Remembering Early Times at HP

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Hurdling to Freedom
by Les Besser



Foreword by John Minck


Mr. COMPACT, Father of Computer-Aided Engineering Software,
Les Besser


This is a story of survival. And accomplishment. A gritty tale of growing up in a Socialist country, after surviving the physical dangers of the invasion by Germany, and the later re-conquest by Russia, and the rapid conversion to a Socialist government. And yet it is an engrossing account that keeps your interest as Les and his mother somehow survive the grinding conditions and danger of WWII that all civilian populations face as giant armies move across their lands.

No one gets to choose the year or place of their birth. But if you could, you would definitely not choose Les's birth year of 1936, in the potential troublesome part of Eastern Europe, just about the time that Nazi Germany decided to move East. Les's life story here is divided into two parts; Volume 1 tells his boyhood at the outset of WWII, living in wartime conditions, and growing up in a difficult Socialist society. He grabs education as he can, finding rewards in athletics, and ultimately becomes a real fighter in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Volume 2 is devoted to his emigration to Canada and later to the United States to complete his education and embark on his remarkably fruitful microwave career.

This archive of remarkable essays is devoted mostly to Hewlett-Packard careers and the HP work culture. In Les's case, HP shared his technical career with Fairchild, Farinon and COMPACT Engineering (later renamed as Compact Software), the company he founded which revolutionized microwave component design of the 1970's. (COMPACT: Computerized Optimization of Microwave Passive and Active ComponenTs). All totaled, his time at HP was a mere three-and-a-half years, and yet his whole microwave career had its roots in the HP Computer-driven Vector Network Analyzers, which were delivering a profound change to microwave component engineering and design of the late 1960s. It was the combination of a microware designer being able to MEASURE the performance of his actual component, along with the COMPACT automated design software that revolutionized that period of microwave history. Jack Browne, Editor of the trade magazine, Microwaves and RF, awarded Les the well-deserved title, "Father of Computer-Aided Engineering Software."

One facet of the HP work culture of those 1960s onward was the rapid growth of our business, and the concurrent need to recruit continuously and aggressively. Although a high percentage of our new engineers made their career a lifetime at HP, a significant number took their experiences of HP's well-run industrial operation, and moved on to other companies, often starting their own new ventures. During the time I was Marketing Manager of the Microwave Division in the 1960s, I recall observing about our recruiting of EE/MBAs, that we needed to recognize that probably two out of every three we hired, were going to be gone in about five years. Luckily, BSEEs didn't leave at the same rate as MBAs.

Five years at HP was a suitable time period that usually imparted a workable sense of the industry, the competition, and the opportunities. For me, I didn't view this MBA exodus as a big negative, I observed that every new company startup was going to need a R&D lab full of new engineers, each with an empty bench which would need to be filled up with HP equipment to get going. Les was exactly the kind of departing engineer I had in mind. He ultimately accounted for MAJOR sales of HP equipment, even as he built his own company.

Les' two books form a fascinating and gripping life story. Once you get started on this HP Memoir portion, you will likely find that you are pulled into his story, to see how it turns out. The Curator and I decided that it would be appropriate to provide downloadable files of both books AS LES WROTE THEM, for readers who wish to read all the details. If you wish to read of Les's remarkable tale of childhood in trying conditions, carrying a gun in the Hungarian Revolution, escaping that reign under dangerous conditions, and ultimate achievement in high tech, click over to the download.

Continue with this HPMemory, to read of Les's technical career, and the HP and COMPACT aspects. For this content, we have abstracted essentially the second half of Volume 2.This picks up on his life as Les arrives to Canada, attends the University of Colorado and receives his invitation to Hewlett-Packard.

It should be observed that others followed a similar path from Eastern Europe to Hewlett Packard. The loquacious Stephen Adam, microwave designer, extraordinaire, and a contributor and leader of the IEEE MTT Group, as well as another microwave engineer, Julius Botka, also emigrated from Hungary. This HP Memory archive already features the fascinating story of Zvonko Fazarinc, who exited his home country of Yugoslavia, under more stable conditions to come to Stanford. And there were quite a few others.


John Minck




Hurdling to Freedom
by Les Besser


Table of Contents:

From the two volumes of Les's story, we have extracted seven chapters from volume II, and adapted them for a website publishing. We maintained the chapter titles, Parts 5-11, from his books. These chapters are the story of his technical life, from his emigration to Canada, completion of his education at the University of Colorado, followed by his HP history and his career achievements with COMPACT, the first commercially successful computer-aided microwave circuit design software.

The two downloadable PDF files below are the exact reproduction of Les's full life story, written in two volumes.


Click here to download Les Besser full story, Volume I - The 282-page document is a 13.6Mb downloadable PDF file.

Click here to download Les Besser full story, Volume II - The 272-page document is a 14.2Mb downloadable PDF file.



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