The Invention of the Microprocessor

During our recent MBA class visit to Silicon Valley, Ted Hoff, class of 1958, the inventor of the microprocessor, attended a reception to share his long experience in the computer industry.  He chronicled his migration to Stanford in the late 1950s before there was a Silicon Valley, when the area was still populated by fruit orchards and alfalfa farms.

As Intel’s twelfth employee, he set off the silicon revolution when he pioneered the development of a “computer on a chip.”  He worked with icons of the Valley, Robert Noyce, who founded Intel, Gordon Moore, of Moore’s Law fame, and other “graduates” of Fairchild Semiconductor whose spawning of numerous companies laid the foundation for the semiconductor industry and with it the Silicon Valley we know today.

Ted’s recollections were one of the week’s highlights for me because we were there to examine the entrepreneurial dynamic that characterizes Valley culture.  He knew Royce, Moore, and colleagues as struggling founders of start-up businesses that experienced all the trials and tribulations of any current new venture.

For example, Fairchild Semiconductor’s eight founders had to rely on $3,500 from their own meager savings to launch the company.  Unable to afford to scale-up their business, they accepted an infusion of cash from Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corporation.  Ted and fellow researchers had no idea the microprocessor would prove so valuable.  He formulated the idea while trying to solve a technical issue for a Japanese company, but the company engineers rejected it!

Dr. Thomas Begley, dean of the Lally School of Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.