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A HISTORY OF COMPUTER COMMUNICATIONS: 1968 -1988

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Bill Carrico

William “Bill” Carrico graduated from Santa Clara University with a BSEE in 1972. Unable to find a job as an engineer, Carrico found a position in marketing with Fairchild Semiconductor. He spent seven years with Fairchild in various marketing and operational roles. During those years, he spent two as marketing director for Manny Fernandez, who would play is an important role in Carrico’s future, and was group executive vice president of Fairchild at the time.

In early 1979, Fernandez was recruited to join Zilog to replace Ralph Ungermann, who had been asked to leave.  Fernandez induced Carrico to come with him as his strategic planning manager. Carrico would convene two seminal strategic product-planning meetings in April and May of 1979 to focus Zilog’s product direction. The principal discussion centered on two topics: first, how to exploit Bruce Hunt’s Ariel local area networking technology – that became known as “the intelligent wire” – and second, the development of a minicomputer with the Z8000. Then in June, Bass resigned and joined Ungermann.  Bass was soon followed by many more engineers, some leaving to join what would become Ungermann-Bass, and others to what would become Excelan or the OmniNet LAN at Corvus. A year later, Bridge Communications was co-founded by Carrico and fellow Zilog colleague, Judy Estrin.  The Zilog meetings could well be described as the beginning of the Local Area Networking industry and the future NETWORKING market sector.

Carrico, soon afterwards, was named the Business Unit manager for the Systems Group and Estrin the engineering manager -- a group that had been depleted of many of its key engineers. Carrico and Estrin transformed the Ariel project into the ZNet product over the next year and introduced the ZNet at National Computer Conference (NCC) in June 1980 in Anaheim. ZNet would be the first LAN to be introduced. Unfortunately, Exxon stopped funding the project, wanting to focus their efforts on developing a minicomputer to compete with IBM.  Exxon management neither understood LANs nor believed they would be major consumers of the semiconductors being developed by Zilog.

The sentiments of Exxon management were then clear, and Estrin resigned in January 1981, joining Ungermann-Bass (U-B) one month later. Carrico, now without Estrin, yet believing in the future of local area networking, found it harder and harder to stay at Zilog. So when Estrin decided to leave U-B in May 1981, Carrico resigned from Zilog and they co-founded Bridge Communications (Bridge) in June 1981.

Carrico and Estrin launched Bridge with their own money, but the more they thought through their initial strategy, essentially to build “bridges” to interconnect the growing number of different LANs running different protocols, they realized there weren’t enough installed LANs to build much of a company. So they expanded their strategy to encompass selling LAN controllers and terminal servers, which brought them into direct competition with U-B, and feelings that Estrin had betrayed her former friends and employer. Bridge had an immediate advantage in their completion with U-B for their products were built using the 16-bit Motorola 68000 microprocessor as well as the XNS protocol software. Bridge grew rapidly and went public in April 1986 with a valuation of $96 million. On September 30, 1987, Bridge merged with 3Com valuing the combination at $193 million. Carrico became President and COO of the new 3Com. The arrangement was not to last, however, and in June 1988 Carrico and Estrin resigned ostensibly to take an extended breather. But the entrepreneurs in them tugged too strongly, and before long, they joined Network Computing Devices to “jump-start” its growth.

In this interview, conducted with Judy Estrin in their home in Los Altos, CA, Carrico discusses his time with Zilog and becoming interested in the systems business and then local area networking.  He then covers his time building Bridge, and the merger with 3Com.  In person, they were fun to be with, highly informative and knowledgeable, and careful to be sure that they had their facts straight.  They were still newlyweds and they displayed the joy of being with each other.

Keywords: Fairchild Semiconductor, Zilog, ZNet, Bridge Communications, Network Computing Devices

Bill Carrico Interviewed by James Pelkey 6/23/88