R.I.P. Andy Grove: A Life Overclocked


Overclocking is the configuration of a computer hardware component to operate at a faster rate than was certified by the original manufacturer, generally specified as a given clock frequency in Megahertz (MHz) or Gigahertz (GHz). The purpose of overclocking is to gain additional performance from a given component by increasing its operating speed.

— Wikipedia, Overclocking

András István Gróf, 1936-2016, is a modern-day immigrant success story. Born in Hungary in 1936,1 he survived the Nazi occupation of his country, and the brutal Soviet response to the Hungarian Revolution, he fled to the United Stats in 1957. As a child, Grove was afflicted with scarlet fever and an ear infection that left him almost deaf. Yet despite his hearing impairment and very limited knowledge of English, he studied chemical engineering at the City College of New York, and graduated at the top of his class despite his struggles with English and impaired hearing. Grove learned to lip read and then deciphered his notes after class. He told The New York Times in a 1960, “I had to go over each day’s work again at night with a dictionary at my side,”

Despite those challenges, he earned a PhD in chemical engineering. He worked for Fairchild Semiconductor, where he was hired by and worked under Gordon Moore. When Moore and Robert Noyce left Fairchild to start Intel, Grove went with them as director of engineering. He was the first person hired by the company.

Arguably, Grove saved Intel; it was his effort that moved the company from its initial focus on memory chips to microprocessors, a/k/a central processing units, “CPUs.”  Intel could claim “Intel Inside” because Andy Grove re-focused the company.

Gordon Moore may have invested Moore’s Law, that the the number of transistors in a CPU would double every two years. But it was Grove who made it happen. Grove went on to become Chief Executive Officer of Intel, leading it to a near-monopoly on CPU manufacture. Grove was famous for his confrontational style, a management approach that Steve Jobs made famous.

As much or more than any other single person, certainly more than Steve Jobs, Andy Grove made Silicon Valley what it is today. Grove and Intel are often criticized for aggressive marketing, for restrictions on licensing of its thousand of patents and for slow responses to serious bugs in its chips. Grove initially downplayed the Pentium floating point division bug,eventually  forcing Grove to relent and offer no-questions-asked replacements at a cost to Intel of some $475 million. These criticisms are legitimate, but don’t defeat the incredible impact Grove had on the industry he helped invent.

Grove served as chief executive of Intel until 1998 and then served as Chairman of the Board until 2005. During that time, he developed the non-heirarchial management style that became the standard for Silicon Valley.2 His autobiography and management book, Only the Paranoid Survive, is still in print.

Not content to merely run one of the world’s largest and most innovative microchip fabricator, he was also a prolific author, public speaker and mentor to folks like Steve Jobs. He was also a voice for reason in the immigration debate, encouraging America to be “vigilant as a nation to have tolerance for difference, a tolerance for new people.” He pointed out that immigration and immigrants are what made America what it is.

To the extent that America is Silicon Valley, much of the credit goes to Andy Grove, Hungarian immigrant. Overclocked or not.

R.I.P. Andrew Grove, 1936-2016.

 


  1.  As an ex patriate Hungarian, Grove qualifies as a “martian.” It was Leo Szilard who explained why there didn’t seem to be any aliens around, what’s known as the Fermi Paradox. “They are among us,” he said, “but they call themselves Hungarians.” Notable martians included They included Theodore von KármánJohn von NeumannPaul HalmosEugene WignerEdward TellerGeorge PólyaPaul Erdős and Leó Szilárd
  2.  Craig Barrett, an Intel colleague who eventually succeeded Grove as chief executive officer, said Mr. Grove’s management style “was to hit you over the head with a two-by-four.” 
Advertisements