Austin Revealed: Booting Up Big Tech

Posted on Apr 16, 2019

With the assignment for Austin Revealed: "Tell the story of how Austin became a high-tech powerhouse," I found that the answer depended on who I asked. And that's where hitting the books and talking to experts became important.

I started with IC2 Institute's David Gibson, Ph.D. who was ready with a helpful mini-lecture on Austin's rise to prominence in the 1980s as "Silicon Hills." In it IC2 founder George Kozmetsky, Ph.D. plays a starring and inspiring role. Gibson traced Austin’s high-tech beginnings back to defense contractor Tracor in 1955, but focused on pivotal back-to-back computer technology research consortia wins MCC and Sematech 30 years later. He covers these wins in detail in R&D Collaboration on Trial, a dense and detailed book I lugged along on a family trip to London last August.

Armed with some background, I lined up the major players for interviews: MCC's first CEO Admiral Bobby Ray Inman and two of the people responsible for landing MCC and Sematech for Austin – entrepreneur, attorney and former state legislator and chief of staff to Texas Gov. Mark White Pike Powers and journalist and former PR consultant Neal Spelce.

These interviews spun the story’s primary threads. From there, my contact list grew and grew. IC2 led me to people mentored by tech industry visionary Kozmetsky and to his brainchild Austin Technology Incubator, the country’s oldest continuously running startup maker. Sematech’s history drew me to brilliant semiconductor innovators from UT-Austin and Motorola. And IBM and TI threads connected me to local 1960s-70s-era employees Leroy Wormley, Jr., Lillian Davis, Austin City Council Member Sabino Pio Renteria (Dist. 3) and former Austin Mayor Lee Cooke. Landing tech careers changed the trajectories of people’s lives and in turn impacted Austin’s economy.

All of these threads make the story richer. They intertwine to capture Austin’s emergence as a high-tech city in Austin Revealed’s Booting Up Big Tech.