Electronic Design

Marcian (Ted) Hoff: Teenage Prodigy, Still Going Strong

Hoff (2002)

"Ted" Hoff's career as an engineer began long before he invented the microprocessor at Intel. At age 15, he won a trip to Washington, D.C., and a $400 scholarship from the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. As a sophomore at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., he won points (and patents) for designing two circuits for the General Railway Signal Co., where he worked summers and college holidays as a lab tech. One circuit detected trains through the audio frequencies transmitted along the railway track. Another absorbed energy to protect against lightning.

Hoff was employee number 12 at Intel, where he worked for 14 years. When a headhunter contacted him in early 1983, he was ready for a change and joined Atari as vice president of technology. "Atari was doing some interesting things at the time, like looking at the role computers could play in the home and special graphics kinds of things," he says. But Atari's bread-and-butter product, video games, began to slip rapidly about a year after he joined. Warner, which owned Atari, sold it in mid-'84. Hoff was offered a position with the new owner, Commodore, a consumer electronics company that was trying to expand its product line. But he wasn't sure where he would fit in, so he went off on his own.

However, it wasn't long before Gary Summers, who knew Hoff from Atari, offered to work with him. Summers had founded a company called Teklicon, a consulting firm that specializes in supplying technical experts to attorneys dealing in intellectual-property litigation. Hoff started as a consultant but is now a vice president and the chief technologist. "Attorneys are looking for people with experience in the semiconductor business," he explains. "People in the industry usually don't have the time to spend working with attorneys. This kind of work appealed to me." Summers has since sold Teklicon to Forensic Technology Inc.

Today, when not busy with FTI/Teklicon, Hoff works on his new house, where he has an electronics lab and a small machine shop, complete with a milling machine and a small metal lathe for turning out prototypes of things. "It's mostly a hobby," he says. "I do what interests me." For example, "We have noticed some noise from a nearby freeway. So, I'm working on some ideas I have about noise cancellation."

The microprocessor? "My role," notes Hoff, "was primarily to define the architecture. Federico Faggin (who Hoff hired fresh out of graduate school in Italy with a doctorate in solid-state physics) actually put it in silicon." Of course, Hoff's original proposal for a universal CPU chip and how it could be used has held up pretty well over the years. New product markets directly created by the microprocessor have been estimated at more than $500 billion a year.

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