Bob: Hi, Avram. Welcome to Nerd TV.
Avram: Thank you.
Bob: This is great. You know, Avram, I think you watched a few episodes now, or one or two so you know what it's about and it's a little sort of free form on structure and who the heck are you. And I want to thank you for wearing your hair today.
Avram: You're welcome. I'm a lot happier to let my hair down.
Bob: Great. Avram, how did you get in the high tech business?
Avram: I got in the high tech business trying to study the brain waves of Zen monks in 1965 or 66 - yeah, '65 at Langley Porter.
Bob: We were all studying those Zen monks.
Bob: Where was this?
Avram: Langley Porter, the UC Medical Center. And I began to do some work with a scientist named Joe Komiya. Together we did the first up wave brain conditioning bio-feedback work. We wired circuits by hand to do things, we started using the logic modules that were made by Digital Equipment Corporation at the time that's what they used in their computers, but they started out just building flip-flops and nand-gates and nor-gates and whatever. And eventually we bought a computer. And the computer was - because someone else had been doing some research at in another institute and we wanted to duplicate that research at Langley Porter and we got a PDP7. I'll never forget that day because it came in - I had no idea what a computer was. None at all. And the concept didn't mean anything to me. So, they came in and, of course, a big piece of equipment in a rack.
So, first thing I did is I opened the back of it and I saw it had the same logic boards that I knew how to program. I used to have a way of connecting them up with wires. And so I was amazed it was made out of the same thing. I kept reading the manuals trying to figure out how it worked. I was looking for the same kind of wiring system. It just didn't exist. And came upon a discussion of software, which I didn't know existed. And it took me a while, a couple hours and all of a sudden, the whole concept of the stored program came into my head. I couldn't believe it. It was really _____. And I stayed up the whole night learning how to program that computer. So, that I would say, is really the moment that I really got into high tech. Because from that time on I had a pretty intimate relationship with computers and, of course, in those days I could program them and change them. Now I can't.
Bob: So, the day you saw your first computer was the day you became a computer programmer.
Avram: Yes. And I think to some extent, this is kind of unusual. I was able to program computers, but I was also able to design the hardware for a computer. And, in fact, even down to the transistor level because in those days we actually could buy transistors. And I knew how to make a flip-flop from a transistor. So, I had a pretty detailed understanding of what was going on. So, when I would write programs, I actually understood what the program was _____ doing at the gate level. It's kind of strange. I don't think many people do that now.
Bob: No. Were you, what writing an assembler or machine language?
Avram: Well, we wrote an assembly language, but we debugged the machine language because it was faster to go in and change the switches than to go through the whole process that we would have to do. The computer that we had when we first started it - the only program it had was read the switches and load them into the address that was specified in the switches. And that was one thing it knew how to do and the other thing it knew how to do is to start in one of those addresses. So we had to put in the binary - we had what was called the rim load - I forget what those were - and then that rim loader was smart enough to read a piece of paper tape that was on the ASR33, which was the terminal that had a paper tape reader. And that had an even bigger program than it. That's how we would get in. Eventually we had a tape system, which we actually created for ourselves and so on the tape we would have kind of a -
Bob: Magnetic tape?
Avram: Magnetic tape. We would have an image of the computer - of the software we wanted to have in there, but eventually be able to get back to where we were if we turned the computer off.
Bob: And why then monks?
Avram: Well, that was because Joe Komiya, who is still alive and in this 70s, was interested in bio-feedback and brain waves. And he got this idea in his head that if you could teach people - first of all, he postulated that maybe the patterns of brain waves would be different in a monk who was meditating or a person who was meditating. And they were.
And then the next theory he had was if you could teach people to have that same state by giving them feedback on their brain waves - because normally we don't know what's going on in our head - that if they got into that state - that is, they showed the same brain wave patterns they would report the same experience. And that, indeed, was true. That's what we discovered through our experimentation. I didn't know anything about that. I was trying to figure out if I should play the piano for a living or become a Hasidic Rabbi, when I realized I was running out of money and I needed to get a job. And I had always some kind of feeling for electronics and a friend of mine who was a doctor at that hospital doing research said, "You know maybe this guy that's trying to do stuff, he's struggling with how to do it, maybe you could help him." And that's how I met Joe and how I ended up there.
Bob: Now, didn't you do brain wave studies on astronauts as well?
Avram: Well, yeah. Not brain wave studies - well, they brought us in once because some of the astronauts were reporting astral projection - out of the body experiences. So, we were the astronots with N-O-T. And we did a little consulting for NASA.
Bob: Your idea was to get the astronauts back in their bodies.
Avram: To keep them in their bodies.
Bob: Now why is it that when we were watching Walter Cronkite and the space program in the '60s we didn't know that those astronauts were getting out of their bodies?
Avram: Well, because Walter kept it a secret. We were actually on the Walter Cronkite show.
Bob: You were?
Avram: Yeah. Yeah. They came through our lab and it became a bad day for me because they kept spraying things on the equipment. I was so scared. We could've shorted everything out. I was running around trying to keep them from - yeah. That was a long time ago. You know, we're talking 40 years ago.
Bob: Yeah. Those _____ were always framed.
Avram: Yeah. Forty years.
Bob: Well, you look good.
Avram: Thank you.
Bob: So, you went from piano player/potential Hasidic Rabbi to brain wave researcher then computer programmer/brain wave researcher.
Bob: And then what happened?
Avram: Well, actually what happened was Ronald Reagan. But I'll get back to that in a second. But I was doing a lot of work on the computer. I'd been doing changes to the computer. I was known amongst some of the computer people. _____ Digital Equipment Corporation and some others and what happened was that some of the money that we had got in from grants had been frozen by then Governor Ronald Reagan. And they were the administrator for the National Health Institute for California. So, we had got these national grants, but the state had administrative - they froze our money. I got really upset.
I didn't like Ronald Reagan. And at the same time, there was this Dutch man who had been in Boston for a long time and did some work at MIT, went back to Holland to create a new medical institution in Rotterdam, which was for cardiovascular medicine. It was called the Thorax Center. It dealt with cardiovascular surgery, coronary care, and respiratory care. And he had a dream. His dream was - and we're talking about now 1968. His dream was to use computer technology right from the ground floor up and how to build this institute. They were allocated $50 million and they didn't start anything.
He was looking for somebody to share his dream. He was told about me by a number of people because I was with a few people - well I was doing physiological signal processing. That was the essence of what we did. He wanted to really do patient monitoring and do all kinds of things with physiological signals. Not use the computer for just models or data bases or administrative purposes. So, he used to wake me up in the middle of the night saying he forgot what time it was, got me at a weak point and kept offering me the opportunity to go there. And I was upset at the meantime and long story short, I ended up in Holland at this medical institute.
We started from the ground floor up. We used PDP 9s and 15s. We had graduated. I was there then for five years and we built an extremely successful organization. Still is. Very well known. And the stuff we did in the computer area was, I think, kind of ground breaking at the time. _____ _____ So I was kind of proud of that. But that was the main thing I did. And we did a lot of computer design stuff. I mean, really. It was like really primitive times. We had multiple computers communicating at high speed links. We had a very distributed system. We had terminals all over the hospital that we had to design and make happen. So, that was '69 to '74. We're doing my life story, I guess.
Bob: Yeah, I guess so. Why would you leave that?
Avram: I was done. I felt that I had done what they had asked me to do and what I signed up to do. I was there five years. During those five years I got married and had children. I had always wanted to go to Israel. It was a dream of mine. Now I had young children. And Holland wasn't really a great place to bring up Jewish children. You know, unfortunately, there weren't very many left after the war. So, when I came to the conclusion that I was done, I thought the next stage of my life should be in Israel. And it was. We went to Israel in '74 and spent five years there.
Bob: Five years?
Avram: Yeah. And by that time I had some academic recognition, even though I hadn't gone through college. And I had what was kind of the equivalent to first assistant professor and then associate professor when I was in Holland. And then when I went to Israel, I became associate professor at the School of Medicine, Tel Aviv, in addition to starting up a business in medical electronics because I felt that Israel really needed - well, people said, "We need an expert industry. We don't need professors. We've got lots of professors. We need some business." And by that time I had been consulting for HP. I'd been consulting for Digital Equipment Corporation. I had a lot of business experience and well, put it to work.
Bob: So, you fell into it?
Avram: So I fell into it.
Bob: And what was it like to start a business in Israel?
Avram: Oh, God. Well, first of all, so now we're in 1974. We went to Israel soon after the October war when I was not quite moved there, but looking for a place to live. You couldn't put your lights on in the car at night. They were still kind of reacting from the war.
The government was very helpful and the chief sciences office gave the money to start this venture. So, there wasn't any venture capitalists. It was the government, in a way. And, of course, their terms were a lot better. And we didn't even have to return the money. But still, the problem was nobody knew how to build a business in Israel in those days. And the computer industry was very primitive. Their Elbit was a computer company. They were up in far north. Elcint was another. Most of the technical people were in the aircraft industry. We located very close to the Weissman Institute and there were a lot of people there that were programming computers for science or whatever. I hired people right out of school. We were associated with a company that already existed so we became a subsidiary of another company because I didn't really know how to build all that infrastructure.
God we had some abandoned buildings actually we went into. Literally there were Bedouins camped in front of the door where we used to have to walk in. But then you go inside and we had all - now, by this time we're using PDP 11s. And, of course, they were really powerful. I remember they had 16K and then we upgraded to 24K. And we started building a team. I'm still in touch with people that I worked with then. And then we had to start learning to sell and market. Most of our market was all over the world so it was being on an airplane a lot.
Bob: So, what was it you made?
Avram: We made the same things that I was kind of doing in Holland. They were patient monitoring equipment. We made catheterization equipment. We had equipment for cath labs, patient monitoring, diagnostic equipment. All of it was cardiovascular.
Bob: So you really had a strong medical career for this period of your life and yet, that's not what we think of you as doing.
Avram: No. And this is what happens when you live a long time. You have different careers. Yeah. I was up until 1979. My primary identification wasn't with computers. It was with medicine using computers. And I felt like I was extremely specialized. I was very specialized. And I had been for a long time. By this time, I'm 30 - well, I left Israel in '79. I'm 34 years old. And so I really kind of felt myself - I had decided that Israel was just - if I had two lives I would have spent one in Israel, but I really needed more space. My family needed more space. And I felt that the combination of computers and medicine was very narrow. So, I pushed myself, kind of rigorously, by saying do you want to be in medicine or do you want to be in computers. And once I asked myself that question, I knew I could never give the computers up. But I could imagine giving medicine up. So, that was simple.
And because I had done a lot of work with Digital Equipment Corporation over the years, I knew a lot of people there. Many times people had extended me offers. It was the first place I really went to look at and I got a job there in '79.
Bob: Now, in '79 Digital Equipment Corporation was on top of the world.
Avram: Yeah. In 1979, DEC was the second largest computer company and was the one that was doing all the interesting work. My first job was running - the company kind of was divided in some funny ways, but we basically had software, hardware, big and small. So, if you want to think about it as being kind of a fourth quadrant. I ran the small hardware group until we reorganized. Then I ran the low end business group or -- the product groups were the low end. So at that time we had product marketing - marketing basically to a large extent and product development and _____ manufacturing and all the rest was kind of put together. I was the general manager for that.
Bob: And did you work with Ken Olson?
Avram: I did. I worked very closely with Ken Olson.
Bob: Well, tell us about Ken Olson.
Avram: It's all documented in The Ultimate Entrepreneur. Tell you about Ken Olson.
Bob: What is a thing or story or anecdote that would bring us the greatest understanding of what made Ken Olson tick?
Avram: Well, I don't know if there is only one, but I'll give you one. Which was basically I was charged with developing the product that was to compete with the personal computer that IBM brought out in the market. We started at the same time. We started before we knew IBM, but IBM got to the market before. But we were building a low end product in a time when people didn't say personal computer, but it was basically a personal computer. It was called Professional Series and my group was also doing other low end products. I was very concerned about the marketing and selling of the product. And I would have discussions with Ken about that. Ken was more concerned about the power supply and things like that. And he would want to talk about those things. And I would say, "But, Ken, how are we going to get this to market? How are we going to sell it?" In a sense I was saying how do we position it, but I didn't know those words in those days. I wasn't that sophisticated a marketing person. And Ken said to me - and I'd say, "Ken, you know to win in this market we've got to have great marketing and a good product." And he says, "No, no, no. We've got to have a great product and good marketing." And I'd say, "No, no." And we'd go back and forth kind of almost yelling at each other. And then he finally said to me, "You don't understand. We'll never have great marketing."
Bob: And he was right.
Avram: He was right. And a few weeks later there was a meeting of the top 200 managers of the company. This would happen like twice a year. And Ken started out and Ken was a really kind of Machiavellian kind of guy, but he started out saying, "You know, Avram Miller is one of the best managers we have. He's very smart. He knows a lot about technology. He's a good manager. He can get people to do things, but he has a problem. He wants to do marketing." He says, "Why would anybody" - all the marketing people are in the room - "Why would anybody would could do engineering want to do marketing?" Which was the second part of this why could we never have good marketing. So, that's one thing that I will always remember about Ken.
Bob: Wow. And, of course ultimately, it didn't compare to the IBM PC. You weren't successful.
Avram: No. Even though we did have a much better product. The first IBM machine really wasn't a very good machine at all.
Bob: And very poor -
Avram: And actually - yeah, we did. Well, I got one of the first ones and I took it apart, along with Ken. We had our screw drivers out _____ _____ and I - one of the general managers were sitting there. We're disassembling this machine and he looks at it and he says, "If you ever build anything like this I would fire you." And, of course, the marketing was totally screwed up. And our products would be late because we had to make everything perfect. And also, the more and more people who got involved in it, which nobody wanted to get involved in IBM. I know the IBM story very well because in my next part of my career I hired the people who developed the IBM PC. So, we used to swap stories a lot.
But the people at IBM didn't want anything to do with this toy. One, because I think partly to some extent because Ken was so involved in this. Everybody eventually wanted to get involved. And at Digital Equipment Corporation, nobody could say yes and everybody could say no. And we had committees. We had the high priest of technology committee, where all the technologists would be there and you'd have to go and talk to them and they could say, "No, I don't think this is the right thing." We had a keyboard committee, which kept me really late because they kept trying to figure out what should be on the keys. And it almost killed me. I couldn't get the product done.
And then finally I had a brilliant, I thought, idea at the time. We were working on the keyboard for the 200 series. Everything was cool. The 200 terminal series. And so I came in and I told them, "You guys are amazing. You are the most wonderful people in the world. You're so dedicated. I feel great confidence that you're never going to let this keyboard go out until it's perfect." I had a little problem because we have in the next generation's working on them. So I started another committee down the hall to work on the next generation keyboard. That week they were finished.
Bob: Yeah. Of course. There's a lesson learned.
Avram: Yeah. No, there were many lessons about how to manage.
Bob: Why did you leave Digital? It sounds like it was going swimmingly.
Avram: Well, no. I mean I was pretty sure towards the end. First of all, we wouldn't be successful. And I wanted to get out there. I didn't want to be with --- the politics of the company were insane. I wanted to do something on my own. Now I'm probably 38 years old, but I guess - I don't know made a mistake. I didn't make a mistake. I could've started the company at the time. I was very interested in networking. And I had given maybe the first order to 3Com. I had been the Digital Equipment Corporation representative on the three party Xerox, Intel thing and my job was to use the product and our product coming out. Remember our PC in 1982 had built in Ethernet. And I was very interested in the whole networking business and so on. And I kind of thought, oh, I could start a company to do __networking___ _____, but I was nervous to start a company. I just wasn't sure. I guess I was never really meant to be an entrepreneur.
When I got recruited away by a company called Franklin Computer, which was building a clone of the Apple II and managed to develop a very compelling business. I mean, they were really doing very, very well. And the company had a lawsuit, but Apple had tried to sue the company and it had been rejected. The lawsuit had been denied. It was out on appeal, but everybody thought the appeal was nothing. Turns out the appeal was something. And we were going to go public - I still had a red herring some place. We were going faster than Compaq. And what they offered me was the opportunity really to shape that company and make it what I wanted to make it because they weren't married to being an Apple II clone.
Bob: Which is just as well -- _____ was going to be taken away from them.
Avram: Yeah. Well, the world would've been better if Franklin had been able to be an Apple II clone and Apple had allowed it to happen. Today the world would look a lot different. 'Cause we weren't bad people. We were willing to pay a royalty to Apple. We were trying to build products that were different than what Apple was doing, but ran the same software. We appreciated the concept of software platform. But Apple would have nothing of it and Apple threw everything it could, basically to crush the company. And kept us from getting the financing. And so it was really kind of a weird experience because in our first year of operation we did a hundred million dollars in sales. Then I kind of had to undo the whole company because I couldn't afford the inventory and I had to sell off inventory to keep finance in the company. I couldn't get anybody to put money in because in appeal, the power court had decided that the lower court was in error. Not in matters of the case, but on matters of the law. Which was a technicality and send it back.
Anyway, that was the first time in my whole career I ever hit the wall, so to speak. I had something that didn't work out. I was in shock about it. After about a year and a half or something, I left Franklin because none of my skills were skills that that company needed at that time.
Bob: Now, is this the company that makes those little dictionaries and things?
Avram: Yeah, Franklin Publishing is Franklin Computer Company. The only thing that exists from my time is the logo. They still have the same logo. And I think there are one or two board members that are still around. I don't have anything, of course, to do with them. So, that brings me kind of up to joining Intel, which was in 1984 when I joined Intel. A company I never expected to join. Or it was kind of surprising that it ended up happening.
Bob: Well, how did it come about?
Avram: Well, it came about because somebody had read about me or something and they evidently said to Les Vadez, who at that time was - he's badge number three. Now retired. One of the key guys that was there from the first day. And the guy really who made the microprocessor happen inside Intel. Les was running something called the strategic staff and kind of driving the strategy process in the company. They had come up with a notion of a strategic hire. Like once a year you could hire somebody just because you wanted to hire that person and you didn't have to have a job for them. But, you'd bring them in at a senior level and somehow that would bring something into the company that the company didn't have.
Bob: A DNA transfer.
Avram: Yeah. I think I'm the only one that ever worked. Maybe there are others, but because it was a very difficult environment to do DNA transfer. But I started talking to Les and I really liked him. There were things about Intel that reminded me of Digital in terms of the focus on technology that I kind of liked that. I was fascinated by the idea of the semi-conductor technology and what you could do about it.
Les was kind of interested in me joining and I said to him - he explained to me the strategic planning process in the company. And so I said to him, "Would you mind if I looked at the long-term strategy of the company. Could I see it?" And he gave me a document, put me in the conference room and he gave me a document. And I turned and on the first page it says, "Change is our ally." And I thought, "Oh, God, that's wonderful." I was really excited about that. And I was excited about everything I read, but on the other hand, I was convinced that the company really - that I had something to offer them. That they knew almost nothing about the computer industry and they were primarily in those days a memory company. I used to say they sold silicone by the ton. And there was this micro-processor stuff going on, but the main business was memory business. It was before the PC had really taken off that much and they were selling, I mean - like a big company customer was AT&T and they were selling things that went into switches and things like that.
So, I thought I would be of help to them. And eventually I met Andy, I met Gordon and these are really amazingly smart people. And the other thing I thought about - and I went back to Digital and said, you know, we had really great strategies inside Digital, but we had lousy execution. And when you have lousy execution and things are late, it looks like your strategy was bad. So I thought, you know, I'm good about the strategy stuff. I want to be some place where the execution is great. And maybe that's the right combination for me. So, eventually I decided I would join. And they said to me, "Well, you come and you figure out what you want to do." And so I didn't have any assignment. I wasn't pretty senior and pretty expensive by their structure. I reported to one of the senior vice presidents, reported to a CEO and they said, "Come on in and figure out what you want to do." And so, I liked that. So, I joined them.
Bob: What did you figure out to do?
Avram: Well, it took a while. First of all, I spent time trying to understand what was going on inside the company. There were a number of projects that were happening that were kind of related to the computer business. Some things I got the company not to do because I felt that they would not have been effective at doing them.
Bob: What's an example of something you got them not to do?
Avram: Building personal computers.
Avram: And there was a group that wanted to build the PCs and OEM them and I felt that there were enough people that were going to do that, that there was no reason for us to do it and that I felt like we wouldn't be that effective at doing it and our costs wouldn't be that good at doing it. But, I discovered that the company was engaged in something that I think if I had known it was doing that, I would not have joined because I would have realized I would've gotten involved in it. And it wasn't what I really wanted to do because secretly what I wanted to do was get in the consumer electronics business. That's what my interest had been -- for so long I was interested in the consumer business. And one of my closest friends, still is, Steve Maher, was the co-founder of Atari. I had spent a lot of time looking at consumer products and other things. I was really interested in it.
So, I discovered that the company had a big project with Siemens to build an object-oriented computer. And they had another thing called the 432 before and then everybody knew the 432 was a failure. Well, low and behold, they hadn't given that up. They were going to do another one. And it was going to be fault tolerant, object-oriented, multi-processing. It was every kind of magic that you can imagine. It had all kinds of silicone involved in it and it was Siemens and it was Intel working on it.
So, once I understood what they were up to, I more or less volunteered to get involved and lead the business marketing/business development part of it. Not the engineering. And I did that for about three years and then we eventually ended up with a joint venture between Intel and Siemens, which turned out to be a miserable failure because a joint venture is basically like running a three-legged race.
The whole thing, in some sense, was doomed structurally from the beginning because if we hadn't formed the joint venture, the two companies were going to compete with each other. It's a long story, but I mean a lot of good things came out of -- the 960, which was still used, I think, by Intel, but the control line of Intel came from that project. For a while I was responsible for that also in the company. And the company developed an amazing amount of know-how.
I'd say Intel would not have been successful in retrospect had we not done that project because we would have never had the people that we later relied on to develop the architectures and to do all the things that we did. And the Intel labs and everything came out of all that. Because Siemens basically funded Intel to hire all those people. But the project itself wasn't a success.
Then after that, I guess I got my rhythm because what I really decided we needed to do was to invest in early stage companies. And then Intel was in the great position to understand where to invest and we needed these companies to do things and succeed. I was very concerned that we wouldn't be able to develop - that the company was to insular. So I started, but then became Intel Capital, still working for Les Vadez, who eventually - the Intel Capital grew - well, we didn't call it Intel Capital at the time. We called it Corporate Business Development. But anyway, it grew to the point that Les - instead of that being one of the things reporting to him through me, Les came over, we grew it, we added some more people to do other parts of it that I wasn't in and we grew into capital I think at the time I left until 1999 was certainly one of the if not the largest venture firm in the world.
Bob: Wow. Where'd you get the money?
Avram: We got the money from Intel. And at the beginning it was very hard. At the beginning we had to go to Andy for each deal. And we're talking about a million dollars or half a million dollars or two million dollars. Then later, I think Les was able to get the board and Andy to agree to give us 50 million dollars. I don't think we ever got probably more than a couple hundred million dollars negative before he threw off more cash than we were spending.
Avram: Yeah. I think later there were some very large investments in companies, like semi-conductor companies and things like that, that we did that you could say well, they were minority investments. But they weren't really venture capital. But if I really put together a venture capital portfolio, we were cash positive pretty early. And stayed that way.
Bob: And so you bootstrapped it from there.
Avram: Yeah. I mean, unfortunately it wasn't like we had a fund and they kept the money there and we got a carried interest or whatever. But our investments were on the books as an asset. If they became impaired in some way or other, we invested in a company that didn't work, we'd take a loss. But, if we marked them up or if we realized the gains, of course, then we'd offset that. In the days I was there, we never had a loss.
Bob: What were some of your big successes?
Avram: Mine personally? I would have to say now we have to separate strategic success from financial success or whatever. Broadcast.com was a huge win for us financially 'cause we sold it to - we were the first people in there. We were the first people in Verisign. I think we put a million dollars in. We took out, I don't remember exactly, but it would be well over 500 million dollars.
Avram: Let's see. Who else would be in those categories. We made investments in CMGI that became very significant when we liquidated. PCCW. We formed a joint venture with - well at that time with Richard Lee in Hong Kong to go after the satellite distribution in Asia. Eventually we rolled that into PCCW. That became - I mean, I'm talking about things that all had returns larger than the half a billion dollars.
Bob: Wow. Sounds like timing with sales is important.
Avram: That was another thing that was really - well, you can't always time the sale. And believe me, a lot of our success was due to the Internet bubble, of course. Those are the returns, but many of the companies that we invested in became either exist or became part of other companies and what we invested in went on.
There's two parts to being successful in the venture business. There's investing and there's de-vesting. And one of the more difficult things when you're a corporate venture company is de-vesting because people say, oh, Intel doesn't believe in the company anymore, Intel doesn't this or whatever. The people don't like it. They put pressure on you. You may have other business relationships. And so, it's very hard. And I, at least from the portfolio that I managed, which was the largest portfolio in Intel Capital, I implemented some disciplines every quarter. We went through and we decided what we were going to take off the table. I think that that was a very important discipline to have. I'm sure that Intel has that now. I don't know. I've been gone for over six years. I don't really know how they do thing.
Bob: You know, Andy Grove has never struck me as a warm and cuddly guy.
Avram: Andy Grove is not warm, he's not cuddly. He actually is caring. And I have seen Andy to be generous and caring. So, Andy, personally did things for me when I got prostate cancer. Andy was there for me, completely. He was my mentor. He had been in the class one year ahead of me. So, he was very involved and very helpful to me and has helped many other men who have had prostate cancer and given a lot of himself. So, I think generous like that, but he's not a person who makes you feel good about yourself, I would say, when you meet him.
Bob: So, what would you say are Intel's greatest strengths and weaknesses?
Avram: Well, again, I can only speak to the Intel that I knew. Well, the current Intel's probably got a lot some of the old Intel. Company's now, I guess, what is it 30 -
Bob: Started in '68.
Avram: '68, yeah. Almost 40 years old. I was there 15 years and that was 15 years when we went from under a billion to, I guess, about 28 billion dollars when I left.
You know, I'll have to do this in kind of a little bit of a random way. The ethics of the company are, I think, are great. The honesty of the company, integrity of the company is something I've never really seen any other place. You never at least during the time I was there, the idea of lying or even exaggerating to a customer or telling a story or whatever, just especially _____ _____ would never be tolerated. You told the truth and you dealt with the truth. It was a culture of wanting to understand the truth. And I think it was very important because if you couldn't get the truth, you couldn't find out what was wrong with what you were doing. And one of the approaches to looking for problems, which the company was very good at finding problems, sometimes not as good as understanding the good side of things, was you're building this complicated product, this micro-processor. There's got to be something wrong there. You can't build it without it having problems. So, tell me what the problems are so we can fix them. It was almost a celebration of oh, I found a problem. And then people would say, "Oh, great. Now we can fix the problem."
But the discipline of keeping your word, of making something happen, of finishing something, the rewarding of things that were actually done as opposed to may be done. It was hard for me in the beginning to accept that, but I grew to really cherish it. So, it was really great at execution and discipline and teaching people skills. I think it was to a large extent, a meritocracy.
And also, you know, a lot of things were tolerated. You could really speak your mind. If your mind was,"I don't think this is going to work." But then you had to have a reason. It couldn't be that guy's stupid. That wouldn't be accepted. But, "This is a bad product idea" would be accepted. And you could say why you thought it was a bad idea. You would never be taken down for that. You could also fail. And if you failed for good reasons, you were given another shot. And I cherish that too.
The weakness for me of the company -- weaknesses were I think - the part of strategy that has to do with understanding that markets might change. Because I don't want to say the weakness is strategy 'cause they were amazing in terms of manufacturing strategy. Unbelievable. Or technology strategy. What technology should we have. How do we develop the technology. How do we get the right infrastructure or whatever. But try and understand the market. I was the person who was the proponent of the computer in the home. When people in Intel refused to think that there would ever be a computer in the home. It was something that you just couldn't accept or understand because they didn't understand it. Or people would play games on the computer. Nobody would play a game on the computer because they didn't play games on the computer. So, they were very insular. I think to some extent, it created opportunity for me because I was more of an extrovert and I would go out and bring information in. But I think that was and still is a problem.
I think another problem was the company was, I think, intimidated by Microsoft. It's easy to be intimidated by Microsoft. Microsoft is intimidating. And I think that many times Intel would have liked to have done something, but Microsoft didn't like it and Intel was basically a little bit afraid of Microsoft.
Bob: I talked to an Intel guy who told me that they were Microsoft's bitch.
Avram: Well, that might be a way to describe it. I wouldn't describe it exactly like that. One of the issues in this was that if you're a software company, you're used to selling upgrades. There really isn't an upgrade for a micro-processor. So, you need to try to push faster and faster the applications that use the power. And in the beginning, the companies were more aligned that way, but over time, they became less aligned that way. Because it was more interesting to get your install base upgrade. Well, your install base has all the computers. Well, you don't want to have to buy a new computer, which means you won't take advantage of the futures. So, I think that maybe was one of the issues.
Bob: Is AMD good or bad for Intel?
Avram: Well, I guess I would say probably good. I think it's good to have - I mean, I think there are times when it's not good, but generally good to have a benchmark and a competitor. It's hard to imagine what the world would've looked like had there not been. All the other companies that tried to build - it's so interesting the power of the Intel architecture franchise because the other companies that tried to get into the market with other kinds of processors never really succeeded. Now that we see Apple moving over to the Intel architecture, it's really pretty much - in the world of desktop notebook world, I guess there's really nothing left. You do see other kinds of architecture for other kinds of devices and you will continue, but in that world -
Bob: _____ _____ _____
Avram: But it's so funny. Now that it's 100 percent it doesn't seem as important. It seems to me like people don't speak about the microprocessor as much. And it doesn't seem quite as interesting. But I think that's partly because it's also really just not the gating thing anymore. I wish it was because I'd like to be thinking about how we can use all that processor power and so on. We just don't have good ways to use it.
Bob: Sounds like we need a revolution in software.
Avram: Yeah. Well, thank God for desktop indexing. Those indexers use lots of time too. They just go through your desktop all day long trying to figure out where things are so you can get there faster. So, I have three or four indexers running because I like to compare them. And thank God for them because now those are the only programs that in a day might use an hour of computing time. I go to look at my task manager and see who's using computer time and they're the only ones that are using it. Of course, when you use something like if you render something or you're doing - it's really hard. It's really hard to find something that uses the power.
Bob: So, where are we going to be five years from now? Same place?
Avram: You know, it's always hard to say. And I'm always scared to say it. There are all these trends, many of which I don't feel - I'm not sure that they're really going to work out. Like the mobile trend. Everything's going mobile. I understand that. I understand you want to carry things around on your person, but I'm really waiting for a better interface for mobile device. It shocks me that I can't use voice to control a mobile device. I don't want to go around when I'm 70 years old with my thumbs like this. I think there will be a whole group of people that will be like this. And I think there's going to be some serious problems in the future. But I think what you have to -- I guess what you have to say is well, I guess I have to go back and ask you to refine your question really. Because they say well what's the home going to be like, what's the office going to be like, what's the car going to be like?
Bob: What's your life going to be like?
Avram: What's my life going to be like? And how would it be changed by technology or --?
Bob: I'm sure you're cutting edge about everything.
Avram: Well, I might actually have a media center that works.
Bob: It doesn't work yet.
Avram: Yeah, I don't have one of those yet that works. I'd like to have one of those. I think that one of the great challenges is something - I wish I could give it a different word because I don't want to give it the word search. And I think other people have talked a lot about this, but it is just too hard to get to things. For me the problem's right now is it's too hard to get things, sort of find things. Why should I be doing this guessing game while I'm sitting at my computer and I'm guessing, "What are the right set of words that I can put into Google that would get me where" because what I want is out there. I know it's there. But the challenge to me is can I figure out the right combination of words that will find the thing that I want. I don't know what will replace that, but I would really like to get to things. That's one.
The second thing is that everything is too hard to learn. And I've made for myself a matrix of how hard is it to learn something and how easy is it to forget. So, unless something is in the easy to learn and easy to remember domain -
Bob: Like using a telephone.
Avram: Yeah. Well, I mean, like Quicken tends to be in the easy to learn/easy to use domain. PhotoShop tends to be in the hard to learn/easy to forget domain. Dream Weaver - you know, every once in a while I want to build a website or whatever and I do and I learn the stuff. And the next time I want to do it I have to start all over again because I can't retain any of the things. So, I think that we've got to spend a lot more time trying to figure out how to make things accessible to people and not spend so much time learning how to use them.
Bob: But do you think that comes from a technical tradition of being proud that you can do something that's hard to do?
Avram: Maybe. But I think what happens is that it's very hard for the developers and designers to really understand. They're too sophisticated and they're too much in their own product. They don't spend enough time getting feedback, but also we have not developed the Don Norman kinds of people. The developers, the designers that work on it. We have people to develop really good stuff like IDLs with how things are packaged.
I can usually take me full circle through Digital Equipment Corporation because when I was there and I was responsible for the low end, we had a product called Deck Mate, which was one of the first word processors. And one day, Ken Olson looked at the back of it and he saw all these wires and cables and he got infuriated. I had just taken over so I wasn't quite the blame for it. But he got infuriated about it and he made a poster. He put the poster with the back of this thing and under it he wrote, "Engineering or marketing." Meaning who's to blame. And then we had the name the poster contest. And my entry was, "Can you imagine what software would look like if you could see it." And I can't even imagine what it would look like.
So, I don't know. Maybe I won't be using computers as much or as I am even now. I'm getting tired of fighting with them a little bit. Anyway, that's my life. I mean, I think at my age, 60, I want to learn a lot of things. And I want to leave some things still more behind. And that's the other thing I wrestle with. I just don't see these pot castings and these blogs as staying around. Maybe I'm wrong. I'd be actually interested in what you think about that. But I just see these as being kind of graffiti.
Bob: But Nerd TV is for the ages.
Avram: Nerd TV might be because traditional media that we have, it took a long time to develop. It didn't happen by accident. And to the extent that we find better ways to do it and produce it, I think it's good. I do think there will be other forms of media, but I wonder what they are. And I'm not sure that we've seen them. And I'm not sure that they're blogs. Or maybe I'm just getting old.
Bob: Aren't we all.
Bob: Thank you very much, Avram.
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