Fresh out of college in 1981, I was able to land a job with a terrific company by the name of “ROLM” which was an acronym for the last names of its four founders. After a difficult job search, I stumbled into the job by dumb luck when a friend turned down a job offer and referred a recruiter to me.
That having been said, it was a wonderful job. ROLM was one of the early developers of digital telephone systems for business use and it was somewhat of the Google of its day. Sales were exploding. The campus was gorgeous with running streams between the buildings. As I arrived in the summer of 1981, they had just started making people wear discreet white name tags because they had discovered that nearby small companies were bringing interviewees to the (excellent and highly subsidized) ROLM cafeteria and pitching their proximity to ROLM’s campus as a job benefit.
That was a long time ago. Earlier this week I visited the Cloud Expo Silicon Valley 2012 (We consider Asatte Press to be a Cloud Skills Delivery company, books being merely one media for skills delivery) at the Santa Clara convention center. Since that convention center is only a few blocks from the former ROLM campus, I stopped by one afternoon to take a look. The picture at the left is what the main campus looks like today.
What felt like luxurious and state-of-the-art buildings at the time were looking frumpy and outdated a year or so ago when someone decided to bulldoze them. The ROLM buildings were single-story with trellised walkways and lots of lush vegetation between them. The current fashion runs more to five-story glass and steel things with minimal plant life around them. I had understood that Yahoo was going to build a new campus here, but there were no signs of any such construction activity earlier this week.
In early 1982, ROLM was growing explosively and snapping up any available real-estate. They built a trellised walkway past the swimming pool and recreation center and attached it to a new building that was dubbed “Building 9″ This building housed the “International Telecommunications Division” which I was a part of.
Moving to Building 9 was where the fun really started for me. Managers were rotated and a very experienced manager named Henry Swingler was brought in to run our team. Henry was excellent. He eliminated a few people who were not helping the cause and restaffed with an almost 50/50 mix of young men and young women. He also instituted weekly beer-drinking sessions. The explosive improvement in our productivity was an eye-opening life lesson for me.
As we can see from the photo above, the trellised walkway is still there. The recreation center was bulldozed. Building 9 is still there, but appears to be unused. Someone has resurfaced the parking lot recently. Actually, it still looks pretty nice from my point of view. However, as I mentioned above, it is quite out of fashion. Current internet companies need buildings with more of a “high tech” look. Perhaps when Asatte Press starts growing and we need to staff a development center in Silicon Valley, we can lease building 9, refurbish it, and bring it back to its former glory.
By 1985 IBM had bought ROLM and was ramping up a major effort to replace its IBM 1750 and IBM 3750 telephone system products for Europe. A new building was rented. The ground floor was the international division. Upstairs was the new organization that was tasked with building the new IBM 8750 for IBM EMEA. Our little team of 10 software engineers and 4-ish hardware engineers was split in two. Half stayed downstairs (including me) A few people were hired to backfill the ITD team. The other half moved upstairs. A massive recruiting campaign added around 200 newcomers to the nucleus of 5-6 veterans. The money spigots were wide open. The average age was around 25. The team went wild. They radically redesigned the hardware. They developed an automated code translator and translated about 750,000 lines of Data General assembler into about 2 million lines of Motorola 68020 assembler. To this they added another 1-2 million lines of new features. Wild parties were a weekly event. Romances flared. The performance and feature set of the system shown in the overhead foils (PowerPoint was not established yet) was terrific and IBM EMEA had orders for several hundred of them waiting…
There was just one little problem: With that sort of radical change in the code base and function of the product, it proved to be almost impossible to stabilize the software. Around 1988, as I was just starting an assignment to IBM Japan, IBM gave up and sold the whole thing to Siemens. This episode was the second major life lesson in software development management for me…
As we can see above, the ITD/EMEA building is still there. Someone bolted a sort of atrium lobby thing onto the front to make it look more modern, but otherwise it is basically unchanged. It was a leased building anyway and the fashion had already begun to change by the time it was built in 1985. It fits the current required look a little better than the other original ROLM buildings did.