Jun 13, 2014

More on Maxim, Who is Sam Ochi?

After writing the back-story of Maxim, I wanted to figure out how Sam Ochi got involved. He stood out because he was the only Maxim founder who was not from Intersil. He was easy enough to find and more than happy to tell me his story.

Sam Seiichiro Ochi was born in Japan, shortly after WWII, when it was still occupied by the US. He recalls having an American G.I. wave him and his friends over and gave them some chewing gum and candy. The American also had a little camera with him and took a picture of them. A week or so later, the G.I. found them and gave them the snapshot he took. Sam and his friends and family had no feelings of animosity or ill will toward the American G.I.s. They viewed the American G.I.s as very warm and friendly.

When he was about seven years old, in the mid 1950’s his parents and four sisters got on the American President Lines passenger ship and sailed to Hawaii. His mother had grown up there, still had three of her sisters there, one of which offered her a job in her flower shop. His father, a high school teacher by training worked part time in a local Japanese language radio station as a radio announcer. They moved again to San Mateo, CA, where they finally settled. His father worked as a Japanese Gardener. Sam’s interest in electronics started when he was in the 4th grade. He started buying old, used radio sets and learned to repair them and then progressed to repairing TV sets. By the time he was in 6th grade, he made spending money repairing TV sets for his parent’s friends and neighbors. In 7th grade, he started taking formal electronics training from an old WWII electronics technician. He learned to read schematics, learned the various types of vacuum tubes, and the basics of the superhetrodyne radios.

He received his Ham Radio Novice license and then his Amateur Radio General license, call letters WA6UIV, two years later during his freshman year at Aragon High School in San Mateo. His skills in electronics had progressed to where he was able to earn all of his spending money working as a part time TV repair technician. In fact, his boss at the TV repair shop offered him a full time job as soon as he graduated from high school, but he turned his boss down because he wanted to become an engineer with a four year college degree.
Ochi attended UC Berkeley and completely supported himself as a TV repair technician. After classes he would go to work at a TV repair shop on Shattuck Ave as a “piece worker” on TV sets needing repair, charging $15/TV set.

While attending UC Berkeley, he got caught up in the Anti-Vietnam protests, and as a result, delayed his graduation date from June 1969 to December 1969. His first job was as an engineer for a small medical electronics manufacturer, Berkeley Bio Engineering. He started as a Junior Engineer, and left the company three years later as Chief Engineer for the company, reporting directly to the CEO. At the same time, he started his Master’s at UC Berkeley. His Master’s advisor was initially Dr. Dave Hodges, and then as his field of study changed, Dr. Paul R. Gray (of Gray & Meyer fame).

Having finished all of his course work for the Master’s program, but not his thesis, he started work at National Semiconductor as an Applications Engineer. He was working under Jim Sherwin in Jim Solomon’s Standard Linear Integrated Circuits (SLIC) group in June 1973. He transferred to one of Jim Solomon’s IC design teams. Under Adib Hamade, he started work as part of a team to design an 8-Bit A/D converter for automotive applications. In the meantime, he completed his Master’s thesis: “An Integrated Circuit Instrumentation Amplifier.” Adib Hamade left National to join PMI around 1976, and so Ochi was promoted to take over his position and worked directly for Jim Solomon. In 1977, he left National to join AMD and work for John Schoeff, who just arrived from PMI to form a design team. Remember, in the early days at AMD while Jack Gifford was still there, they were doing a lot of analog. John developed the first monolithic, untrimmed 12-Bit DAC. John wanted Ochi to work on AMD’s first family of ADCs. By 1979, he had designed a 1µs 8-Bit ADC in AMD’s bipolar Schottky technology, AM6108, and initiated then transferred a 4µs 12-Bit ADC to a design engineer then working for him, Gerald McGlinchey.

Ochi got a call from a head-hunter to join Teledyne Semiconductor (formerly Amelco). John Lemons, President of the division, had just been promoted and was in need of someone to re-start the division. They were working on a second source prototype of single chip DVM. Ochi spent the first month attempting to understand the work of the previous design group, to no avail. They hired a consultant to completely reverse engineer the chip, an ICL7106. They had evaluation boards of the ICL7106 and 400X black and white chip photographs of the entire chip. He and the consultant started from the pads and the data sheet descriptions of the various functions to create the schematic. They then verified the correctness of the schematics by running SPICE circuit simulations of the various blocks extracted. Simultaneously, Ochi had an IC layout designer create the layout designs of the blocks. In approximately three more months, they had completed the schematics, the layout, and verified each of the blocks in SPICE. They got functional silicon of their first version of the ICL7106, called TSC7106, in another three months. He says that customers preferred the TSC7106 because of its low drift internal reference and its lower flicker noise over the ICL7106. Ochi had three senior level design engineers, and a junior design engineer working for him. Between them, they developed over 12 second source products in CMOS from both GE-Intersil and Motorola, and four proprietary products for Teledyne Semiconductor over a span of four years.

Here are Ochi’s recollections of joining Maxim in 1983 as a founding member.

“My recollection of the founding of Maxim goes back to early 1980 – Jack and his team were still at old GE-Intersil. At the time, I was the newly promoted Director of R&D for Teledyne Semiconductor, then a division of Teledyne Corporation in Mountain View. Because of my promotion, I had an open position for my old job as Manager of R&D, and I wanted to staff it with the very best technical talent. I recall interviewing Derek Bowers, then at PMI (now ADI), and Bob Pease, then still at NSC (now a division of TI) for the position. I then came across in one of the trade journals an article about GE-Intersil’s, ICL7115, a 14-Bit successive approximation A/D converter. It was just introduced and designed by Ziya Boyacigillar. I knew a little about the key technical hurdles needed to be overcome in creating such a device. Somehow, I got Ziya to show up at Teledyne Semiconductor for an interview. Of the three engineers I interviewed, Ziya stood out by far, in spite of the fact that he, at the time, was the most junior of the three interviewees. I was blown away. I was impressed with Ziya’s maturity and technical expertise he had already gained and possessed. I offered him a job on the spot. Unfortunately, he turned me down. Prior to meeting Ziya, still then at GE-Intersil, my belief then was that the most capable and experienced analog design engineers were all at either PMI or National Semiconductor. I now knew that there were some exceptional engineers at GE-Intersil as well.”
I admit that when Sam wrote to me and mentioned Ziya Boyacigillar, I had no idea who that was. I assumed it was a dreadful typing mistake. Boyacigillar has Bachelor of Science degree from Bosphorus University, Istanbul, and a MSc in Engineering from UCLA. He worked at Intersil on the industry’s first CMOS laser-trimmed DACs and CMOS mixed-signal circuits. He designed the world’s first 14-Bit 25µs ADC, using EPROM calibration and digital error correction – when the state-of-art was a 10-Bit 100µs ADC. He left Intersil to start E/Z CAD and later went to Maxim (not surprisingly). Sorry, I love these tangents – now back to the Ochi story.
“About a year or so later, a head-hunter contacted me and informed me that Jack Gifford was planning a start-up and would I be interested in joining. I had known and read of Jack Gifford – from the trade press. One infamous trade press that comes to mind was Don Hoefler’s “Microelectronics Times” newsletter. At the time, I recall reading that Jack had some issues with GE-Intersil, and that he and his team of key executives had left a few months earlier. Also, prior to Teledyne, I had worked at AMD, a company Jack co-founded with Jerry Sanders. I recall meeting Jim Giles and Alan Seales, who both knew of Jack not only at AMD but at Fairchild. Because of Jack’s past successes in both AMD and then Intersil, I reasoned that whatever start-up he forms would be a slam-dunk success as well. This was my chance of a life-time and I would be a fool to miss it.”
“To get to know and introduce myself to Jack, he invited me to the ‘Wagon Wheel’ for dinner with him and his team. I don’t recall all of the people there but I believe Jack brought Dave Fullagar to the dinner. This was the very first time I personally interacted with both Jack and Dave. Shortly thereafter, Maxim was founded.”
Sam Ochi: front row, second from right (next to Jack Gifford)

With all the Intersil founders, why did they seek out Sam Ochi? I don’t know. But Sam proposed the idea that Gifford wanted to limit the competition for his new venture. Maxim’s original plan was to second-source a few products to generate quick revenue and then focus on proprietary products. Ochi had recently proven that he could copy the ICL7106 and make it better. Why not eliminate competition and simultaneously gain a known developer of products he wanted to create for Maxim in one fell swoop?


Today, Ochi’s resume includes:
  • Director of Standard Products at Asic Advantage Inc. (Purchased by Microsemi Corp. in 7/2011)
  • Director of IC R&D at IXYS Corporation
  • Member of Technical Staff at Analog Devices
  • Director of Research and Development at IXYS Corporation
  • Founder and Senior Member of Technical Staff at Maxim Integrated
Ochi was instrumental in the design of IXYS' isoplanar driver IC family and the then-new concept known as Digital Power Management. His products based on the technology were first introduced in the late 1980s.
“I believe I was born to be a circuit designer, even when I became a Ham operator when I was in junior high school, I really couldn’t afford to purchase any of my equipment. I put together my Ham Rig using old TV parts, wound my own coils, and learned by trial and error followed by some reading of circuit theory. Also, my debugging skills were honed while working as a TV repair technician, paid by piece part fixed. Finally, I truly believe that how one draws a schematic is extremely important. I learned from the old WWII veteran military technician that signals must flow left to right, except for feedback where it flows right to left, and is clearly marked and drawn as a feedback path. The most positive potential nodes are at the top of the schematic and the most negative at the bottom. I take pride in my schematics even today. I would draw and re-draw, and if I could, I would simplify or clarify as necessary.”

Jun 4, 2014

Does Anyone Read Databooks?

Several times in my career, I had to answer customer calls – still do. Well, I take that back, I've always answered customer calls. But at several times I was the primary technical support engineer. On “the front lines” as we called it, we got all kinds of questions: “how many pins on your SO-8 package?” “do you make linears?” “what frequency do your garage doors operate at?” We also got questions on parts that were no longer available, obsolete years ago. This was before the internet. This was when the communal computer had a 5 ¼ inch floppy, 512kB of RAM and a 10MB hard drive which was useless for real-time customer calls. So we looked information up in databooks.

For anyone under about 35 years old, you may have never seen one. You can find old ones on e-bay, now. They were paperback; about 7” x 9” and some were well over 2” thick. Semiconductor companies gave them away, of course, because that was the only way you knew what products they offered. Big companies like National, T.I. and Motorola had so many product lines that their collection of databooks took up several linear feet of shelf space. Engineers had bookshelves full of them; some companies had librarians to manage them. Unlike the internet, it took so long to publish them that they were always out of date – there were new parts. So there was a steady flow of replacement books and many put the date on the spine so that you could see if yours was current or not. Some companies printed “new releases” databooks with only the new parts that were released since the previous book.

Databooks were a place to take notes, a method of organization, a source of education on the state of the art of electronics, an anticipated experience not unlike Christmas morning as a child. Engineers took notes in the margins of the pages. They dog-eared pages of parts they used frequently. They would sketch circuit ideas and spill coffee on the pages. Databooks spent time in the lab, in the cafeteria and who knows where else. Engineers would read databooks like a textbook, learning application tricks, learning about brand new types of integrated circuits. Until parts got too complicated, the entire circuit schematic of the chip was usually included. People had time to study them and figure out how the chips worked. Instead of looking for a function that you needed, people would scan the entire book to see what was new. New chips with new application circuits would create new product ideas. I always looked forward to getting a new databook.

As a self-described micro-historian, I enjoy the hunt for arcane information. I had some much worn books with yellowed pages containing just that one piece of information that some frustrated engineer would need the week between Christmas and New Years. For whatever reason, newer editions of a databook edited out certain sections or often certain parts. Usually I would find the oldest copies on the shelf of some old-timer who would grudgingly let me have the book (they did everything grudgingly). The normal protocol was to write your last name on the top edge of the book to prevent its theft. I had a great collection of names that were not mine.

But sometime around 1992, beta copies of Mosaic started popping up on SPARC workstations and people found akebono.stanford.edu and – fast-forward a couple decades – now I can get any data sheet I want on my phone. As nostalgic as I may be and despite the effort spent on my databook collection, things are so much better today. I have one old databook on my shelf for old times’ sake. It is a 1985 Linear Technology databook. The name on top is “RITTER” – Ed Ritter was the second marketing engineer at LTC, I believe. But I never look at it. I don’t keep hard copies of any data sheet. It’s just so much faster to find things online.

I also have a FEB 1973 Linear Applications Handbook from National Semiconductor that I bought on e-bay. It has application notes AN-1 through AN-75 and linear briefs LB-1 through LB-20 – although a lot of them are missing and a lot of them have no author identified. I believe as engineers left the company that they were edited out. The list of authors includes many of the characters I’ve mentioned in other posts: Dobkin, Frederiksen, Vender Kooi, Widlar and even Yamatake. One is an old boss of mine and I never knew he wrote any app notes.  And a few others will be mentioned in future posts, I’m sure.

I have a question for you. (Seriously, I want to know… send me an email or leave a comment.) What replaced databooks in your everyday life? Not the internet. No, not as a source of circuit specifications, but as a vehicle to deliver information you didn’t know you needed. How do you stumble across new circuit techniques? How do you learn what’s new? Or do you really “browse” with your “browser”? How do you organize your “feeds” and remember things that you may not need right at this moment? Was it fun to skim through a new databook and, if so, what replaced that as a source of fun? I assume that for legitimate projects that you have some sort of online repository, but what about future projects or toys for the home lab?

When I was a kid, my family had an encyclopedia set. As a young engineer, I had databooks. I read everything. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to read some emails.