Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS)



Steve Teicher, World-Renowned Computing Pioneer and Icon

This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with Steve Teicher.

A Brief History...Steve Teicher

  1. BS degree in Electrical Engineering from MIT 1966.
  2. Worked 3 years for MIT with the Division of Sponsored Research on Project INTREX.
  3. Developed hardware systems for automated library.

  4. Joined Digital in August 1969 in PDP-12 Group.
  5. Developed first floating-point processor for mini-computer. It was a real 24-bit computer that attached to the PDP-8 i/o bus in the PDP-12.
  6. Joined a committee to develop a product to compete with the Data General 16-bit Nova. Established that the PDP-11 architecture could fit the cost and size requirements and became project manager for the PDP-11/05 effort.
  7. Proposed and developed the LSI-11 which was the first 16-bit nmos computer built. This was developed along with an outside vendor, Western Digital. Eventually the LSI-11 was produced by Digital as WD pursued a different business. In the process of building the LSI-11, (developed at Steve's initiative), the first roll-around mini computer system that was used in a marketing experiment in which the sale was made and delivered by a one person with one physical contact with the customer. This is how computers are sold today but in the 1970's computers were sold by sales teams.
  8. Proposed and started development of MicroVAX that eventually became the first single chip 32-bit computer with memory management and floating-point. To develop MicroVAX the following had to be accomplished:
    • Development of MOS process with 2 or more levels of aluminum interconnect. The belief in the early 1980's was that MOS circuits could only have 1 layer of metal.
    • After the first level of metal was applied the wafer could no longer be heated to flow the glass.
    • Development of advanced CAD techniques.
    • Circuit capture.
    • Schematic capture to compare layout with desired circuit.
    • Design rule checking that would go beyond checking layout.
    • Integration of CAD tools to create a coherent system.
    • Ability to handle stubs properly such that designed circuits could be checked before the whole chip.
  9. Assembly of various teams into Semiconductor Engineering.
  10. Creation of plan to put all the pieces in place to ship the MicroVAX in 1985, but starting the project in 1980.
  11. Note that developing a MicroVAX chip set with the other items existing in 1980 did not make sense. They needed peripherals to shrink as well.
  12. Convincing the company to construct a new semiconductor fabrication facility to handle the MicroVAX and later projects.
  13. Developing a workstation product and business to use the volumes of MicroVAX that they would be able to produce. Shipped first DEC computer product running UNIX prior to a similar VMS product.
  14. During Steve's final 4 years at Digital, he worked with a group called Advanced Service Delivery Systems in which they built tools for Field Service. During this time they turned the Athena software from MIT into a product. In addition, they started an advanced network lab in Palo Alto, Ca as a joint project between field service and DEC research. This group constructed early firewalls that later became a product.
  15. Unfortunately all the substantive work they did did't save Digital from being over-run by changes in the computer business. In this interview, Steve will talk about what happened.

  16. Participated in early distance education for senior executives during mid 1980's at WBSI.
  17. During the mid-1980's Steve Teicher attended one of the first on-line education experiments for business executives run by WBSI (Western Behavior Sciences institute). WBSI was founded and run by Dick Farson, a protege of Carl Rogers. WBSI instructors were people who were first in their field, such as Walter Roberts, founder of National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado. NCAR developed many important things including ways of landing aircraft in the presence of microbursts. NCAR also studied the ozone hole in the Antarctic and Global Warming. Other WBSI instructors included Jonas Salk, John Cravens, Geraldine Ferraro, Jessica Lipnack, Jeff Stamps, and Najib Hallaby. Attendees included executives from industry and from various government agencies including the US Army.

    After Digital:
  18. Moved to West Coast to be VP of engineering for Kubota Pacific Computer.
  19. Spent nearly 3 years at Apple Computer - starting as Director of Graphics and Imaging and ending up a VP of world wide tools -- essentially in charge of globalization, localization, and special products for geographies.
  20. VP of engineering of Real3D in Orlando, Fl.
  21. VP of applications of Go-Coop that suffered from the aftereffects of 9/11 on the hotel industry.
  22. 4 years teaching as a lecturer for UCF.
  23. During the 1990's Steve was a member of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility and for 2 plus years was a board member and treasurer of CPSR.
  24. Now retired.

    Additional Educational information:
  25. Attended North Eastern Executive Education at Amherst College in 1980's.
  26. Earned MBA with honors in 2001 at Rollins College in Winter Park Florida.

To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link

The latest blog on the interview can be found in the IT Managers Connection (IMC) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.


Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic

:00:43: What triggered your initial interest in computing?
"....My interest in computers started with a thing called Project INTREX (Information Transfer Experiments) at MIT where we built some of the first computer-like controllers with the first commercialized seeds from Fairchild and Texas Instruments. We also built, long before they were available, some of the first raster scan terminals..."

:03:57: Steve profiles his education and work at MIT.
"....My first few jobs were through MIT professors who thought that I would do some tasks fairly well and would pair me up with a partner who had the funding. MIT was a place where I learned about technology and had an opportunity to work on projects that used my knowledge...."

:13:05: Steve explains more about the Project INTREX.
"....We built the first demonstration model which showed that if you had an automated microfiche retriever, card catalog information on a timesharing system and the terminals available which could find the could display it within a few seconds in front of the researcher. INTREX was a major project. None of us had the concept that some day that stuff would be made into a Google and be available worldwide...."

:16:52: Steve overviews his work at Digital and shares some of his experiences there.
" that time period - the 60's - a lot of computer families started as 'not a computer'...."

:26:00:  Steve talks about his work during the time of the MicroVAX.
"....about 1990, a friend of mine had his finance people study projects at Digital and it turned out that the only successful project in terms of volume, meeting its business objectives and so on was MicroVAX....If you really want something big to happen, don't be in charge, be the person who gives the vision and let everybody else propose their pieces...."

:40:00: Steve shares some stories about Bob Armstrong.
".....He (Bob) just had this confidence that he could remember all the issues that had to be addressed and he could make a change in the process and it worked. Hans Lucas Teuber, (was Head of Psychology Dept. at MIT), whose definition of an ideal MIT student was 'you could put an MIT student in a manhole with white walls and a pencil and he could create all knowledge'....That was Bob...."

:45:00: Steve also shares some thoughts about Gordon Bell.
"....Gordon was the guy who wrote the memo in 1987 which created the modern internet (a memo to Congress that said instead of the super computing centers, what they ought to do was to hook all the universities in the country into a very high speed network)....He had the vision that the super computer centers would be less valuable than the data that was stored....He was right...."

:49:07: Steve talks about the factors which contributed to Digital's decline and what could have been done to prevent it.

:58:11: Describe your work as VP of engineering for Kubota Pacific Computer.
"....I learned a lot...One was a bunch of technologies that I had touched on at Digital and the other one was that you have to be careful when you have your major investor change their plans...."

:01:06:19: Can you describe what the culture was like at Apple during that time?
".....Apple had a wonderful, exciting environment. People were trying all kinds of things and yet we were serious about producing good quality software with a small amount of resources...It was like Digital in the old days. It was alive...interesting...."

:01:09:16: During your tenure with Apple were you there when Steve Jobs was there or when he left the company and then he returned?
"....Jobs was an innovator. I didn't know Steve Jobs but I knew a lot of people who did know him...When he came back, he understood that in addition to being an innovator, you had to make money....I wish I had stayed there, but when I left, there was no concept that Jobs was coming back...."

:01:15:19: What lessons did you learn from working at Apple?
"....Find what the essence of your product is and just do that. Don't do the stuff that doesn't make any difference....It is really hard to toss that stuff that doesn't add any value...."

:01:19:01: Do you have any other lessons from your Apple experience?
"....Something I learned time and time again was to keep exposing people to things outside their environment....It reinforced my belief that in any place where you design something for the future, make sure you keep in touch with your customers by going there...."

:01:22:51: What can you share from your time as lecturer for UCF?
"....One of the things that I learned at UCF is that there is a tremendous value to teaching people about tools and how software is produced before teaching them how to program....If we don't do that, we are going to create a generation of people who do not understand the value of reliability and they are going to build broken software, etc.....You are going to have to think about what the person is going to do with what you teach them...."

:01:26:20: You have this background of VP of Go-Coop that suffered from the aftereffects of 9/11 on the hotel industry. What are some lessons that you took away from that time period?
"....You had to understand how the business structure would change and plan for that....The second thing was that you had to understand what you might be getting from your vendors and how you updated their catalog....You had to be very careful what you agreed to in promise - sometimes the customer can become very enamored by a tool and you find it's the only thing you can't deliver.....The last thing was that we did not do enough training of the software program...."

:01:30:12: You are a member of the ACM (Association of Computing Machinery); can you describe some of the roles that you play in that association?
"....For four years I worked on the nominating committee of the national board and it was very interesting....Recently I've been working with the profession's board where we are trying to understand what types of training would be valuable to our members and to their organizations....I am trying to think about longer term and how to encourage people whom I have known over the years to spend the last part of their careers helping the next generation of people get the most out of theirs.... "

:01:35:25: From your lifetime of research and development in the computing industry, which contributions can you share as particularly meaningful to you - that resonated with you personally?
"....An outstanding thing in my career is the opportunity to see places outside our wonderful country and understand that we're not alone on this earth. The opportunity to participate in the changes in the computer industry...."

:01:40:30: From his deep history and many experiences on a global scale, Steve shares some interesting stories centered around the following themes: Amusing, Surprising, Inspirational, Disruptive, Historical.
"....the developer of Visi-Calc....Gary Starkweather and Laser printers....Gordon Bell....Western Behavioral Sciences Institute (WBSI)...."

:01:49:29: The UN-founded International Federation for Information Processing or IFIP has their Professional Practice Partnership Program which received full ratification at the world general assembly in August 2007 with their first implementation meeting in Montreal hosted by CIPS in October. This marks an historical inflection point and speaks to IT as a recognized profession with global standards, profession-based code of ethics and widely adopted professional certification - all happening in 2009. Can you comment on the benefits of this global initiative?
"....I do believe that there will be a worldwide standard....I believe that the kind of efforts that you are talking about has to happen and it's just a matter of time until it gets enforced...."

:01:51:52: What questions would you ask and what would be your answers if you were doing this interview?
"....I wonder what vision people will have of how electronics is going to affect their lives ten or fifteen years from now....I wonder what will happen when we have a few generations of people and cell phones or programmable devices....And teaching or training will what subjects will be taught in school....What's the world going to be like?....."