07 September

Estrin on Innovation - A Change of Heart?

Non-strategic "renovation, not innovation" mantra dead

Judy Estrin and I have both been around in Silicon Valley. I was at Symmetric Computer Systems soldering the first five motherboards for the 375 while she was at Zilog with Bill Carrico (who was the product manager for the Z80). Paul Baran, a great influence on my work in layer-4 switching using dataflow techniques (InterProphet patents) was a student of her father's at UCLA (where my son is off to in a couple weeks, but in physics, not computing). 386BSD Release 1.0 was launched about the same time Precept was launched (based on multicast, not TCP, using video streaming as a demo platform for the technology). Like Judy, I didn't get to the Ph.D. stage, because I was impatient to get into the big start-up boom of the 1980's. Judy worked with Vint Cerf at Stanford (where she got her master's) on TCP, while Vint vetted my work on SiliconTCP and was on the Board of Directors of InterProphet. We're both moms who juggled diapers and meetings, and suffered a lot of "can you do this" incredulity. Judy and I both received the coveted and unusual Geek of the Week award, but they spelled her name correctly on the nameplate (it's Lynne with an "e").

Judy and I have had our differences. Packet Design, now Judy-Lab (JLAB) was launched as a rival to InterProphet in 2000 (we'd already done our first patent, prototype and product by that time), and while it was far more successful in fundraising than InterProphet ever was, it didn't get nearly as far. Perhaps there is something to be said about running lean. Egos cost big.

But all that said, I salute her for daring to write a book that indicts Silicon Valley's disregard for investing in innovative or risky technology. This cult of "renovation, not innovation" as espoused by Ray Lane has, as Judy puts it "created a kind of root rot in the valley and the nation as a whole." Judy herself I am sure has suffered from this bottom-feeder mentality. It is impossible to run a small research lab like Judy does when the ideas developed are ignored. Think it was tough in 1998 when InterProphet was launched? At least we got a million on a handshake then to develop the concept. In 2008 it is literally impossible to finance any semiconductor company for any reason unless you have an inside deal with Intel - something innovators just don't tend to cultivate in the rush to actually build something.

So bravo, Judy, for writing how this "non-strategic time" (remember when you warned everyone about this in response to one of my questions way back in 2001?) is merely catabolizing Silicon Valley and not giving back. I've been discussing this for years, and put my life on the line for this cause (in open source), just as you do now. Who would of thought that the two of us would be fighting side-by-side?

Posted by lynne : "Estrin on Innovation - A Change of Heart?" at 17:17 | link to entry | Comments (2)
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Re: Estrin on Innovation - A Change of Heart?

I haven't read all of the book, but I skimmed through a few sections. Some of what she wrote reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine, who started doing R&D in networking in the 1980s. I told her that I thought one of the reasons why we don't see more networking research dollars as we did in the early ARPA days was because there is much less optimism about the future of that sort of research, and there is no driving force to generate those research dollars (no challenge to reach the moon, etc.). There is also skepticism about investing in companies that can't show ROI right out of the gate, which is why the type of web 2.0 startup that's supported through ad dollars tends to get more funding than something where a product or service must be sold in cash dollars.

However, I am disappointed by her stance on H-1B visas. Given the amount of tech job loss, especially in the SFBA, I'm surprised she would advocate that more visas be issued, at least without more investigation into whether these visas are really needed. Surely, she must know people who've lost jobs - certainly, I know lots of people, some with excellent tech credentials, who were laid off, some multiple times, since the bubble burst.

Posted by: gregbo at September 19,2008 07:40
Re: Estrin on Innovation - A Change of Heart?

Well...maybe they want to take advantage of the cheap labour that comes in..

Posted by: EuroVPS at June 13,2010 07:19
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