superiority – low offset voltages, good bias currents, and low offset current. Hey, this was about 1971. Not many engineers were climbing inside their suppliers' ICs and studying the layouts. If you didn't, though, you could be stuck with a lousy layout. I know.”
“The basic feature of the μA725 was the common-centroid layout of the input transistor "pair."
“If you took those four input transistors and laid them out in an X pattern, it would be denoted by: 
AB
BA
Connecting them properly in parallel, you can get the linear gradients of Vos, to cancel. And the gradients in beta to cancel. Gradients caused by heating from the output stage – and even from other asymmetrical sources of heat -- tend to cancel. Any linear gradients caused by imperfect die attach tend to cancel. (Nonlinear gradients do NOT get cancelled, of course, but these are usually small.) And these cancellations all happen thanks to a common-centroid layout, which is just another way to say that the ‘Center of Gravity’ (CG) of one input "transistor" is at the same place as the CG of the other transistor.”

Dave Fullagar responded to the Pease column:


“…I had designed the prototype µA725 in 1966 and presented a paper on it at the International Telemetry Conference in Washington in 1967. This early version was quite crude and did not contain a cross-coupled input pair."
"When I proposed, and was given the go-ahead to work on, the µA741, the µA725 project was assigned to my officemate, George Erdi. I remember several brainstorming sessions in which we discussed ways to improve on its performance, including the use of a cross-coupled input stage —we didn't have a fancy name like "common-centroid" for it in those days! The sketch we ended up with on the blackboard was very similar to Fig. 2 of your article. George vastly improved on my earlier design, and the product was announced by Fairchild sometime around 1971 …”
George said it seemed like every Friday was a going-away party at Fairchild. In 1969, Marv Rudin (manager of linear circuit R&D in Palo Alto) and Garth Wilson (circuit design manager under him) left Fairchild to found Precision Monolithics. PMI was founded with financing from Bourns, Inc. Immediately after financing and incorporation, they hired George Erdi who had worked for Wilson at Fairchild, and then Dan Dooley from TRW Microelectronics; both were offered founder stock. They hired a brilliant process engineer, Jerry Bresee, from Techtronix, who developed a semiconductor process far superior to Fairchild. Semiconductor and materials engineer Wadie Khadder was hired with founder stock from Fairchild to support Bresee in both semiconductor process engineering and also the critical precision thin film technology.

Dooley left after about 4-5 years and joined National. With Bresee's and Khadder’s superior process, Erdi was able to design and achieve breakthrough advances in precision and low power for amplifiers, voltage references and data conversion. In 1975, Erdi reported on an offset trim technique that used 300mA over-current pulses, to progressively short zener diodes in a string. This so called “zener zapping” could be used to trim the offset of an op amp on the wafer. The first op amp to utilize this new trim technique was the OP07. (I was always a big fan of their part number prefixes: OP, REF, DAC, etc.)

The OP07 and DAC100 were huge successes. Even though Bourns had repurchased all the shares to make PMI a wholly-owned subsidiary, George felt well compensated. But eventually, George looked around and thought that if 60% of the sales were coming from his designs, then they weren’t going to grow very fast. He needed more contributors. George and Wadie Khadder left PMI in 1981 and eventually, PMI was finally bought by Analog Devices in August 1990.

George knew Bob Dobkin from conferences and called him when he read about him leaving National to start a new company. Linear Technology had not yet been formed, so George joined as a founder. He was employee number five. The other four founders had all quit National at the same time. It was hoped that hiring George from PMI might reduce the legal action from National. But no. George said the legal action with National went on until the same day as the big earthquake in 1989. The settlement came in at 3pm and the earthquake hit at 5pm. As with Fairchild and PMI, he was immediately successful at Linear Technology developing many families of op amps. He retired in 1993 at age 54 but continued to come in once a week or so to support his products.
2012 Analog Aficionados Party
Photo credit: Fran Hoffart

I asked George about the Wall Street Journal article citing Linear’s first new product as the LT1013. He said it wasn’t the first product. Earlier parts were improved versions of existing parts from competitors, like his LT1001 as an improved version of his own OP07. The LT1013 was the first proprietary new design released. I also asked about Bob Widlar. As mentioned, George joined Fairchild a month after he left. George’s first task was to look over Widlar’s projects and see there was anything to salvage. But he said there was nothing left behind. George actually met Widlar a few times at the ISSCC when it was held in Philadelphia – always with a drink in his hand. They worked together at Linear Technology, of course, while Widlar was living in Mexico. Widlar would come in to town for a few weeks and Dobkin would drive him since he didn’t have a license. He said Widlar would never admit that there were things he didn’t know about. Yet he always managed to find his way into George’s office to ask question.

For a man who wasn’t a “born engineer”, having designed some legendary op amps, having Bob Dobkin hire you as his company’s first engineer and also having Bob Widlar ask you about op amp design – that’s pretty impressive.

NOTES

“In a Tech Backwater, A Profit Fortress Rises; Maker of Arcane Chips Earns Better Margins Than Google, Microsoft”, Wall Street Journal, George Anders, Updated July 10, 2007

Computer History Museum - The Silicon Engine | People www.computerhistory.org, 30 June 2011

“Analog Circuit Design – Art, Science, and Personalities”, edited by Jim Williams, 1991 (Chapter 18. Starting to Like Electronics in Your Twenties)

http://www.computerhistory.org/semiconductor/timeline/1968-Data.html
Bob Pease: “What’s all this common-centroid stuff, anyhow?”, Electronic Design, Sep. 30, 1996

Oral History – Dave Fullagar, Jack Gifford, Garth Wilson, Computer History Museum, http://archive.computerhistory.org/resources/text/Oral_History/Fairchild_at_50/102658281.05.01.acc.pdf

IC Op Amps Through the Ages, Thomas H. Lee, rev. October 31, 2003

Precision Monolithics, Inc., Wikipedia

Walt Jung’s Op Amp History, http://www.analog.com/library/analogDialogue/archives/39-05/Web_ChH_final.pdf