I am a product manager. I have been one for nearly 25 years now.

In the beginning

I was fortunate that I came of age at the dawning of the era of personal computers. Back then, we didn’t call them PC’s, but just “computers”. In high school, (circa 1981) we were lucky to have a computer lab, chocked full of Apple ][+’s. I rubbed my hands together with glee to get in the class, and then after to spend time in there just dinking with the computers. I was hooked.

I saved my pennies from my paper route, and bought my own. Since the Apple’s were significantly out of my price range, I became an Atari man. (The Commodore 64 came later and I never did go down that path).

Shortly I had added a modem, a really cool piece of technology that was. With it, I could plug my computer into the telephone, and communicate (at 300 baud) to anybody who had a similar setup. I quickly became a BBS junkie, and even ran my own (The Hotel California was my name).

While this was unfolding, I attended San Jose State University, and got a degree in physics.

The career …

I worked my way through college cooking. First at Marie Callendars, then at a sports bar. Unfortunately, I graduated from college at the huge downturn that hit post Reagan, so for a few years after school, I continued the cooking path.  I spent time at a Seafood cafe in Saratoga (two doors down from Le Moutin Noir, and across the street from “The Plumed Horse”), was a sous chef at a country club, and finally worked for a local Italian chain, Florentines.

I did finally get into tech though. My last cooking gig was at a corporate caterer. We delivered lunches, and catered parties for many of the local firms. I took this job as a stepping stone into finding a “real job”. I did land one, at Read-Rite

I started my life as a fab rat. I began at the bottom in tech, I was a chemical technician, working the Weekend B shift.  4am to 4pm. Hell of a life.

However with a degree in physics, and a solid science background, it didn’t take long for me to become part of the analytical chemistry lab.  Controlling plating baths, doing assays of the chemistry.  I eventually moved into a process engineering role. It was there that I discovered a knack for instrumentation.  I learned a lot about a lot of analytical techniques. ICP Mass Spectroscopy. Karl Fisher Titration, Rheology, FTIR spectroscopy, Liquid Chromatography. Stylus profilometry, confocal microscopy, SEM, and energy dispersive spectroscopy. Often, a new instrument would show up, and I would learn how to use it, develop methods, and then document it for my peers.

One day, I got a call from a vendor and an offer to be an applications engineer. I jumped at the opportunity, and was off to the jet setter crowd.

I was working for a small, local company that made Confocal Microscopes and line width metrology tools. These tools were commonly used to validate dimensions on “photomasks”, which are like the negatives that are used to print circuits on computer chips. I made a lot of contacts and friends, and really enjoyed working there. Fast, fun, and I felt like I contributed greatly to their efforts.

However, after a couple of years, I learned that I was working for an “engineering lead” company. That meant that engineering decided what they were going to build, and then we would have to figure out how people would use it. If this sounds like a bad idea, it is because it is a bad idea. Engineers have little concern for niceties like “marketing”, and validation of requirements. They firmly believe that they “know” what the customers want.

But time and again, engineering lead companies fail, largely due to delivering a product that doesn’t meet the customer’s needs. I saw this train wreck happen in real time, and realized that it was an unhealthy organization (it was sold to a larger company, and pretty much all the technology they had was mothballed).

About this time, my contacts in the photolithography realm paid off.  A company that made large equipment for photomask inspection and measurement was looking for something called a “Product Marketing Manager”. They asked the people in the litho world who they would recommend, and surprisingly, my name came up. I jumped at that opportunity, and haven’t looked back. I was hired in early 1998 at KLA-Tencor, one of the two biggest suppliers of semiconductor capital equipment. I was the Product Marketing Manager for the in development CD-SEM for photomasks. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, but I had great peers, and a great boss (Rich Quattrini, we called him “Q”). I did all the usual things. Writing specifications and requirements, sales collateral, coordinated application scientists on the best things to focus on, and to spend lots and lots of time traveling to talk to customers.

Many great stories, but they are best left for other posts.

Fast forward to today. I am still in Product Management, I am quite successful at what I do, and I work for and with great people, pushing the frontier of science and microscopy.



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May 2024

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