[COFF] Bell Labs vs "East Coast" Management style of AT&T
scj at yaccman.com
scj at yaccman.com
Sat Aug 5 13:35:53 AEST 2023
OK, you asked for it...
Let me first say that the management style in the Unix Research area was
pragmatic and, in many ways, ideal:
* We were told that the work we were doing this year would probably
take several years before it could be evaluated. This freed us to take
3 months on a project, and, even if the project itself failed it often
inspired other people to "do it right". The management structure was
very static -- organizations would remain unchanged in mission for
several years, with supportive managers up the line.
For example, the year I wrote Yacc (probably one of my most productive
years) I got a rather blah review from my manager (his exact words were
"Why would anyone want to do that?"). The next year I got a massive
raise, and the year after my Boss and I made multiple trips to "sell"
Unix to Bell Labs and AT&T organizations that could make use of it."
In the early 1980s, the V7 port of Unix, which I had been working on for
two years, was out and successful. A new language, C++, was being
developed and showed promise. The Portable C Compiler had been ported
to dozens of different machines, and front ends for FORTRAN and other
languages were becoming available. And AT&T decided to divest the
"thriving" computer company to go out and change the world. I could see
the technology development that was possible and had always enjoyed
delivering useful things to people who needed them. So I offered to
transfer to the Commercial arm as Department Head of a group of 30
people, growing over two years to nearly 60. My supervisors were a
great bunch, and when I told them that, I was sure I could do the job.
However, though, they needed to teach me what was most important and how
to do it right. They were a little surprised by this, but soon we were
technically in sync. The debugger was one piece of software that was a
kluge, and we redefined the formats to handle multiple languages and
delivered C, Fortran, Ada, and Pascal compilers.
However, the business was being run by people who had only worked for a
monopoly, and they did not understand the first thing about marketing.
They didn't know what the languages were, who used them, and what they
did, and, in particular, we had an urgent need for a FORTRAN optimizer
(because DEC's was excellent). My marketing support was one two-hour
meeting every other week. It was always the last person hired into the
marketing group and frequently had not even heard of the languages we
were delivering. So we would talk about what we were doing in places
like Usenix and Universities. After four years, we had built all the
promised languages except for the FORTRAN optimizer, which was written
and working but was held up for documentation. The word had come down
that all the documentation was to be written in a small office in a
small Southern state with no technical footprint whatsoever. The first
draft was worse than you could possibly imagine. Somehow, they had
gotten the idea that an optimizer was a piece of hardware! After quite
a bit of heated discussion, they set out to fix it. But I had had it.
I'd done the job I came to do, doubled the size of the department, and
much of the software from that time is still alive and well today. But
a California headhunter made me an offer I couldn't refuse, and I
A couple of years in Silicon Valley taught me a lot about marketing -- I
worked with some superb folks and settled into my post-Bell career. I
also developed a deep interest in the craft of management and am
co-authoring a book on how you turn programmers, doctors, accountants,
etc. into managers. I have had many mistakes to learn from, as well as
On 2023-05-29 00:28, steve jenkin wrote:
> I was wondering if anyone close to Early Unix and Bell Labs would
> offer some comments on the
> evolution of Unix and the quality of decisions made by AT&T senior
> Tom Wolfe did an interesting piece on Fairchild / Silicon Valley,
> where he highlights the difference between SV’s management style
> and the “East Coast” Management style.
> [ Around 2000, “Silicon Valley” changed from being ‘chips & hardware’
> to ’software’ & systems ]
> [ with chip making, every new generation / technology step resets
> competition, monopolies can’t be maintained ]
> [ Microsoft showed that Software is the opposite. Vendor Lock-in &
> monopolies are common, even easy for aggressive players ]
> Noyce & Moore ran Fairchild Semiconductor, but Fairchild Camera &
> Instrument was ‘East Coast’
> or “Old School” - extracting maximum profit.
> It seems to me, an outsider, that AT&T management saw how successful
> Unix was
> and decided they could apply their size, “marketing knowhow” and client
> to becoming a big player in Software & Hardware.
> This appears to be the reason for the 1984 divestiture.
> In another decade, they gave up and got out of Unix.
> Another decade on, AT&T had one of the Baby Bells, SBC, buy it.
> SBC had understood the future growth markets for telephony was “Mobile”
> and instead of “Traditional” Telco pricing, “What the market will
> bear” p[lus requiring Gross Margins over 90%,
> SBC adopted more of a Silicon Valley pricing approach - modest Gross
> and high “pass through” rates - handing most/all cost reductions onto
> If you’re in a Commodity market, passing on cost savings to customers
> is “Profit Maximising”.
> It isn’t because Commodity markets are highly competitive, but Volumes
> drive profit,
> and lower prices stimulate demand / Volumes. [ Price Elasticity of
> Demand ]
> Kenneth Flamm has written a lot on “Pass Through” in Silicon Chip
> Just to close the loop, Bells Labs, around 1966, hired Fred Terman,
> ex-Dean of Stanford,
> to write a proposal for “Silicon Valley East”.
> The AT&T management were fully aware of California and perhaps it was
> a long term threat.
> How could they replicate in New Jersey the powerhouse of innovation
> that was happening in California?
> Many places in many countries looked at this and a few even tried.
> Apparently South Korea is the only attempt that did reasonably.
> I haven’t included links, but Gordon Bell, known for formulating a law
> of computer ‘classes’,
> did forecast early that MOS/CMOS chips would overtake Bipolar - used
> by Mainframes - in speed.
> It gave a way to use all those transistors on a chip that Moore’s Law
> would provide,
> and with CPU’s in a few, or one, chip, the price of systems would
> He forecast the cutover in 1985 and was right.
> The MIPS R2000 blazed past every other chip the year it was released.
> And of course, the folk at MIPS understood that building their own
> O/S, tools, libraries etc
> was a fool’s errand - they had Unix experience and ported a version.
> By 1991, IBM was almost the Last Man Standing of the original 1970’s
> “IBM & the BUNCH”,
> and their mainframe revenues collapsed. In 1991 and 1992, IBM racked
> up the largest
> corporate losses in US history to the time, then managed to survive.
> Linux has, in my mind, proven the original mid-1970’s position of
> that Software has to be ‘cheap’, even ‘free’
> - because it’s a Commodity and can be ’substituted’ by others.
> 1956 - AT&T / IBM Consent decree: 'no computers, no software’
> 1974 - CACM article, CSRC/1127 in Software Research, no commercial
> Software allowed
> 1984 - AT&T divested, doing commercial Software & Computers
> 1994 - AT&T Sells Unix
> 1996 - “Tri-vestiture", Bell Labs sold to Lucent, some staff to AT&T
> 2005 - SBC buys AT&T, long-lines + 4 baby bells
> 1985 - MIPS R2000, x2 throughput at same clock speed. Faster than
> bipolar, CMOS CPU's soon overtook ECL
> Code Critic
> John Lions wrote the first, and perhaps only, literary criticism of
> Unix, sparking one of open source's first legal battles.
> Rachel Chalmers
> November 30, 1999
> "By the time the seventh edition system came out, the company had
> begun to worry more about the intellectual property issues and trade
> secrets and so forth," Ritchie explains.
> "There was somewhat of a struggle between us in the research group
> who saw the benefit in having the system readily available,
> and the Unix Support Group ...
> Even though in the 1970s Unix was not a commercial proposition,
> USG and the lawyers were cautious.
> At any rate, we in research lost the argument."
> This awkward situation lasted nearly 20 years.
> Even as USG became Unix System Laboratories (USL) and was half
> divested to Novell,
> which in turn sold it to the Santa Cruz Operation (SCO),
> Ritchie never lost hope that the Lions books could see the light of
> He leaned on company after company.
> "This was, after all, 25-plus-year-old material, but when they
> would ask their lawyers,
> they would say that they couldnt see any harm at first glance,
> but there was a sort of 'but you never know ...' attitude, and
> they never got the courage to go ahead," he explains.
> Finally, at SCO [ by July 1996 ], Ritchie hit paydirt.
> He already knew Mike Tilson, an SCO executive.
> With the help of his fellow Unix gurus Peter Salus and Berny
> Goodheart, Ritchie brought pressure to bear.
> "Mike himself drafted a 'grant of permission' letter," says
> "'to save the legal people from doing the work!'"
> Research, at last, had won.
> Tom Wolfe, Esquire, 1983, on Bob Noyce:
> The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce | Esquire | DECEMBER 1983.webarchive
> Special Places
> IEEE Spectrum Magazine
> May 2000
> Robert W. Lucky (Bob Lucky)
> Why does place matter? Why does it matter where we live and work today
> when the world is so connected that we're never out of touch with
> people or information?
> The problem is, even if they get da Vinci, it won't work.
> There's just something special about Florence, and it doesn't travel.
> Just as in this century many places have tried to build their own
> Silicon Valley.
> While there have been some successes in
> Research Triangle Park, Austin, and
> Cambridge in the U.K.,
> to name a few significant places, most attempts have paled in
> comparison to the Bay Area prototype.
> In the mid-1960s New Jersey brought in Fred Terman, the Dean at
> Stanford and architect of Silicon Valley, and commissioned him to
> start a Silicon Valley East.
> [ Terman reited from Stanford in 1965 ]
> Steve Jenkin, IT Systems and Design
> 0412 786 915 (+61 412 786 915)
> PO Box 38, Kippax ACT 2615, AUSTRALIA
> mailto:sjenkin at canb.auug.org.au http://members.tip.net.au/~sjenkin
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