Charles House: Meeting The Challenges Of Technology

Oct. 21, 2002
House (2002)

Charles House is usually remembered for leading the team at Hewlett-Packard (now Agilent Technologies) that developed the logic analyzer, and he's very proud of that. But his work in the Air Pollution Commission of Colorado in the early 1970s is what House considers his most important professional accomplishment. "We did a correlation set of 17 variables on 3000 cases of emphysema deaths and came up with a hypothesis of some of the real killer agents," he says. The work has since been endorsed by the National Institutes of Health. "I think I'm prouder of that than any single thing. As for products I built, it's the logic analyzer, clearly."

House started at HP in 1962, working on oscilloscopes. "Tektronix was a pretty swinging place, and we didn't do that well against them. Everything else at HP was pretty much ahead of the class," he explains. He also worked on computer graphic displays before they were called that and managed the company's logic systems operation before it became a division, which he also headed. That came about when he kept complaining that all of the company's 14 divisions were doing their own thing. "There were almost no standards across the company and I kept going to Palo Alto and raising hell about that," he recalls. "They said, 'How would you fix it?'" House submitted a four-page memo to the company's executive committee, explaining how. The result was that they made him corporate engineering director—the first time anyone at HP had held that title—to coordinate the company's standards, strategic planning, engineering training, and other issues.

As the chairman of Applied Microsys-tems, House is now concerned about the role the designer plays and how designers have dwindled in number. "We don't need the same kind of design talent that we had or now have," he says. "An easy analogy would be if you went to architecture school 30 years ago. There is practically nothing in the skill sets that these people used then that they use today. They don't draft or do calculations. It's all on computers, in libraries, and in simulation." One of the things that hasn't changed, he says, is the role of creativity. "It's still a pretty daunting task," he says.

House also is the director of Societal Impact of Technology at Intel, which he came to through leadership positions in several technical societies, including the IEEE. As technologists, he says, "We're clearly affecting what people do on a daily basis. A simple example is, if you can buy something over the Internet, say, a Dell PC, where do you pay the sales tax? Or do you?" Right now, all of that money goes to the county in which Dell is located. It doesn't go to the community where that PC was purchased. The obvious problem, says House, is that 45% of the U.S. tax base is local sales tax. Over time, as commercial transactions grow over the Internet, how will those taxes be paid?

Moreover, the Intel group is looking at how organizations and institutions work, what kind of skills they need, and at what job levels. "We don't want to be a lobby group," says House, "but we want to address these issues and anticipate others."

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