Serendipity and Bob Proebsting – Part 2

Posted: March 15, 2012 in Mostek
Tags: , , ,

When I arrived at Mostek the 64K DRAM was still in design. It was very late. Initially, Bob and I worked on some side projects but the pressure to get the 64K DRAM out the door eventually sucked me in and I was assigned to that project. I would routinely discuss design issues with Bob. It was a great education. Bob didn’t teach circuits as much as how to design and think. A question often got another question in return. I would ask why a circuit didn’t work. Bob would start asking things like “What happens if this transistor is a light year wide?” That would be followed by “Now what happens if that transistor is 0.000001um wide?” He taught insight rather than stock answers. It was a technique I would later blatantly steal when I began to guide young engineers. Bob drove home the idea that a good engineer could design with nothing more than pencil, paper and a calculator. He didn’t put down simulation using programs such as SPICE but he had a huge distaste for engineers who designed through brute force using simulation. To him, simulation allowed better optimization of a circuit that already worked. A circuit should want to work. Time and again, during design reviews, discussing new circuits with another engineer, and when judging my own creations I would come back to Bob’s comments and how a circuit should want to work. So many times I would see an engineer spinning his wheels trying relentlessly to make a circuit work that didn’t want to. Bob’s training helped me avoid that trap and to guid others out of the black hole of circuits that mostly work.

Bob was always an electronics hobbyist. For him work was fun. It always has been for me too and Bob and I became friends and not just coworkers. We would discuss cars, high end audio and the emerging PC area. A number of us decided to build Apple 2 clones. Bob and I spent a late night in his garage, hunched over an oscilloscope, debugging his board. Here was a guy worth millions building a clone not because it was cheaper to do but because it was fun.

I only worked with Bob for about three and a half years before moving on to my next company. I had learned the value of startups at Mostek from working with some of the founders including Bob. I wanted to go to a startup and Cypress was my opportunity. It would be well over tens years before my  career path would again bump into Bob’s. By then I was Director, Atlanta Design Center at IDT. Bob joined IDT as a Fellow to add creativity to the designs done by the company. This afforded an opportunity to renew our friendship. On the work side our interaction had shifted. I was not the manager needing to get designs out the door while Bob was the engineer want to keep making it just a little better. Still, the friendship remained. In his personal life Bob was enjoying time wit Arlene, his truly wonderful wife, and was winning swimming meets in his age group. He had been a world class swimmer in college. His brain was just as sharp as ever and his design thoughts wide ranging. Bob would die of cancer on June 4, 2007.

I have tried to post about what was unique about my interaction with Bob. There is so much more. Some information on his swimming and early fight with cancer can be found here , here and here . These links also show some of Bob’s swimming records. On the design side, Bob is the father of the modern dynamic random access memory (DRAM). This is the main memory in the computers we use today. Bob didn’t invent the DRAM but his advancements drove the DRAM to dominance and changed the face of computing. He also changed the career for the better of one new college physics grad.

For more information on Mostek check here. I hope to post later on the influence Mostek had on both myself and others. Many people there went on to become major players at other companies.

  1. bill w says:

    Thanks Paul. Excellent. I was a process engineer at Mostek ’74-89. Maybe I sent you over to design? I did something like that with several interviewees.

    bill waller @mostek lives

    retired in Dallas

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