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HP Retirees in Heritage of Innovation Series

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Phil McKinney  

New podcast series, "Heritage of Innovation," brings to light HP technologies that have changed the world.

"Are there lessons that can be learned from those who have innovated before us?  You bet!" says Phil McKinney, Chief Technology Officer in the HP Personal Systems Group (PSG).

And Phil should know.  Over the years, he has become an expert in innovation, championing products and establishing a number of best practices at HP, and sharing his knowledge with employees and others.

In fact, Phil's innovation website, philmckinney.com, is a veritable goldmine of insights, ideas and interviews related to innovation.  And some of those interviews are with former HP technologists who created what Phil calls "truly killer innovations, innovations that changed the world."

Among the "living legends" Phil has so far interviewed for the "Heritage of Innovation" series are Dave Cochran, Art Fong and Chuck House.

The Little Calculator that Could

HP Calculator  

Did you know that Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak spent a summer working at HP while reluctantly attending college the rest of the year?

"He had a really sharp mind and was a fast microcoder," recalled Dave Cochran, who was his manager.  "He'd sit there with his feet up on the desk, coding."

And Woz likely soaked up some amazing conversations and innovations taking place around him at HP at that time.  You see, Dave Cochran was also the product manager of the HP-35 calculator, a product that recently received an IEEE Milestone award for being a breakthrough innovation. 

"Some people have said that it was the start of everything miniature and integrated, a forerunner of much of what we're doing today," Dave says to Phil.

IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, is the world's leading professional association for the advancement of technology, with 395,000 members in 160 countries. 

In a dynamic conversation with Phil, Dave talks about how building the HP-35 was "a fun project involving many different disciplines and technologies, and many people across the company."

He also shares his advice to young engineers who want to develop breakthrough products and technologies of their own at some time in their careers: "Get your grounding in science" he says, especially physics and mathematics. 

Dave, who had long career at HP before retiring, continues, "Don't look at the greatest, whiz-bang integrated circuit, or the latest software.  If you're going to develop things, you want that grounding in core sciences.  And then go to a work for a company like HP, and learn the ropes."

100 Miles per Hour with Bill Hewlett

HP co-founder Bill Hewlett had a penchant for driving fast on occasion, once reaching 100 miles per hour on a desert road to see if the ride would be smoother and more stable if the car glided from the top of one bump to another, rather than hugging the troughs and peaks of the dirt road. (No need to repeat the experiment; the ride was bumpy nonetheless.)

Art Fong  

Holding on tight in the passenger seat was HP engineer Art Fong, a technologist who survived the experience to spend 40 years with HP, retired, and then come back to work part-time for 10 more.  "HP is my life," Art says to Phil.

Prior to joining HP in 1946 when it was a small start-up, Art was part of teams at the MIT Radiation Laboratory (known as the "Rad Lab") that invented microwave radar technology during World War II.  He also helped invent FM radio.

Recruited by Bill Hewlett personally after WWII ended,  he went on to develop many products, and at one point 30 percent of the company's revenues were attributable to his innovations.

Asked to name his proudest achievement at HP, Art said it was the Spectrum Analyzer, which came out in 1965 and sold for $10,000, a substantial sum in those days.

Senior technologists and marketers at HP at that time forecasted that the company would sell 25 units in the first six months, but in short order, the company was selling 100 per month.

"That was the first $1 million product at HP," Art remembers in the podcast.

"One Small Step for Man"

If you're old enough, you can likely recall where you were when Neil Armstrong stepped from the lunar module and onto the moon.  It was an astonishing, historic event, and it was broadcast by NASA to television sets around the world.

Chuck House  

Imagine, if you would, being the engineer who invented that display technology, which impacted so many lives.  It was an extraordinary achievement, and Chuck House, who spent 28 years at HP, was the person who did it.

An ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) Fellow who has been recognized for advancing computing as a science and profession, Chuck was also the recipient of a "Medal of Defiance" from Dave Packard for not following orders very well at one point in his career (he was adept at finding a loophole in one of Packard's directives - a story that he tells in the podcast).

Asked to share his advice to young engineers, Chuck replied, "First of all, I believe in experiments, little experiments, lots of experiments, learning by doing.  You've got to get your hands dirty.  You've got to mix it up." 

In addition, he stressed the importance of a sound education.  "If you're not grounded in math and science, I'm convinced you're handicapped because what you learn isn't formulas, what you learn is a way of thinking . . . and that ordered, structured way of thinking is crucial to being able to work through to a solution."

Chuck explains further to Phil, "Curiosity and enthusiasm and drive and being eclectic are essential to creativity," but you need to be able to "take that creativity and harness it so you can make traction and get results."

Finally, Chuck emphasized being unafraid of making mistakes and taking action.  "The world today is waiting for innovations," he said.

Learn More
Visit philmckinney.com where you will find the "Heritage of Innovation" series and scores of podcasts, as well as other resources on innovation.

Link directly to Phil McKinney's audio interviews with Dave Cochran, Art Fong and Chuck House.

Visit the HP Retirees website to learn about Retirees in Action.