Dr. Henry Samueli is the CTO and co-founder of Broadcom. You may not have heard of Broadcom but you almost certainly have used their products because almost all internet traffic passes through a Broadcom chip at some time during its journey around the Web.
I sat down for a chat with him during the Orange blogger tour to California, here’s a section of that interview where Henry talks about the importance of engineers and engineering:
Glenn Le Santo: How can we perpetuate engineering skills? Obviously, this relationship with universities is part of the answer. If you don’t train engineers you don’t get great products. How can we encourage kids to get a career in engineering?
Henry Samueli: That’s right. Ultimately we have to start younger. It is too late to focus on it in college. We have to get middle schoolers wanting to become scientists and engineers. The way I got into it was via hands-on projects when I was a kid. It is very exciting to build things. When I was in middle school I built a Heathkit radio set.
We’re focussed on that here in Broadcom. We fund a middle school science project call the Broadcom Masters. It’s an international competition with a grand prize of $25,000. We bring the 30 finalists together in Washington DC every year. They visit the Whitehouse, it’s really exciting.
Getting kids at a young age excited about hands-on maths and science projects is really what it is all about. We as companies have that responsibility to invest in this kind of work, and we do just that at Broadcom.
Glenn Le Santo: Your passion for this is obvious!
Henry Samueli: Very much so. Even outside of Broadcom, with my personal family foundation that I run with my wife, maths and science education is one of the major areas of funding – for all sorts of interesting projects to stimulate kids. After-school projects and innovative ways to teach maths and science. So, yes, it is definitely a passion of mine.
Glenn Le Santo: Has it been a hard sell getting that into the education program?
Henry Samueli: I think people are coming around now, maybe five years ago it was a harder sell. I think today people have finally come to the realisation that this is our future as a country. We are built upon an innovation economy, it’s the only way we can compete. We have to train kids to become more innovative and creative and now people are much more amenable and accepting of ideas and funding.
We’re giving them money and you’d think they’d be receptive of that – but not always! Some people didn’t even seem to want the money. But nowadays that is not so much the case, people are much more open.
Glenn Le Santo: Even at government level?
Henry Samueli: Oh, absolutely. The government is a huge partner here because they provide the majority of funding for most educational institutions in every country – starting from kindergarten to university. The government is 100% focussed on what they call stem education – science, technology and mathematics. There is no question that they are an important partner.
Glenn Le Santo: Do you think the ubiquitous nature of technology in our lives today is having an effect? Kids have so much technology around them nowadays, do you think this translates into desire to be engineers, developers? Is this making it cooler to be involved in engineering?
Henry Samueli: Definitely. Especially when you look at some of the newer companies that have come out in the last ten years – like Facebook, Google and Instagram. Many have become major corporations but started small, as interesting projects that graduate students have worked on. I think this is very stimulating to the kids because they can see all this. It makes them think; “hey, maybe this could happen to me”. It didn’t take a billion dollars to create Facebook. Very low investment and creative ideas.
Glenn Le Santo: It’s a role model thing.
Henry Samueli: Yes, exactly. Role models. I think you need role models out there – and role models that are attainable. If it is an industry that takes a billion dollar investment to succeed then nobody is going to try it as a kid. But when they see that; “hey, I can write an innovative program and all of a sudden become a huge success” then that’s motivating.
Glenn Le Santo: During my visit to California I’ve met a bunch of very positive and inspired people, do you think that positivity is endemic in this area?
Henry Samueli: More so probably than other areas. Maybe because Silicon Valley is the centre of the universe for chip technology – and in many cases software technology. I think it spreads out from there. This is the centre of gravity – but we don’t have the monopoly on innovation. Every major country in the world nowadays makes huge investments in high-tech, because everybody realises that this is where the value creation is for an economy. Everybody is investing.
Glenn Le Santo: How does it make you feel when you see young engineers succeeding and building great companies? Do you think of yourself when you were younger and compare yourself to these guys?
Henry Samueli: Oh sure! It is very exciting for me because that is the goal of a lot of the funding we do, both through the Broadcom Foundation and my personal foundation. You fund all these programs hoping to create the next Broadcom, that you stimulate the next entrepreneur to create the next great company.
Glenn Le Santo: Do you not worry that you’ll create your own competitors?
Henry Samueli: No, because competition is something you have to live with. It is a fact of life. There’s competition everywhere and in every country, so you deal with it. That’s just day to day business. It is more important to create the next generation of engineers that will work here and maybe some of them will create their own companies – so be it. We need to create that whole engine to fill the economy with trained engineers. The fact that some of them will become competitors doesn’t bother me.
Glenn Le Santo: Is there a risk that the developed countries like Europe and the United States will lose their technological lead to the developing countries like China and India?
Henry Samueli: Absolutely! There’s no question because they are working extraordinarily hard to catch up. They are training many more engineers than we are on a pure numbers basis. So yes, it is a big issue for the United States and Europe – how do you maintain that innovation advantage. The answer is not obvious, people in India and China are just as smart as we are and they work just as hard as we do, if not harder. We happen to have an infrastructure built, for decades or centuries, that keeps that going with the whole university system that we have. But the developing nations are building them very fast.
Glenn Le Santo: Does that worry you?
Henry Samueli: Yeah, sure. I don’t think it is a short term issue but if you look generations out that gap is going to be gone.