Dusty - Silicon Snow
Catanich returns to the thrilling historical fiction he has so brilliantly made his own. This is the first of seven side stories from the infamous Gopal affair told as a chillingly dark, hard-edged series of novels of theft, conspiracy and espionage.
Dusty - Silicon Snow
It was in early January 1978 when Maruman Integrated Circuits in Sunnyvale called me to see if I wanted to work for them. Of course, I said "yes" since I was for all practical purposes unemployed and broke with a very pissed off wife wanting to know how we were going to pay the bills.
For many of us in the Valley, our jobs were mandatory during the deep US recession that started in 1977 and spilled over into 1978. Losing your job would result in very serious financial problems, as it was hard to find another job.
Although December 1977 had been very busy for me at National, from out of nowhere, my supervisor and I got into a serious argument. One thing led to another and his unethical conduct was unacceptable to me, so I just quit, like right on the spot - like walked out. Bam... No job! No place to go to and no income. Dumb right, but under the circumstances, I no option.
Of course, Gopal had moonlighting work for me at his company, Semiconductor Systems International but it wasn't enough income to keep my family intact and maintain our current standard of living. He did have non-technical jobs that needed to be done... but that's another story line about him needing a million dollars smuggled into the US to set up that bank.
It was here at Maruman that I officially met Dusty Dusitmier for the first time. We were assigned by management to work on the 1k by 4 static ram project or what everyone was calling the "2114" chip. Leading this team was a newly hired engineer named Kim Cockonin who had previously worked at Intel before this on the Intel 2114 design. His orders from the Maruman's President Dan Asumi: "Very quickly copy the Intel chip".
It was the next Monday, when Cockonin and I went to lunch at Togo Sandwich shop two blocks from the office. The reason this day was important and why we weren't telling anyone else, we were about to change directions on the way we were going to design this new Maruman's 2114 1K x 4 Static Ram chip.
We had gone to lunch to discuss the tasks of fixing the current design or reverse engineering the Intel chip for this project but Cockonin voiced his extreme displeasure in having to "Reverse Engineering" the chip he already designed at Intel. Even though it did not violate any State or Federal law, it was just unethical to him.
"I think this sucks," he stated. "I now have to copy something I already have done. I'm one of the best [email protected]#ing memory engineers in the world and doing this is beneath me".
Well... not to be outdone bitching, I responded, "Well, ok… I was thinking the same thing… so, if you are the best engineer in the world, and I know I'm the best designer in the world, then what the hell… let's not copy it. Let's just do it from scratch. You won't find anyone better than me" I bragged!
Please understand, I was good, very good at what I did. But better than anyone else? It is one thing to "talk the talk" but the chips I worked on always worked where the other teams' didn't. If it worked, you were considered the best, if it didn't, you then sucked! See, it's one thing to sit in meetings or presentations, or resolve self-manufactured crisis that justify another delay in a series of delays. But in businesses' like Maruman, the only thing that mattered was selling a new chip that really worked at a profit. Nothing else was important. Just because you worked on something for two years and collected a great paycheck, in the end what you did had to work. If not, changes would come.
Upon returning from lunch, I walked into Asumi's office and announced "Hey Dan, Cockonin and I are changing directions on the 2114 project. We're going to design it from scratch. Ok?"
"I know" Asumi responded not looking up from his desk. "You two were the best I could find. But remember, you have only 2 months to do it in. No more. Now get to work. And Bob thanks".
It seems Asumi had set us up. He knew what we would do before we did. Then he added, "And Bob keep this little change in direction quiet for now. Don't tell Gopal about it yet. I will. It will just make things much simpler for everyone that way. OK?"
"Sir, yes sir".
As a close friend of Gopal's', Asumi and I had became close very quickly because Gopal said, "This Contie guy can keep his mouth shut! You can trust him."
Later that afternoon, Asumi asked me to come into his office and informed me "We will be getting the new Calma GDS2 computer graphic system to do the design on within the next quarter or two, but in the mean time, locate an outside computer system that you can use. Also, for now, don't tell Gopal anything about this. I don't trust him any longer since he has been dating Stephanie and travels so much".
Asumi continued, "Also I will be assigning you the additional role of Technical Liaison between Maruman and our customer base, specifically IBM Microcomputer Systems in San Jose. Maruman is going to replace National's second source position on the IBM memory and personal computer projects".
"Ah, Dan is that legal?"
"We have signed contracts allowing us to do this". Asumi then added, "Don't tell anybody about this, but SSI is also going to copy the IBM Personnel Computer hardware for NEC out of Japan. So be very careful when you walk between these projects. Consider this full DOD Secret! Ok! No leaks to anyone. Even Cockonin is not to know. Document everything and keep all documents off site and secure for now".
I asked, "Is taking the IBM PC hardware design off shore legal?"
"I don't know yet. I'm checking into that now. If it is, I want to get heavily involved. However, if it isn't, I want to turn around and walk away without a trail. Understand?"
"Sir, yes sir".
It was during Maruman's 2114-project kickoff meeting that the other employee introductions took place and it dawned on me that one of the engineers looked very familiar. You know when you do a double take as someone walks in.
Cockonin noticed my reaction and answered my question with the introduction "Bob, this is Dusty Dusitmier. He's been assigned to us as our Component Engineer. He'll be responsible for all post design testing and documentation".
I said "Hi there".
"Hi" Dusitmier responded.
"Oh, he is also a part time Sherriff Officer here in Santa Clara. So don't piss him off" Cockonin kidded with his hands behind his back as if he was handcuffed.
As the meeting ended, I turned back to Asumi and asked, "That's an interesting set of job skills. Engineer and Cop. Does he even have the background we need?"
"Look, one of the problems Maruman has right now is that we hired ‘nice people' instead of ‘qualified people'. I'm working on this now, but there are really very few people out there that have the experience we need. So ‘on the job training' was how the previous management team justified the hiring of these people. As far as I'm concerned, we'll find out if they can do the job. Otherwise, I will bring people in from Japan if I have to back fill our needs".
It wasn't even a week later when the politics of the old design team and the new team collided. The old team of engineers had their way of doing things and that was unacceptable to Cockonin who was expecting to have full design control as he had at Intel.
"Dan, these guys are [email protected]#ing idiots," he complained. "They may be able to copy something, but they don't have the most basic training in order to do it from scratch".
Asumi responded, "I know Kim, but give me some time to reorganize and set up the new teams. We just need to work with these people for a while and if needed, train them".
"Ok, but keep that idiot Dusitmier off of my team. He doesn't know anything. He's in my way and slowing me down".
Later that day, Asumi gave me the heads up on the personality conflict and I had to say "Ah… Dan, he's right. All Dusitmier does, is keep asking me about my time at NSC. He doesn't have the most basic design skills. No wonder nothing was working. This team doesn't even know how to set up the most basic simulation on the computer. What scares me even more is that I'm a better logic designer than all of them combined. So, heads up… they really are only going to be in our way".
"Jesus, Bob, that doesn't help…"
"Dan, I'm telling you, Kim is very pissed and will not use them. Understand something; he'll walk if you make him".
However, over the next two weeks, bullshit politics erupted and real trash talk about Cockonin and me going alone on the design was discussed behind the scenes. It seemed that we had pissed off everyone. But Cockonin said it best. "Why should they help us, they can't do anything and for the past two years, they proved it".
"Well that's ok," I said. "They called my work Mickey Mouse and wrote me up for insubordination. I can't wait for Asumi to get back from his trip and put an end to this crap once and for all. He said he was going to bring back three senior Japanese engineers to help us. Watch what happens then. Talk about internal warfare breaking out".
"Well, I won't stay if changes are not made. I didn't leave Intel for this bull shit. Anyway, screw it. I'm happy with the layout you have, let's move it into production".
It had now been five months since Gloria had left my heart hanging in sadness when out of the blue; I got this call, "Hi Bob, Gloria. How are you?" Yea, my heart started pounding again. Our brief relationship had really screwed up my marriage (ok, in my mind). You know, it placed the doubts in your thoughts.
"Well I'll be damned. She is alive. So how's the overseas job with Calma?"
"Not good, I got laid off and I'm looking again. Know of anyone looking for someone?"
"Well actually, I do. Where are you? How about lunch and you can give me your resume. I'll walk it thru for you".
"Thanks, and lunch would be nice. Say 11:30 at Togo's".
That afternoon I made some calls for her. Three days later, she called.
"Bob, I got the job… Thanks". She had been assigned as the technical interface between our companies and we would now be working together… again.
Two day later, I called Gloria and sent her the CAD data that started the mask tooling process.
Right on schedule, the next day Gloria called to inform me that they had finished the Pattern Generation of the masks and they were ready to make the master photo masks.
"Hey Bob, the only thing we needed now is the test inserts to be inserted and we'll be ready to go," she said.
Cockonin had designed a test chip to be inserted in the top, right, bottom, and left location but said that the center location was not needed. So I asked him if I could use it. He said yes. So that evening after dinner / wine and with Gloria telling me not to do it, I created my own test insert.
"So you bastards think my design skills are Mickey Mouse huh"!
It was 7 weeks later that I was summoned into Asumi's office.
"Bob, get in here now," Asumi said with real anger in his voice! It seemed that Cockonin had received the first test run of wafers.
"Hi, what's up" I said as I entered Asumi's office?
"Mickey Mouse" as he showed me a picture of my Mickey Mouse test insert "Very cute, but never again!"
It had already been circulated around the company and it had created a political firestorm. Although I got a lot of kidding and "nice going"; it also brought out the anger from many of the old design team's system engineers and designers that had been left out of the design program.
Dusitmier was heard saying, "The two cowboys are rubbing our noses in it". Now this is not what I had in mind and Kim wasn't involved with this but here it was. Something that I thought was funny was taken out of context and was turned into a major political issue.
It's not that I want to put anyone down, but it took the complaining team 2 years to design the same thing that didn't work. They may be nice people but they need to be released from the company. Plain and simple, they sat in meetings, drew schematics of other company's work, and planned out new projects. But after two years, they had accomplished nothing. Not a single working chip! No revenue for the company!
The days of being a research lab were over and they knew it. Changes were coming and they would do anything to stop it.
It was after preliminary testing of the chip that Cockonin found the new Maruman 2114E worked the first time. This resulted in the introduction of our three new guest engineers from Japan and the layoff of 14 long-term employees including the most vocal, Mr. Dusty Dusitmier.