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What’s the Most Revered Rule in Silicon Valley?

What’s the Most Revered Rule in Silicon Valley?

By Ed Cohen

Intel introduced the first commercial microprocessor in 1971. Bill Holt M.S. ’78 joined the company in 1974 and now heads manufacturing.
Bill Holt M.S. ’78 been called one of the people who keeps Silicon Valley's most-cherished rule going.

Moore’s Law predicted, in essence, that computing speed and power would double every two years as transistor density on integrated circuits doubled. William M. Holt M.S. ’78 didn’t write Moore’s Law. Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore did, decades ago. But Holt has been called “one of the people who keeps Moore’s Law going.”

Holt has done that so well that last December the Semiconductor Industry Association awarded him the industry’s highest honor, the Robert N. Noyce Award, named for Intel’s other co-founder.

One of the analogies used to illustrate the multiplier effect of Moore’s Law is that if fuel efficiency had improved at the same rate as Moore’s Law, you could easily drive a car for your entire life on a single tank of gas. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Bill Holt has been with Intel since the 1970s and for the last 11 years has headed the company’s technology development and worldwide manufacturing operations. In other words, he is in charge of making microprocessors at the company that made the first commercial microprocessor, in 1971, and is still the industry leader. His responsibilities include overseeing manufacturing sites in the United States, Ireland, Israel, China, Vietnam, and Malaysia. As an executive vice president, he ranks behind only the president, CEO, and board chairman of the $55 billion company. 

It’s a career, however, he easily could have missed out on.

As a senior electrical engineering major at the University of Illinois in 1974 he hoped to interview with Digital Equipment Corporation, one of the leading computer manufacturers. But a friend and fellow EE major mentioned that a professor of his had brought some sample parts to class from an electronics manufacturer. Neither of them had heard of the company, but the friend suggested they sign up for an interview with its campus recruiter. 

“If that professor had not gotten those samples from Intel, neither one of us would have known anything about the company,” Holt recalls. 

He and his friend, Carl Simonsen M.S. ’79, both ended up accepting offers from Intel (then just six years old) and moving to California. And both pursued a master’s in electrical engineering from Santa Clara through a part-time program. They took classes one or two days a week from 7 to 9 a.m. and then drove five minutes to Intel. One of Holt’s early projects was working on watch circuits. 

Holt says the knowledge he gained from the program definitely benefited him professionally. Today an advanced degree is almost required to work as an engineer in the semiconductor industry.

As for Holt’s dream of joining Digital Equipment, he landed a campus interview but no offer. Many years later, Intel acquired some of the assets of what had been Digital Equipment, including a fabrication facility. So instead of Bill Holt working for Digital Equipment, at least a part of Digital Equipment ended up working for him.

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