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Master Repays Debt For Advice Well Taken

Brian Halla heard a message from a Master’s Week speaker 31 years ago that changed his life. So upon returning to NU Nov. 2-4 for the first time since he graduated, Halla wanted to return the favor.

That Master’s Week speaker suggested that instead of aerospace, electrical engineers explore computers.

If Halla could remember the name of that speaker, he might thank him. Halla is now CEO of an international force in highly integrated, application-specific computer semiconductors.

The advice proved sound. And Halla returned to talk to today’s students about the even greater opportunities they have as the world evolves from a computer age to an information age.

Halla, who graduated from NU in 1969 with a B.S. in electrical engineering, is head of National Semiconductor Corp., which specializes in system-on-a-chip technology. Based in Santa Clara, Calif., his company has led the way in designing and manufacturing the computer chip devices that will drive a new wave of information technologies. National Semiconductor had sales of $2.1 billion for its last fiscal year and has 10,500 employees worldwide.

Back in 1969, Halla said, he was “clueless” about his career and the future in technology.

“By contrast today, students are probably clued in better than most people, even myself, because they are online. They understand what is going on out there,” he said.

But students with careers in information or technology will be short-sighted if they are planning their careers for today, Halla warned. They need to anticipate new technologies that revolve around productivity.

“There’s such a diversity of opportunities in computer fields. It’s not just personal computers anymore, it’s servers, wireless, and beyond that the whole new world of information appliances that is exploding as we speak, and offering a whole new selection of companies to go to work for. There’s infinitely more opportunities.”

Today’s and tomorrow’s careers will center on information, not computers.

“Beyond computers” is a real concept of infinite information, anywhere, anytime.

“That’s the direction and where these engineers should put their careers at,” including infrastructure, servers and bandwidth technologies; display technologies, thin client, flat panels, audio or speaker technologies; longer battery life, portability and miniaturization. Computer displays are becoming the ultimate information provider, and displays will be available virtually everywhere so that individuals will be untethered to computers, telephones, and displays will provide virtual realities.

For those interested in someday being a CEO like Halla, the NU grad advises making themselves valuable.

“I like to tell new workers that you’re always working for yourself,” he said. “Find a company consistent with your goals and needs. Any decision you make, step outside of your sphere of influence and ask how it will impact others and impact the bottom line of the company, not just the project.

“It’s not the CEOs who turn businesses around and make them successful. It’s the handful of people that by their example make all the difference. It’s the ones who are dedicated, the ones who other people look up to. Go out of your way to find those people.”

— Kelly Bartling