Out into the Real World

1992 brought a change at IBM Microelectronics. It was a big change. Facing business pressures, and with a stockpile of cool technologies, IBM chose to open their doors and sell their technology capabilities to the rest of the semiconductor-using world! True, those heady days of three-level-metal, 8-inch wafers seem simple now, looking back. But at the time those techniques, and others, were state of the art.

I was working in Program Management, and had gotten a taste of travel, and being in front of customers. I liked it. I wanted more. I signed up and moved to the Field Application Engineering department, serving external (and internal) customers with IBM’s premier ASIC offerings.

The biggest challenge in selling what IBM had was that IBM had different stuff. There were other ASIC companies out there, but IBM had top-end silicon, packaging, tools, sign-off methods, testing, and more. How to convince the customer that those things are worth a bit more, and that their design engineers could make use of it?

For twelve months I traveled a week a month to the West Coast. I worked with IBM’s Rep firm, calling on accounts up and down the California coast: SGI, Sun, Qualcomm, Apple, many more. We had some great successes, and faced some challenges. I learned a lot in a very short time.

After digging and probing into IBM’s design tools and test methodology, I began to ask questions of the developers, and to make suggestions for improvements in tools and collateral. I began writing application notes, training materials, and similar work. It usually felt like there was another customer possibility right around the corner!

After those twelve months, I went to my manager and asked for a temporary transfer to San Jose. He was surprised. (Vermonters don’t usually think of California as a tempting location.) I said it made more sense for me to be stationed there while IBM built up an FAE staff, than to keep wasting time in airplanes. And, so my family and I moved out West. I transformed myself from a lab engineer to a technical sales engineer.

Next: Fork in the Road.