Newton Lecture Series: Vinod Dham

 

Vinod Dham, known internationally as the “Father of the Pentium Chip,” was this week’s speaker at the Newton Lecture Series, where he discussed his experience in the business and entrepreneurial worlds, his steps in the technology industry, and his thoughts about the future.

Dham, who believes that “it takes about 10 years to be good at something in your life,” has four decades of experience in developing semiconductor products and technologies, and has been a venture capitalist for the last ten years. Currently, he is the Founding Managing Director of IndoUS Venture Partners, an early stage venture capital fund dedicated to investing in India.

After graduating in India, Dham began working in the first semiconductor company in the country and recalled how he “just fell in love with it.” However, he was bothered by his lack of explanation for chips that came out unworkable. He wanted to study the “physics behind it,”—such as why the smaller a chip is, the faster it becomes. This is what brought him to the United States.

In the US, Dham said he worked “with brilliant men” who taught him how to do research. It also was the place where Intel contacted him and offered him a position.

He accepted and spent sixteen years at the company where he successfully managed multi-billion dollar businesses, such as the Intel 386 compaction. He also worked on Intel’s Non-Volatile memory products and co-invented Intel’s Flash technology, which he said is now “in every pocket” in our smartphones.

At Intel, Dham discovered his aptitude at communicating with people and that was something that made him stand out against his more technical peers. “I took advantage of it,” he said, “I took bigger projects, what leads you to management.” Eventually, he became General Manager of the i486 Workgroup Computing Division.

It was also at Intel that he earned the title “Father of the Pentium Chip.” However, he explained that he did not actually invent the chip. Rather, he said he innovated it by taking “what already was” and pushed it “a step beyond.”

Dham decided to leave Intel while he held the position of Vice President of Pentium Processor Division, driven by the thought that living in Silicon Valley implies opening a startup. Before founding IndoUS, Dham occupied management positions at two successful startups: Silicon Spice and NexGen.

Dham, who has received numerous recognitions during his career, has co-authored abundant technical papers and patents, and has been named one of the top 100 most influential Asian Americans. He also shared the lessons he has learned throughout his impressive career.

“If the original idea fails, then pivot and persist,” he said to the students, and added that no matter how good the idea is, “you need to get customers who would pay for it.”

Dham also pointed out that being an entrepreneur implies having an “appetite for failure.” After all, he said, only one in ten companies succeed.

Dham, who said that venture investment is “the fuel that moved innovation,” has recently co-founded AcadGild, a technology education startup, and is also the company’s CEO.

Dham also encouraged the students to discover their passion, be curious and enthusiastic, focus on results, and “stay hungry and take risks.” Enjoying the journey, luck, and serendipity also plays a significant role in the final outcome, he added.

Finally, the “Father of the Pentium Chip” discussed his thoughts about the future and said that, while things such as nanotubes and quantum computers will “continue to take us forward,” no one has engineered these yet. “You guys,” Dham said to the UC Berkeley students, “should create the next big thing.”

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