Oral-History:Edward F. Labuda

About Ed Labuda

Edward F. Labuda graduated from Jeannette, High School in 1955 as co-valedictorian, received a BS in Physics from Case Institute of Technology in 1959, a MS in Electrical Engineering from New York University in 1961, and a Ph. D. in Electrophysics from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn in 1967.

Ed joined AT&T Bell Labs in Murray Hill, NJ, in June of 1959. After a 35 year career, he retired from AT&T as Vice President, AT&T Microelectronics and Chief Operating Officer of the Photonics Business Unit. His business unit responsibilities included marketing, product planning, finance, research and development operations in Breinigsville, PA, and Murray Hill, NJ, and manufacturing operations in Reading, PA, and Clark, NJ, a sub-cable repeater assembly plant.

His technical and executive leadership work was in the area of fiber optic devices, subsystems, and associated passive components, silicon integrated circuit technology, imaging cameras for video systems, and gas lasers. He led the product development teams for the fiber optic transmitters, receivers, and other components used in the AT&T fiber-optic terrestrial network, including the first multi-Gb/s transcontinental transmission systems, and in the initial AT&T Trans-Atlantic & Trans-Pacific fiber optic cables. In the 1960’s, along with co-workers, he developed the continuous duty argon-ion laser. He pioneered the medical applications of this laser, and with Dr, F. LeEsperance of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in NY, adapted the laser to successfully treat diabetic retinopathy, which if untreated is a leading cause of blindness in the world. Ed was awarded 13 patents in the field of electronic devices, and he contributed 25 papers to the technical literature.

From 1994 to 1999, Ed served as Executive Director of the Photonics Technical Society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), and thru 2010 he served on the Board of Directors of several high-tech start-up companies.

Ed served as: Treasurer of the Salisbury Township School Authority, a Board member for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Lehigh County, a member of the Visiting Evaluation Committees for the Sherman Fairchild Physics Laboratory of Lehigh University and the Electrical Engineering Department of Virginia Tech, a member of the Kutztown University Foundation Board (over 10 years), and first Board Chairman of the revamped Kutztown Folk Festival.

Ed was elected a Fellow of the IEEE and is a Life Fellow Member of the IEEE. He received: an Outstanding Alumni Award from the School District of the City of Jeannette, PA, a Meritorious Service Award from the Case Alumni Association, a Distinguished Service Award from the IEEE Photonics Society, and the Eberly Award for Philanthropy and Volunteerism from the PA State System of Higher Education.

Interview Topics

  • Early family life, primary and secondary school, career influences
  • Higher education in engineering and physics
  • First break: Bell Labs and Advanced Degrees
  • Laser Research
  • Videophones
  • From Bench to Boss:Technical Management at Allentown and Reading
  • Fiber Optics
  • IEEE/LEOS Society management
  • Advice to young professionals.
  • Board member for venture capital startups

About the Interview

ED LABUDA: An Interview Conducted by Dr.Lisa Nocks, IEEE History Center, 6 November 2019

Interview #843 for the IEEE History Center The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Samuel C. Williams Library, 3rd Floor, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken NJ 07030 USA or ieee-history@ieee.org. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Ed Labuda, an oral history conducted in 2019 by Lisa Nocks, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEWEE: Ed Labuda INTERVIEWER: Lisa Nocks DATE: 6 November 2019 PLACE: Macungie, PA

Nocks:

Ed, I'd like to thank you for being willing to do this oral history with us and I'm just going to ask you to begin, to talk about, you know, your early life and how you became an engineer, et cetera.

Early Family Life; Primary/Secondary School; Career Influences

Labuda:

Okay, I will be glad to do it, Lisa. I thank you for coming. With regard to my early life, I think I should start at the time I was ready to start high school. I feel very, very fortunate that I was able to become a scientist/engineer. Let me explain. I grew up in a family, an extended family (my dad had 6 brothers and 1 sister and my mom had 2 brothers) in which no one had ever gone to college before I came along. Neither my mom nor dad attended high school. My dad was a blue-collar factory worker, and my mom did housework, maid duties, and waitressing for other people to help support our family.

I graduated from eighth grade in 1951, and then I entered Jeannette High School. Jeannette is in the western part of Pennsylvania, about 20 miles south east of Pittsburgh. It was a small factory town, and there were three primary areas of study at the high school. There was college prep, general studies, and vocational. My dad, a factory worker, and my mom offered no hard advice, which meant I didn't know what to study in high school. As I recall, I decided on vocational, thinking I would just get a job in a factory like my dad. In vocational, you had a chance to study either electrical, mechanical, or what they called pattern making back then. Pattern making is what I chose. In pattern making, you learn to make wood patterns that were used in foundries to make cast metal parts. The wood patterns were pressed into damp sand and then removed. Molten metal was poured into the impressions in the sand to form the desired metal parts. I spent my second year in high school learning how to do wood working to make patterns for foundries.

Near the end of my sophomore year of high school, Bess Williams, the English teacher, who was teaching vocational English called me aside and said, "Ed, what are you doing in vocational studies?" I said “I don't know; trying to get through high school." She ended the conversation by saying, "Look, you shouldn't be here. You should be in college prep or general studies and go to college." I said, “What? I don't know about that.” About a week later, in an extra drafting course I was taking, the drafting teacher, Wilbur Shaw, stopped me, and he said; "What are you doing, Ed? You're wasting your time. You got to get out of vocational studies and transfer to general studies or college prep and plan to go to college!”

The two high school teachers, Bess Williams and Wilbur Shaw, changed the whole course of my life. There aren’t enough “thanks” in the world to repay them for what they did for me.

Higher Education: Physics and Engineering

All right, so I thought about what had been said to me about switching from vocational to one of the other courses of study. To switch, I had to talk to the vocational director or principal, and he gave me a big lecture about, oh, not everyone should go to college. Not everyone is prepared for college, that whole shmear. That sort of got my back up a little. I said, all right, I'm going to switch. I switched, and then I had to cram into the last two years of high school, a lot of required courses I had not taken. For instance I had to take Algebra I and Algebra II at the same time. It was just sort of funny, but those two were no big deal for me because I was very good in math. On the other hand cramming in the English, history, etc. courses was a bit more challenging. Be that as it may, I graduated as co-valedictorian in 1955 and the next question was where do I go to college and how do I pay for it?

Again, my family was no help in making a decision and I don't remember the guidance counselors helping at all. I applied to Carnegie Tech, which is now called Carnegie Mellon. It was about an hour’s drive from my house in Jeannette. After I applied there, I noticed on a bulletin board at the high school an advertisement for Case Institute of Technology, which was in Cleveland. I also applied there, and I received a scholarship to both of them. I decided to go to Case because it was further away from home, about a two and half hour drive. [Nocks and Labuda chuckle.] So, I went to Case. I started out in electrical engineering, but then in my sophomore year, I changed to physics for reasons that are lost to my memory now. I liked my physics courses and I ended up getting a BS degree in physics in 1959.

Now, in the spring of my senior year in college (they probably still do it) many companies came to campus for four or five days to set up interviews for graduating seniors that they may want to hire. Again I had no plan or even any ideas on what I wanted to do when I graduated, except I knew I had to get a job. First break: Bell Labs

First Break: Bell Labs and Advanced Degrees

I noticed one interview room with a sign that said AT&T Long Lines. Back then, I had this idea that I really wanted to travel and see some of the world. So I thought Long Lines sounds like a company in which your job would involve a lot of travel. I signed up for an interview with AT&T Long Lines. The interviewer, says, “Nah, you're in the wrong place, Ed. There's a Bell Laboratory guy next door. You got to go interview with this Bell Laboratories guy.” So, I interviewed with the Bell Labs guy and at that time, for new hires, Bell Labs had a program called Communications Development Training (CDT), which was two years long and associated with New York University (NYU). I visited Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey, and was offered a job which I accepted.

In June of 1959 I entered the CDT program at Bell Labs. The first year, you went to school for three days and worked two days, and the second year, reversed, you worked three days and went to school for two days. After two years, you received a master's degree in electrical engineering from NYU. The professors from NYU would come to Murray Hill to teach the courses. There were a couple of extra courses I had to take because I didn't have the proper background in electrical engineering, like electrical machinery. I never had a course in that. For those courses, I had to go to the NYU campus at Washington Square in New York City.

After two years I received a Master's Degree in Electrical Engineering. Now let me back up. When I first came to Bell Labs, I got into a small supervisory group where Gene Gordon was the supervisor. This group was in the Microwave Tube Development Department. I ended up working for Gene for probably 10 years where he was in some level of management above me.He was a very strong mentor of mine, I learned a lot from Gene, as far as technical stuff and physics stuff, really a lot. I really appreciated that. That first year, I really concentrated on microwave-electronics and I learned a lot. The department’s mission was to design and develop better microwave tubes. This was at a time when the Bell System had just put in cross-country microwave systems for long-distance tele-communications.

As part of the CDT program you went on rotational assignments to other areas in Bell Labs during the summer for approximately 3 months. My first assignment was very interesting at the Whippany Labs in New Jersey. The Whippany Labs were devoted to defense department work. This was a time when the Cold War was pretty - I hate to say hot, but it was a hot Cold War at those times. The USA was very worried about Russian bombers coming in over the Arctic. Bell Labs, Western Electric, and AT&T, designed, built, and installed radar systems, called the DEW Line, up in the north of Canada. These systems required very good microwave isolators, which are built with ferromagnetic materials.

The department I was assigned to wanted to measure the properties of different ferromagnetic materials to determine which ones would make the best microwave isolators. They needed a way to measure the properties and a guy from research, Connie LeCraw, was consulting with them. He got ahold of me because I was an intern, and I was a pair of available hands. He had this idea about using a microwave cavity, and using a mode in the cavity where the electric field at the end of a material sample you put in there goes to zero, so it has a very minimum perturbation on the resonant frequency of the cavity. You put a piece of ferromagnetic material in it at the right spot, and it has a minimum perturbation on the resonant frequency of the cavity. But the amount it does change, you could actually calculate using a perturbation analysis and relate it to the properties of the ferromagnetic material. Perturbation analysis means you are analyzing a very small difference from what's normal. You can do that, and I did that, and it was very, very worthwhile. I had a great summer, because I learned a lot, and I actually published my first paper with Connie describing the technique.

Nocks:

Do you remember the title of that paper?

Labuda:

Oh, boy. I can dig it out, if you want. . .

Nocks:

Yeah.

Labuda:

It was titled “New Technique for Measurement of Microwave Dielectric Constants”. It was published in the Review of Scientific Instruments, vol. 32, p.391 (1961) https://doi.org/10.1063/1.1717384

Nocks:

Thanks.

Labuda:

After I completed my master's at NYU. I realized that everyone I was working with had PhDs. I decided that if I'm going to prosper at Bell Labs I probably needed to get a Ph.D. So I was one of those guys that left after two years. It was not an easy decision because I had a good paying job at Bell Labs and my wife had our first child on February 6, 1961. I went back to school full time for two years to the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (Brooklyn Poly) and I got all my coursework out of the way. I came back to Bell Labs in the summers and Gene Gordon hired me back full time after two years, I talked to my managers at Bell Labs, and they said I could do my thesis at Bell Labs. So I came back to Bell Labs full time and worked on my thesis.

Laser Research

This was the time when gas lasers were first appearing on the scene, and in the group Gene was supervising at the time were Alan White and Duane Rigdon. They had just developed the first visible gas laser operating at 6328 angstroms using a He-Ne gas discharge.

What I wanted to do was to try and understand in detail the excitation mechanisms or if you will the detailed physics of the helium-neon laser. Very similarl to what I did on my summer rotational assignment, I designed a microwave cavity and ran a He-Ne discharge tube through the cavity. I measured the change in resonant frequency of the cavity when the discharge tube was turned on and also measured the change in “Q” of the cavity or the change in width of the resonance curve. With these measurements and with the use of a perturbation analysis you could deduce the electron density and electron temperature (or energy) in the He-Ne discharge, two parameters that are very important for understanding the excitation mechanisms of the laser.

At that time, and this is hazy to me how Gene Gordon and I came on this, but we found out that Bill Bridges of Hughes Aircraft, using very high current, pulsed discharges was able to get ionized Ar to lase in the blue-green portion of the spectrum. Gene knew Bill casually and contacted him, and they talked. Gene came back and said yeah, he has the laser running on a pulsed basis, but he can't, get it going continuous duty. We were lucky. We had very fine glass blowers at Murray Hill at the time, so I was able to put together very small bore ((3 to 5 mm) glass discharge tubes. This meant we were able to get very high current density Ar discharges through the small glass bore, and we were able to get the Ar laser to go continuous duty in the blue/green part of the visible spectrum. We were the first ones to do it.

So, we had a continuous duty Ar ion laser, and that led to a lot of stuff going on. One of the first things we discovered was that after we turned the laser on, it would work for a while and then go out – Boom! Now, what was going on? Well, we deduced after much thought, that the high current density gas discharge in the small bore discharge tube was pumping gas from one end of the tube to the other. This meant the gas pressure in one end of the tube became too low to sustain laser action. We solved this problem by connecting a gas return tube to both ends of the small bore discharge tube to equalize the pressure. It had a much larger diameter to allow easy gas flow. It also had an elliptical type construction to increase its impedance so that discharge when excited would go through the small bore tube and not the gas return tube. Now we had a laser that would run without shutting down.

Then the next thing we ran into was after operating the laser for many days, the high current density discharge, as a result of ion bombardment, would burn a hole in the end of the quartz discharge tube. So I came up with the idea of using a metal tube. However, you can't get a discharge to run through a long piece of metal. But if you make the metal length short enough and linearly segment the pieces, you can get a discharge to run through the short segments of metal. So we ended up with a segmented metal Ar ion laser, which we developed, and which worked pretty well.

We kept working away on improving the laser. Now, in parallel with all this, when it was discovered that we had this high power continuous wave (CW) blue-green laser, we got calls from a couple of people in the medical community saying, “We want to explore this for medical purposes.” The first one was from Thomas Brown at the University of Cincinnati Medical School. He was a neurosurgeon interested in exploring the use of a high power laser beam for brain surgery. We did this work on the side. He came to Murray Hill for two weekends and brought along small dogs. He operated on the dogs while we set up the laser. He opened up their skulls, did surgery on them with the laser and sewed them back up. He was going to study them afterwards. I went on in my career and lost track of Tom and his experiments.

Nocks:

Well can I just backtrack a second? So, how were the lasers used with the dogs?

Labuda:

It was very primitive. The dogs were anesthetized, their skulls were opened up, and Tom would expose various parts of their brains to the laser beam.

Nocks:

Uh huh.

Labuda:

He would just hold the dog's head, exposing their brains to the laser beam.

Nocks:

So, was it an experiment, or was he trying to use the laser beam as a tool?

Labuda:

It was -- he was trying to use it as a tool, but it was totally an experiment to see what it would do.

Nocks:

Mm-hmm.

Labuda:

He had no idea. He just—

Nocks:

Oh, okay . . .

Labuda:

--he was just experimenting to see what it would do.

Nocks:

Wow.

Labuda:

We did actually fly a laser out to the University of Cincinnati, it was in the early days, because another doctor whose name I've forgotten, wanted to treat “port wine stains”. They are red blotches on the skin that people are born with. As it turns out the blue-green light of the Ar laser could actually diminish the redness of the blotch. I don't think I ever saw them totally disappear, but the laser exposure significantly reduced how bad they looked. Again, where it went after that I don’t know. We were just involved in the preliminary work, and we had our real jobs that occupied most of our time.

Then, another doctor called us up, and this interaction led to a very fruitful application. The doctor was Francis L’Esperance from Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. He was an ophthalmologist, and he wanted to look at treating what's called diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is a condition which generally strikes diabetic people, and it's a proliferation of blood vessels in the eye. If you don't treat it, those blood vessels eventually just break, fill the eye with blood, and you lose vision. Back then, I think it may still be, it was one of the leading causes of blindness in the world. Well, he came; and he said, “What if I take this laser and I cut these blood vessels?” I said, “Fine.” We already knew, with the blue-green light from the laser, it would tend to cauterize blood vessels when you cut it. Hemoglobin has a high absorption of the blue-green portions of the spectrum, so you could actually get what's called bloodless cutting.

Nocks:

Aha.

Labuda:

So, we had a zoo at Murray Hill at the time: He brought rabbits out. They were chinchilla rabbits, I think, because he said the retina of this kind of rabbit is very close to the retina of a human. Now, he came many times and we did a lot of experiments, varying power, doing this, doing that. Eventually, we set up a laser system in his lab at Columbia. Mel Johnson was one of my lead technicians at the time. He and I used to work at Murray Hill during the day, and we went from Murray Hill to Manhattan, Columbia Presbyterian at night to help Fran do his experiments and make sure the laser systems were running properly. And that all went on, as far as I know. My career went on, so I got separated from that, but I think he went on and he became very famous for treating diabetic retinopathy, and you know that was really good, that we really did something like that. Much later he claimed our exploratory work resulted in saving the eyesight of millions of people; that is it prevented them from going blind. Now, was he exaggerating? I don't know.

Nocks:

Was there a patent? - -

Labuda:

Well, we had patents on the lasers.

Nocks:

Uh huh.

Labuda:

If there was a patent on treating diabetic retinopathy, I guess he and Columbia Presbyterian would have gotten it.

Labuda:

But again, I got separated from what was going on.

Nocks:

Would you have, as an employee of Bell Labs, if you invented something and you got a patent for it at that time, did it automatically go to Bell Labs?

Labuda:

To Bell Labs, yeah. When you signed on to Bell Labs, you got paid a dollar. They gave you a dollar and you assigned all the rights to your patents to them.

Nocks:

Okay.

Labuda:

That’s the way it was.

Nocks:

Uh-huh.

Labuda:

But, you know, I’m 22, never worked professionally, and what did I know? I signed away the patent rights, as most people did, because it was a condition of employment.

Nocks:

Uh huh.

Labuda:

But Bell Labs was very, very good at the time because, although we did this work on the side as far as working hours, they let us take equipment, use equipment and all that stuff. They said, “Go ahead. See where it's going to go.”

Nocks:

Right.

Labuda:

So Bell Labs management was very, very good at supporting it.

Nocks:

It was to their advantage.

Videophones

Labuda:

Yeah, eventually to their advantage. Yeah. Absolutely. So, this was -- I joined Bell Labs in 1959. Two years to get my master's; two years to get my PhD coursework out of the way - 1963. So all this stuff happened 1963 to 1965, all this work went on. ‘Seems like a lot of work in two years, but we were young, very young. 1995 was the World's Fair in New York City, and some high level AT&T executives went to the World's Fair and saw—

Nocks:

-- You mean 1965?

Labuda:

I mean 1965, yeah. They went to the World's Fair, and check that date. I'm pretty sure that's the date, 1965.

Nocks:

‘64 to ‘65.

Labuda:

But anyway, they go to the World's Fair, and they notice someone there exhibiting a picture phone.

Nocks:

Uh huh.

Labuda:

Well, they come back and they contacted Bell Labs high management and asked “Why don't we have a picture phone?” As a result there was a big push within Bell Labs to develop a picture phone system, and they grabbed people who had any knowledge of optics into this picture phone operation. Gene Gordon was the department head at the time and his department became responsible for developing the cameras tube. Now, the first thing you try is, we'll just use a standard TV camera tube, which was developed by RCA and which was called a vidicon. The problem with vidicons is that if they stare at a still scene for a while, you get a phenomena called burn-in. It remembers the picture.

Nocks:

Yes?

Labuda:

So when you turn it off and then you turn it back on, you see the person you were talking to yesterday, which was not good. The vidicon used a photoconductor made out of antimony trisulfide to capture the image. Gene’s department decided to try and use a silicon diode array to capture the image. I was not part of the invention, but I was pulled in to help develop what we called the silicon diode array camera tube, which was thought not to have the burn-in problem. The imaging surface was a large array of reversed biased silicon diodes and an electron beam swept the front surface. The back surface of the array was exposed to the image and the light was adsorbed by the silicon which generated electrons. The electrons would be accelerated through the depletion regions of the reversed biased diodes. The amount of current that flowed through each diode with the electron beam sweeping across the array formed the image. We thought the silicon diode array camera tube would be great for picture phones. The thinking was that with a silicon target there would be no burn in. In addition, silicon was the primary material used for integrated circuits (ICs), which means we could take advantage of some of the technical advances being made in the IC industry.

Nocks:

So the signal of impression -- it varied depending on, on what's light and dark and the subject, right?

Labuda:

Yeah, the intensity of the light. Right. So depending on the intensity of the light that you picked up on the back of the target, determined how much current flowed through the diode, and that you could sense as you swept the electron beam.

Now, let me tell you an anecdote. So, this tube was sort of what should I say, promoted by the local management, no burn-in, great invention, all this stuff. And I don't know which year, ‘67, whatever. I'm sitting in my office one summer day, and I'm what's called a MTS, the lowest level hired in with a college education. There were technicians, under members of technical staff. Members of technical staff was the lowest level of, I don't know how to explain it, but people that came in with PhDs and stuff were members of technical staff. I'm sitting in my office and I get a call on the phone, and the woman says, "Mr. Labuda?" "Yep?" "Morgan Sparks would like to see you in his office as soon as possible." Now, Morgan Sparks, who I didn't know, was an executive director. In Bell Labs, we had a supervisor who MTS reported to, then a department head who several supervisor groups reported to, a director who several department heads reported to, then an executive director who several directors reported to. To me, Morgan Sparks is way up in the management chain. I said, well, okay? First though, you got to tell me how I get to his office? I have no idea where it is. The reason I got the call was my supervisor was on vacation as was my department head as was my director. I was the only one in the office that day. [Laughs.]

Nocks:

[Laughs.] You answered the phone.

Labuda:

It turned out that somehow, Morgan Sparks had learned that we were suffering a burn-in problem with the silicon diode array camera tube. He was very nice to me. I assume that if he had a higher level manager there, he wouldn’t have been quite as nice. I explained to him, “Yep, we know about the problem. We think we've got a solution. We just don't have it fully developed yet.” And - you want to hear about what the problem is? It turns out, we're using an electron beam to scan the target. There is a nickel mesh in front of the silicon diode array target to accelerate the electron beam. The electron beam hitting the nickel mesh creates x-rays. The electrons pierce the material and get de-accelerated very quickly, generating x-ray radiation, a phenomenon called bremsstrahlung.

Nocks:

Oh?

Labuda:

And the x-ray radiation is what was causing the burn-in. Well, we found out if we coated the mesh in the proper material, we could really eliminate most of the x-rays. We coated the nickel mesh with a softer material, which meant the electron de-acceleration was significantly reduced. We solved the problem and that was the first time I ever met an executive director.

I've got another sideline anecdote. Mert Crowell was my supervisor during the camera tube work. Early in the days of the development of the silicon diode array camera tube, we noticed when we scanned the targets, a blurring of the image. We called it blooming. The blooming was caused by charge being transferred from one diode to another, which was happening because the oxide the layer between the diodes was getting charged. We found a way to eliminate the charging.

What's interesting about that is several years later, the charge-coupled device was invented. It's actually based on the same phenomena, but we did not have the insight to realize the charge transfer could be used to make a useful device. It was a problem for us, and we wanted to get rid of it. [Laughs.] We just never thought this could be used, you know, on its own. It is too bad we missed that one because George Smith and Willard Boyle received a Nobel Prize for the invention of charged coupled devices. Mert and I were so close but lacked the proper insight.

Well, at this point I may as well tell you my understanding of the sad story of AT&T’s picture phone efforts in the late 1960s

Nocks:

Yeah?

Labuda:

--I'm going to go ahead and tell it

Nocks:

Yes.

Labuda:

--as I know it and remember it. We got to the point, we actually built a clean room at the AT&T Reading, PA., plant for processing the silicon diode arrays. So, we did that, and the systems people got the whole picture phone system running. The first installation was in the Sears Tower in Chicago. We put it in there, and the people there loved it. I mean, they really enjoyed the picture phone. I don't know the details of the installation, but presumably all floors, they had picture phones, talking to each other, whatever. The whole idea was, okay, they were going to install it in Chicago. It seemed to work. They were going to go out to the New York market next and connect two big markets. Well, at that time, New York Telephone, which was part of AT&T, was running into all kinds of problems providing basic telephone service, as result of poor maintenance procedures. They were having significant problems in New York City. The Public Utility Commission said, “No way are we going to allow you to put in a picture phone system. You need to solve the problems of the basic telephone system first.” That's what I remember. So, the whole picture phone system sort of died on the vine with that issue. We couldn't connect two big markets.

Nocks:

Uh huh.

From Bench to Boss: Technical Management at Allentown and Reading

Labuda:

In the fall of 1968 I got interviewed - actually surreptitiously interviewed - for a technical supervisor job at the Allentown Works, and I was offered the position. I thought about it for a while, and I decided that since I had been here at Murray Hill for a little under 10 years why not give it a shot. So we moved to Allentown in early 1969.

I took up a job as a first-level management supervisor of a technology development group for silicon integrated circuits. And this is the early days of integrated circuits. We were processing silicon wafers, if my memory is correct, an inch-and-a-half in diameter. Today, the industry is processing 12-inch diameter wafers, which is amazing.

My group and several other groups were responsible for developing all the technology needed to fabricate all the ICs needed by the Bell System. This included wafer fabrication, epitaxial growth, oxide formation, photolithography, diffusion, metallization, testing, and packaging. A technology development package was introduced for each new generation of ICs. Each generation was characterized by a set of design rules that were based on the minimum feature size that could be employed. These design rules were used by the circuit designers to realize the ICs that our system customers needed.

With each new IC generation the minimum feature size was reduced and usually the wafer size was increased. I was involved with IC technology development from 1969 until 1980. When I left we were using minimum feature sizes of 5 microns and 3 inch diameter wafers. The comparable numbers today are 0.2 microns and 12 inches, which indicates amazing progress.

We did technology development for both digital bipolar and metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) ICs. For MOS we were going down a path which was different from the rest of the world. At that time, in the early 70s, we were using a double dialectic structure, silicon dioxide and aluminum oxide. The reason for that was it would give a lower threshold MOS transistor, which is important for telephone applications. Again, this was the early days of ICs, and we were putting a little bit of semiconductor memory (little compared to today’s capability) in a telephone handset. The memory was used to store 16 numbers, as I remember, which then could be auto-dialed by pushing a button on the handset.

Nocks:

Right.

Labuda:

You've got to remember, we’re talking - 50 years ago.

Nocks:

That was a big deal.

Labuda:

One question that we pondered was why this aluminum oxide/silicon oxide structure actually gave you a lower threshold MOS transistor. We studied that for a while and published a couple papers. It turns out when you deposit the aluminum oxide on the silicon oxide, you actually build a little charge layer at the interface of these two insulators, which helps you as far as inverting the underlying semiconductor, thus reducing the threshold of the MOS transistor.

Nocks:

So, reducing the threshold, when you say that, are you talking about, is that a noise reduction thing or—

Labuda:

No, it's the threshold voltage of the MOS transistor. MOS transistors have a source and a drain, and to turn them on you have to apply a voltage to the insulating gate. If this voltage is high enough, above the threshold voltage, the underlying semiconductor surface is inverted which allows conductance between the source and the drain. The amount of voltage you have to apply to get the inversion and conductance, that's called the threshold voltage.

Nocks:

Okay.

Labuda:

The rest of the world was just using silicon dioxide, where the threshold voltages are higher. With a lower threshold voltage, a smaller battery could be used in the handset.

Nocks:

I see.

Labuda:

All of this to remember those 16 telephone numbers.

Nocks:

Right.

Labuda:

An embarrassingly small number compared to what today’s technology could do. It wasn't thousands.

Nocks:

No.

Labuda:

As I said before, I spent 1969 through 1980 on silicon IC technology development. We were working in Allentown, PA, and a great deal of silicon IC technology work was being done by many different companies in Silicon Valley in CA. We weren't located where you could go after work to a cocktail bar and find out what other companies were doing. A lot of information was exchanged in casual social gatherings in silicon valley.

Nocks:

Right.

Labuda:

. . . a few drinks, yeah, we do this. We do that. We generally weren't part of that.

Nocks:

Right; You were isolated.

Labuda:

We were isolated. So, one of the biggest problems we had was when we went from two to three inch wafers. For both bipolar and MOS ICs you have to diffuse impurities into the silicon wafers to form n and p type regions. This is done in a furnace operating at very high temperatures. The wafers are put in a quartz boat and pushed into the high temperature furnace, a process that worked OK for 2 inch wafers. When we went to three inch wafers, the wafers would come out of the diffusion furnace looking like potato chips, that is, they were severely bent and distorted. The high temperatures would just distort them terribly. We did not have the social interactions after work, like in silicon valley, to find out what other companies were doing. We finally found out what other people were doing. They were ramping up the temperature slowly. You need to put the wafers into the furnace at low temperature then ramp up the temperature slowly to the high temperature needed for diffusion. This prevented the wafers from distorting into potato chip shapes. Again, another anecdote about struggling along and solving problems.

We had a very strong vice president, personality wise, who insisted that we were going to do what they call right-scale integration. Everyone else was doing what they call large-scale integration, going for bigger chips with more functionality built into the chip. He was convinced that the defect density, which determined the yield (the number of good chips per wafer), would not be low enough to make large chips economically feasible. So we were doing right-scale integration.

Being constrained to do right scale integration led us to develop what was called beam lead technology, which used a titanium, platinum, and gold sandwich for the metallization interconnecting the individual transistors on the chip. With this metallization little gold beams sticking out of the chip could be fabricated. You could flip the chip and using the gold beams attach it to a ceramic substrate which had metalized patterns on it. You could put several chips on the same substrate and make a sub-system. We went down that path pretty strongly, and, as it turned out, it was not the correct path to be on. With many people working hard on silicon IC technology, the defect density was continually being reduced. This meant larger and larger chips were economically feasible. As a result, the same electronic functionality that was realized with multiple small chips on a ceramic substrate could now be realized on a single large chip of silicon. We then moved to developing large-scale integration ICs instead of continuing with right-scale integration.

Nocks:

Yeah, well, I was going to ask you to explain why you were trying to make the wafers bigger.

Labuda:

Yeah?

Nocks:

--is that in order to have more chips or -- ?

Labuda:

Well, the wafer itself contains identical chips all over the wafer. Same chip is just replicated on the wafer.

Nocks:

Okay.

Labuda:

And then you cut it apart to get the individual chips.

Nocks:

I see, so the wafer's just a substrate—

Labuda:

Right.

Nocks:

I see.

Labuda:

And the bigger you make the wafer, the cheaper the chips become because it costs you almost the same amount of money to process a two-inch wafer as a three-inch wafer.

Nocks:

Right.

Labuda:

Or a 12-inch wafer, roughly.

Nocks:

Right.

Labuda:

Stuff does change, but there is a scale there, which you gain a lot by going bigger in wafer size. But then, once you cut them apart, the issue is connecting the chips to make a system.

Nocks:

Mm-Hmm.

Labuda:

And so the world was going down, you know, really getting bigger and bigger chips and we were stuck with right-scale integration. We stayed there for a while, but we eventually moved on with the rest of the world.

Nocks:

Uh huh.

Labuda:

And one of the big things we did with my group, in conjunction with other groups, was to develop the first silicon gate MOS technology within AT&T.

Nocks:

Uh huh.

Labuda:

I’m just thinking, you know, there's so many little technology development things we did in those days, some of which I remember. I don't know how much detail you want me to go into.

Nocks:

Sure. whatever comes to you. Tell me about the projects that you did over the years after that which were important to you and interesting to you.

Labuda:

From 1959 to 1980 I was involved in the technical details of technology development. The rest of my career I was in management and not involved with the technical details on day-to-day basis. I'm going to talk to you from a management perspective, describing projects and the work that was going in my organizations.

Nocks:

Okay. Sure.

Labuda:

I was no longer making specific technical contributions, but it was the people in my organization that were making the technical contributions. I supervised their work. In 1980, AT&T was organized such that you had Bell Labs as the research and development arm, which is where I was until 1980. Then you had Western Electric, which was the manufacturing arm, AT&T Long Lines was responsible for long distance telephone service, and the local operating companies, like New York Telephone, were responsible for local telephone service.

Nocks:

Uh huh.

Labuda:

At the Western Electric Plant in Allentown, PA, you had manufacturing under Western Electric management, and Bell Labs had what they called a branch lab at the plant. As a technical supervisor from 1969 to1980, I worked at the branch lab developing IC technologies and transferring them into manufacture.

Nocks:

Uh huh.

Labuda:

In 1980 I was asked to transfer over to Western Electric as an engineering manager (3rd level manager) for bipolar IC manufacturing. The Allentown plant, at the time produced all the digital bipolar circuits that were used in the Bell System. They were used in the telephone transmission and electronic switching systems, the telephone handsets, etc.

So, I became an engineering manager for digital bipolar manufacturing, and the departments in my organization were providing engineering support for the IC production lines. Digital bipolar IC manufacturing was a complex technology undertaking that required a great deal of ongoing engineering support. In our largest production line we were starting roughly 300, 3 inch wafers per week into manufacture. That means there was a lot of money involved, and it was important to keep firm control of the complex processing steps required. During that time, we also built a brand new, spanking, clean room using state of the art equipment because the old one was built probably 10 years earlier.

In early 1982, I am the engineering manager for digital bipolar ICs, and my organization is responsible for introducing new products into manufacture and for solving the day to day manufacturing problems. There are always problems occurring. We've got an issue here, we've got an issue there, and so forth. One day out of the blue I get a call from Paul Gary, a person I had worked with and for in Bell Labs at Allentown. He had gotten promoted to be Director of Engineering at the Western Electric Plant in Reading, PA, which was about a 45 minute drive from Allentown. He calls me up and says, "Hey, Ed. We've got to meet for a drink after work." Since I knew Paul, I said no problem. So we meet. He says, "Ed, I need you to come to Reading." I said, "What? I've got a nice job here, Paul. It's a 45 minute commute. I'm not going to move my house. My kids are in school. We are doing fine. No way”!

So Paul talks to his boss, the plant manager at Reading, who in turn talks to the plant manager at Allentown. Back then, plant managers in Western Electric were like “little kings.” As a result, serious pressure was quickly put on me to transfer to Reading. The reason was Reading had just gotten involved in making semiconductor lasers for transmission systems and they were having serious technical problems. Paul wanted me to come to Reading and be an engineering manager in his organization to help resolve the technical issues they were having. At the time, this effort at Reading was called Lightwave and later came to be known as Photonics. I will use the two terms interchangeably, as they mean the same thing. I could not resist the pressure being applied to me, and in early 1982 I transferred to Reading as an engineering manager for Lightwave products.

Fiber Optics

The story behind the how the technical problems arose that Reading was dealing with unknown to me. I was in Allentown working on digital bipolar silicon ICs. At the same time, in other parts of AT&T, fiber optic transmission systems, were being developed. In fiber optic systems, instead of transmitting electrical telephone signals through coaxial cable, light pulses from lasers were used to transmit the information through fiber optic cables. The early 1980s were the very, very early days of fiber optic transmission systems. A lot of laboratory work had been done and some very short transmission system experiments had been carried out.

For long distance transmission, fiber optics held out great promise as compared to the use of coaxial cables. With coaxial systems, a regenerator was needed about every 1 mile due to signal degeneration from losses in the coax cable and signal dispersion. The regenerator was a bunch of electronics that detected the signals, reconstituted the digital pulses, and sent them on their way. Even in the early days of fiber optics, the digital signal could go for about 5 miles before it needed to be regenerated, a 5 to 1 advantage over coax. If fiber optic transmission systems could be successfully deployed into commercial service they would be a “killer technology”, that is, they would totally supplant the prior technology.

In late 1981, AT&T decided that fiber optic transmission systems were far enough along in the development cycle that it was time to try and do a real commercial installation. The decision was made to install the fiber optics along a route that was called “the northeast corridor” and ran from Boston, MA, down to Mosely, VA. This would be the first, long distance fiber optic transmission system in the country and possibly in the world, although I am not sure. It was to operate at 90 megabits and the system was called FT Series C. A lot of the prior stuff, people were doing was at 45 megabits, short system experiments for example, maybe 5 to 10 miles long. It turned out that the systems people designing the systems weren't sure that the Reading Works could produce the lasers and transmitters that were going to be needed, so they decided to go to Japan and buy this stuff from a Japanese company.

Nocks:

To save the money?

Labuda:

No, they just weren't sure the Reading Works could supply the components when they needed them. They weren't sure. I'm fairly sure I have the details roughly right. Somehow, the US Congress found out that AT&T was going to Japan to buy critical components for this first ever long distance fiber optic transmission system. Congress comes back and tells AT&T that the telephone network is a critical piece of the infrastructure of the country and they do not want Japanese components being used in the network. You have to use stuff made in the USA, period! Because of Congress’ directive, the Reading Works was assigned the job of making the necessary lasers and transmitters. That means Paul Gary, who was director of engineering at Reading, his organizations were responsible for producing the lasers and the transmitters, and they were having serious problems, trying to make the lasers and transmitters. That’s when Paul approached me and asked me, eventually pressured me, to become engineering manager for Lightwave at Reading. I went to Reading not knowing half of what I was getting into and not knowing what a maelstrom the situation was. I was told “Ed, we've got to be able to make these lasers and transmitters. Come on. Your job.” “My job, thanks.” [Laughter]

So I leave an organization where we were starting several hundred 3 inch wafers a week into our main production line. I go down to Reading. My first or second day there I talk to my department chief responsible for laser processing, Bob Eggers, and I ask him how many wafers are we starting per day or week into the laser processing line? He looks at me and does not answer right away. Now, I should back up. All my semiconductor experience had been in processing silicon. The lasers we're talking about are made from a different semiconductor, gallium arsenide and they operate at a wavelength of 0.9 microns. The state of the art of gallium arsenide materials technology was many, many years behind that of silicon, and in 1982 wafers of ultrapure gallium arsenide did not exist. Bob Eggers finally responded and said, “We don't have wafers of gallium arsenide. I said, “What?” He said, “we process little pieces of material”.

Nocks:

Individual?

Labuda:

No, not individual chips or lasers. There were many potential lasers on each piece of material. A semiconductor laser is just a diode and does not occupy much area.

Nocks:

Uh huh.

Labuda:

I quickly realized that I had a great deal of learning to do to get up to speed on the technology, and I also didn’t realize the enormity of the problems we faced under great time pressure.

Nocks:

And how many did you need to process a day to solve that?

Labuda:

Well, I don't know. I don't know the exact number. Let me tell you what happened.

Nocks:

Okay.

Labuda:

So, we're processing this stuff, and it turns out, like, maybe, if you had a piece of gallium arsenide that had a 1,000 potential lasers on it, remember lasers are just one diode that does not take up much area, after processing maybe 10 out of the potential 1,000 lasers would operate as a laser. Of that ten, you're lucky if you've got one that met all the requirements to operate at 90 megabits in a transmitter. That was a yield of one in a thousand. Jiminy Crickets, I was totally surprised. For silicon ICs, we typically had yields of good chips of 30 to 40 percent. So I have this problem that the laser yields are too low to allow us to meet the system demand for lasers and the associated transmitters. Reading shipped laser transmitters out the door, which are small sub-systems. I quickly reorganized the Lightwave engineering organization and significantly increased the urgency and intensity of our efforts.

In the early days of Lightwave manufacturing in 1982, we at Reading could not accurately predict how many good 90 Mb/s transmitters we would be able to ship each week. That made it very difficult for AT&T to manage their construction of the Northeast Corridor. They put a project manager in place, Larry Lynch, if I recall correctly. We shipped the transmitters to a system assembly plant in Merrimack Valley in NH and they assembled them into regenerator boards. Larry would be on the telephone with me several times per week trying to get a good estimate on how many transmitters we would be shipping that week. He would then coordinate with Merrimack Valley to see when and how many regenerators would be ready for shipment. With this information he would assign the regenerator shipments to the appropriate regenerator huts along the North East Corridor.

Labuda:

In the very earliest days, many times we had a car and a driver standing by. When we had a few good transmitters they would be driven to Merrimack Valley. We did not want to take the risk of shipping them commercially.

Nocks:

Oh really?

Labuda:

Yeah. That's the way we got the whole FT Series C system built along the North East Corridor! With time, we got the yields up and all that, things sort of settled down. But there were wild times initially. It's not me doing anything at a bench, but it's me getting my engineering organizations focused, motivated, and moving faster than they thought they could.

And fiber optics, right from the beginning, was a killer technology because to do the Northeast Corridor with coaxial cable you would have to have a regenerator manhole with electronics in it every 1 mile to detect the signal coming down, reproduce it and send it back out because of loss in the coax and dispersion in the signals. With fiber optics, even this first installation, we could go 5 miles, before you needed electronics to detect the signal, process it, and send it back out.

Nocks:

Solving those problems. Yeah.

Labuda:

Now, I came to Reading in early 1982 as Engineering Manager for Lightwave. In early 1984 I was promoted to Manager of Engineering, which meant that in addition to Lightwave, I also became responsible for gallium arsenide ICs and light emitting diodes. In 1985, after I had been at Reading for three years I was promoted back into Bell Labs in Allentown as a Director of the Lightweight Sub-Systems Laboratory which was responsible for designing all the transmitters, receivers, and associated optical components for the AT&T transmission systems.

Nocks:

Is that back to Allentown or -- ?

Labuda:

Yes, back to Allentown, back to Allentown. As described previously, the initial fiber optic transmission systems installations used gallium arsenide lasers operating at a wavelength of 0.9 microns. This wavelength was chosen because it corresponded with the lowest optical loss point for the fiber that was available. The fiber development people kept improving the fiber and in the mid-1980s, the lowest loss point was near 1.3 microns. To realize a semiconductor laser operating at a wavelength of 1.3 microns, a different material system was required, indium, gallium, arsenic, and phosphorus. These were referred to as indium phosphide (InP) lasers. We switched to the InP lasers for our transmitters. Also in 1985, we developed transmitters operating at 417 Mb/s as compared to 90Mb/s, almost a 5 fold improvement in speed and information capacity. The speed at which we could operate was not limited by the lasers, but by the silicon ICs used in the transmitter. At 417 Mb/s we were pushing the speed capabilities of the silicon ICs. The 417 Mb/s transmission system was called FT Series G. It was installed throughout the US as well as many places in the world. From a business perspective, it was very successful and made a lot of money for AT&T/Western Electric. In moving to lasers operating at 1.3 microns we had much lower optical loss in the fiber, which allowed us to have a 30 mile spacing between regenerator huts. Much better than the 5 mile spacing required for systems operating at a wavelength 0.9 microns and the 1 mile spacing required in coaxial cable systems.

Nocks:

Oh, wow.

Labuda:

So, the use of fiber optic technology for long distance transmission systems is a true killer technology. Forget about everything else that came before.

Nocks:

So how many years did it take between, to go from that point where you could go 30 miles?

Labuda:

Well, the first commercial fiber optic transmission system was in 1982.

Nocks:

Okay.

Labuda:

As I remember it, the 417 Mb/s system was initially deployed in late 1995.

Nocks:

That's not a very long time.

Labuda:

Well once people started working in the field, once people realized that fiber optics was the way to go, then you had technical people throughout the world developing the technology. As a result improvements came very quickly and there was a keen competition among the various companies producing transmission systems.

In early 1987 I was promoted to Executive Director in Bell Labs. In addition to the Lightwave Sub-Systems Lab, I also became responsible for the Laser Development Lab, the Laser Packaging Lab, and the Gallium Arsenide IC Lab.

The transmission systems we have talked about up to this point have been terrestrial systems (on land). Since the 1950s, AT&T also had a big effort in designing, manufacturing, and installing under water telephone cables (sub-cable) that spanned the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well as other bodies of water around the world. The very earliest cables used vacuum tubes, while later cables used transistors, and then ICs. Once the advantages of fiber optics in long distance transmission systems became clear, the sub-cable developers wanted to quickly move to fiber optics. Now this was a whole new kettle of fish for the photonic developers because of reliability concerns. With sub-cables, if you have a failure of an electronic or photonic component, it is very, very expensive to bring the cable up from deep in the ocean and repair it. This meant the long term reliability of all the sub-cable components, including the lasers, had to be assured, with no failures within 20 years of operation the requirement.

We designed the laser transmitters and other optical components for sub-cable applications, and we developed reliability testing and aging strategies that gave us assurance that the components would satisfy the 20 year life requirement. The first fiber optic sub-cable system, called TAT- 8, traversed the Atlantic Ocean between the US, England and France. It went into operation in 1988. The transmitters and receivers and other optical components were shipped from the Reading Works to a factory in Clark, New Jersey where they were assembled into large metal repeater tubes (also called bottles). These were then shipped to the ocean going vessel that would be laying the sub-cable across the Atlantic Ocean.

Time for an anecdote about the sub-cable work. Prior to the laying of TAT- 8, a short system experiment was conducted in the Canary Islands, just to make sure the system worked. A sub-cable with one repeater bottle was installed between two of the islands. Well, once the system was installed and turned on, it operated great for about an hour or two, and then it quit operating.

Nocks:

Oh?

Labuda:

The sub-cable was brought back out of the water. What was found was a heavily damaged, localized section of the sub-cable with what looked like teeth in the damaged section. After much investigation, it was determined that a shark had bit the cable and destroyed it locally. This led the sub-cable developers to conclude that the TAT-8 cable would have to be armored at both ends down to a depth where sharks don't exist anymore. Which was done. Overall, the sub-cable development was a great project, and its success gave a lot of satisfaction to the people in my organizations who were involved.

Nocks:

Amazing.

Labuda:

That was the second heart stopping surprise we had with the deployment of fiber optic systems. The first surprise was back in 1984 when the summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles. We deployed the FT Series C system using gallium arsenide lasers to provide the communication capability for the Olympics. One weekend, many of the fiber optic development people, like me, were home watching the Olympics on TV. And all of a sudden, everything goes blank, no picture on the TV. My initial thoughts were what the hell happened? Did one of our lasers fail? Well, it turned out some guy in a hot air balloon ran into some electrical transmission lines and cut off all the electrical power to the Olympics. Our FT Series C system was fine, in good working order. [Laughter.]

So anyway, we got TAT-8 deployed and working. The next challenge was to put a sub-cable across the Pacific Ocean, called TPC 1, which we did. The sub-cable people call the Atlantic a small pond as compared to the Pacific Ocean. Because the Pacific is so big compared to the Atlantic, a much longer system is required. Just like in terrestrial transmission systems, fiber optics was a killer technology for sub-cable systems, it totally replaced all prior technologies. Today, there are multiple fiber optic sub-cables across the Atlantic and Pacific, as well as all the other oceans and seas of the world.

Now time marches on, and it became time to develop the next generation terrestrial transmission system after the 417 Mb/s FT Series G system. In 1985 or so, it was decided that the next generation would be a multi-gigabit system operating at 1.7 Gb/s. We had to develop and design the transmitters and receivers, the lasers, etc., and at 1.7 Gb/s we were really pushing the capabilities of everything. Using a 1.7 Gb/s system you could transmit all the information contained in 28 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannic in less than one minute.

Nocks:

Even for long distance?

Labuda:

Yes, the system was for long distance transmission. It just pushed the electronics we had at the time, everything. We actually had to go away from silicon ICs for one element of the regenerator. There's a component called the decision circuit, which decides if something is a one or zero. We had to go to a gallium arsenide IC to achieve the required speed. It was a tough and chaotic development cycle, but we got everything working, and we started deploying the system. The initial AT&T deployment plans were something like, we’re going to do the top fifty cities in the US and get 1.7 Gb/s transmission to and around them over the next five years.

Nocks:

Uh huh.

Labuda:

Well, I don't know if you remember, there was a very famous ad back in the late ‘80s by Sprint, an AT&T competitor for the long distance transmission business. They showed a needle dropping and then a voice came on and said “We have a fiber optic network that is so quiet that you can hear a pin drop”. That ad became a real cause celebre within AT&T. All of a sudden, instead of five years, we had to do the top 50 cities in the next year, and so it was a major effort to meet that time table. But we did, and the system went into operation and it worked beautifully.

Nocks:

So, how did they decide which cities? Just the highest density?

Labuda:

I guess so, yeah. I wasn't involved in that decision making. I think it's probably the population and other considerations that went into deciding. I don't know.

Now, along with all the long distance transmission components being developed in the sub-system lab in my organization, we were also developing optical data links (ODLs) for short distance applications, 1 to 2 km. For short distances, multimode fiber could be used instead of the much more expensive single mode fiber needed for long distances. Typical uses might be for circuit board to circuit board or computer to computer communications.

The switching systems being used within AT&T were really big computers, with many circuit boards interconnected. The first commercial application of the ODLs was in our ESS-5 electronic switching system. They operated at 50 Mb/s. Some of the advantages of using an optical interconnect versus a pure electrical one were a higher information carrying capacity and a faster interconnect.

So, ODLs were a very good interconnect choice for computers. In 1984 or 85, IBM was developing a new generation of main frame computers (360 Series, I think), and they wanted to use fiber optic interconnects. They came to us and asked if we would develop a 200 Mb/s ODL for their applications. I still remember one of the interesting reasons they wanted to use fiber interconnects. They pointed out that in some of the high rises in big cities, when you install a main frame on an upper floor and if use coaxial cable for the interconnections, you can quickly be limited by the load bearing capacity of the floor. Which means we can't put any more in. So another advantage of fiber interconnects was their much lower weight as compared to coaxial cable.

Nocks:

Oh.

Labuda:

IBM was a very demanding and difficult customer. Initially, they gave us a set of specs for the ODL 200 and when we had almost finished the product development, they gave us additional specs, which required some redesign and more work. This scenario was repeated several times, and we realized we were involved with a project having significant “mission creep”, something development people hate. It also costs a lot of money to be redesigning to meet additional specs.

Nocks:

Uh huh.

Labuda:

In 1989 I was promoted to be head of the newly formed Lightwave Business Unit, which meant that in addition to being responsible for all Lightwave R & D, I became responsible for manufacturing, marketing, strategic planning, and financial performance. I will come back to explain more about the origin of the business unit, but for now let’s continue with the ODL 200 story.

The specifications just kept on getting more and more difficult, but we finally got an ODL 200 that IBM liked and were satisfied with. The spec book ended up being four or five inches thick.

Nocks:

Wow.

Labuda:

The mission creep in specs was only part of the IBM story. The IBM development of the 360 mainframe slipped its time schedule by at least 2 years. That meant full scale production of the ODL 200 was significantly delayed until 1989 or 90, and we idled for a couple years producing very small quantities.

The first year we went into full production, the number of ODL 200 modules they said they would need was equivalent to about $30 million worth of product. I am going to talk in terms of dollars of product not actual numbers because I have a better recollection of the dollars involved. So we went into full production. A few months into the year the $30 million became $40 million. OK, so we crank up our production capability. When I am talking it sounds simple to crank up, but it is not. You have to add more equipment to the production line, you have to train more people, etc. In the end, the production in that first year went from an initial estimate of $30 million to $40 to finally $60 million. And with a lot of heroic effort we did it. It was a great year for the ODL 200 business.

Unfortunately, the good story does not continue. Late in our first year of production we started pressing IBM for a forecast on what their demand was going to be for the following year. They kept on stalling and would not give us a forecast. At that point, I should have become suspicious that something was going on, but I didn’t. We did such a great job in delivering their increased demand the first year that I could not envision anything being wrong, in fact IBM gave us all kind of accolades for our performance. Finally near the end of the year they summoned us to their offices in New York, and it turned out to be one of the worst days in my career. So we said, “All right. You're going to tell us the forecast?” They said “We don't need any.” “What? You ramp us up to $60 million and all of a sudden, you don't need any? What are you talking about?” And they wouldn't tell us anything. So they just cut us off, and that was the end of the ODL 200 IBM business. I had the unenviable job of going back to all the Lightwave people who had worked so hard on the IBM ODL 200 project that the IBM business was over, kaput.

Nocks:

So had they purchased the ones that you did produce?

Labuda:

Oh yeah.

Nocks:

They just—

Labuda:

They purchased them, and they used them. Now, several months later our IBM salesman tells us what he had found out. As you would expect, IBM dual sourced the ODL 200 product. They would never rely on a single source for a project like this. There was another company that had been qualified as a second source. According to our salesman what happened was the second source product, even though it met all the specs in the four or five inches thick spec manual had operational problems in the field. So the whole first year the second source was producing all this product and IBM had to buy them because they met all the specs. But they weren’t using them, they were using only our ODL 200s. They had to buy them, but they weren't using them. IBM had to make some sort of system re-design to use the second source.

Nocks:

Okay.

Labuda:

By the time that was accomplished they had a year’s supply of the second source product sitting on the shelf. Once they got the system reconfigured they could use the second source modules and they had a year's supply. They just shut us off. Boom! We spent a lot of specific development money on the IBM ODL 200 that we couldn’t recover because we only had one year of production. Negotiations ensued, and they ended up paying a significant breakup fee. It was not a good ending for us. After many years of development we expected to have many years of production, but it did not happen.

Nocks:

Yikes.

Labuda:

It was a very stressful time during all of the Lightwave activity in the 1980s.

Nocks:

Uh huh. Sure.

Labuda:

I should circle back and explain how I became head of a business unit. The Lightwave efforts took place inside a division of AT&T known as AT&T Microelectronics, which was a $2 to 3 billion operation. It included all the IC work, photonics, printed wiring boards, power supplies, etc.

The executive head of AT&T Microelectronics in the late 1980s was Bill Warwick. He hired McKinsey as consultants and asked them what they would recommend to increase the profitability and efficiency of the disparate units of AT&T Microelectronics. After several months of study, during which McKinsey people were examining all the activities in Warwick’s organization, they recommended that AT&T Microelectronics be reorganized into separate business units covering all the disparate activities. The recommendation was accepted and business units were formed: MOS ICs, Bipolar ICs, Photonics, Printed Wiring Boards, Power, and one or two others that I have forgotten. All the business unit heads would report to Bill and have total responsibility for the operations within their business except for sales. Sales was still kept as a functional unit reporting to Bill. This was done because you didn't want three or four or five different sales people going to a customer, each one selling their different products, all of them AT&T Microelectronic products. So, except for sales, each business unit head was running their own business with total responsibility for R&D (Bell Labs), manufacturing, marketing, financials including profit and loss, and strategic planning.

In 1988, I was appointed head of the Photonics Business Unit. I was the second person to lead the business unit. I remained in that position for the next 6 years until I retired from AT&T in 1994. If we go back to 1982, the Photonic or Lightwave business as we called it then was probably on the on the order of a $10 million business. When I retired, it was a $500 million business unit.

Nocks:

Wow.

Labuda:

Half of the business was internal to other parts of AT&T and half was to external customers throughout the world. We were allowed to sell external ever since the 1984 consent decree in which the US government broke up the Bell system. The 6 years that I was head of the Photonic Business Unit was a very satisfying part of my AT&T career.

Nocks:

And then you were, weren't you executive director of the Photonics Society after that?

Labuda:

Yeah, let me tell you what happened.

Nocks:

Yes?

Labuda:

So, I retired and I had no plans. I didn't know if I was going to do anything. I had planned to work probably another four or five years at AT&T, but that didn’t work out as planned. We will have to decide if we want to keep this in the final version of the interview.

Nocks:

You'll decide.

Labuda:

OK. Bill Warwick, who I reported to as a business unit head was transferred and became head of AT&T China. He's the one who promoted me to be the head of the business unit, which was a big promotion for me. And as I have already said, the years I spent as a business unit head were a very satisfying part of my career and frankly a lot of fun. Bill was replaced by a person who was brought in a couple years prior from IBM to run sales for AT&T Microelectronics, and when Bill left I reported to him. My new bosses’ entire career had been in sales. He never had a technical job, never had a manufacturing job, and now he's head of AT&T Microelectronics with these independent business units reporting in to him.

The first problem that arose was that he didn't like the business unit structure. He thought the business unit heads were too independent and had too much “power.” He wanted the power back in his office. That was especially ironic because the rational for the business unit structure was to push responsibility and power down the management chain, closer to the actual business activity, and hold the business unit heads responsible for the performance of their business units.

The second problem was, he didn't talk the same language as a lot of us talked because he had spent his entire career in sales. So I lasted about a year. He and I agreed that things were not working out the way we would have liked. He offered me a generous severance package, which I accepted, and I retired from AT&T a few years sooner than I had planned.

Nocks:

Okay.

IEEE/LEOS Society Management

Labuda:

A short while before I left AT&T, I get a call. It was from a woman that I had worked with, and she was on the volunteer board of directors of an IEEE technical society called Lasers and Electro-Optics (LEOS). LEOS had a small number of IEEE employees plus an Executive Director to run the day-to-day operations of the society. She had called to find out what I was planning on doing when I left AT&T. It turns out that they had some sort of problem with the current LEOS Executive Director and she was wondering if I would consider the position as a post retirement job. I've been a member of the IEEE forever, which I guess led me to not immediately say that I wasn’t interested. She emphasized that they had a real problem because they had to abruptly let the current Executive Director go.

The LEOS office was located at IEEE headquarters in Piscataway, NJ. It was a small office but a non-trivial operation. The office was responsible for running a couple of major technical conferences, big ones, and they were responsible for putting out several major technical publications. The work flow through the office was worth on the order of $10 million, which was handled by 10 or 12 people. The issue for me was the office location, 70 miles from my home in PA. I was at a stage in my career that I would not consider moving, and the 70 mile commute each day was not something that I relished. After thinking about it for a good long while, I told the LEOS Board “Look. You guys have a real problem, I'll do it for two years and then I’m out of here. That's it.” They said OK and I became the LEOS Executive Director in 1994.

So, I was commuting every day, 70 miles in, 70 miles back, every day, five days a week. I start working at the office, and in my experience, when you bring in a new manager they usually think they can improve the operations. I made some minor reorganizations and improved our work processes. I also put the society on a much better financial footing. I was able to significantly increase the society’s monetary reserves. It was a good time and it was a fun time.

One thing I didn't appreciate before taking the job at the IEEE was that they were trying to expand globally. They wanted every technical society to establish local chapters throughout the world. As a result I had to do a great amount of international travel, probably just as much or more than I did at AT&T, something I didn’t look forward to. I had done a lot of international traveling in my AT&T job because we had customers in Japan, in Europe, and many other places throughout the world. When I retired from AT&T I thought I was done with international traveling, but that did not turn out to be the case.

All right. After two years, the LEOS Board said, “Oh, C’mon Ed, you're doing a good job. Why don't you stay on?” I said, “Look, I'm not staying unless we get to an understanding here”. I had the office pretty well organized and things were running pretty well. I suggested that I don’t really have to be in the office every day looking over people's shoulders. What if I come in Monday and Tuesday and Thursday, three days a week? The other two days I will work from home. I'm will be available by telephone, and I can be back in the office in about 1 hour and 15 minutes, if I have to. And they agreed to that, so then I stayed another three years, leaving in 1999. I was able to orchestrate a smooth departure, so to speak, because I found another person, Paul Shumate, a very good guy to replace me. He was at Bell Labs, and then went to Bellcore when they were split off from Bell Labs.

Nocks:

Uh huh.

Labuda:

Paul became Executive Director just when we were changing the name of the society from LEOS to the Photonics Society, a much more appropriate name.

Nocks:

So it was the same society, you just changed names?

Labuda:

It was the same society, just changed names.

Nocks:

I see.

Labuda:

LEOS went way back. I don't remember when it was started, but probably sometime in the 1960s, when lasers and electro-optics became important, new technologies. The society was a cosponsor and a major organizer of two major technical conferences, which brought in a lot of money for the society. One was the Optical Fiber Conference (OFC), which morphed beyond fiber to cover all areas of photonics. The other was the Conference on Lasers & Electro-Optics (CLEO). These were big money-makers for the society.

Nocks:

Yeah, the conferences are, bring in—

Labuda:

Yeah, bring in money, right.

Nocks:

And the publication I guess.

Labuda:

Yeah, the technical publications also helped support the society. We published Photonics Technology Letters, IEEE Journal of Quantum Electronics, Special Topics in Quantum Electronics, which I helped start, and the Journal of Lightwave Technology. When I retired from the IEEE I received a plaque with all the covers of the journals on it.

Nocks:

Right, right.

Labuda:

So.

Nocks:

So, is there anything else you want to talk about related to IEEE or do you think you want to stop there with that?

Labuda:

Well, let me just think a minute . . .


Labuda:

Well, the IEEE was interesting because I went from running a business unit with profit-loss responsibility to an organization where I reported to a volunteer Board of Directors. In addition to the normal organizational management tasks, there was a lot of social management to be done.

Nocks:

Yes?

Labuda:

I had to make sure I was in tune with the Board’s thinking on what they wanted to do and where they wanted to go with regards to the society’s activities.

Nocks:

Yes?

Labuda:

Once we got the finances straightened out and had built up some fairly significant monetary reserves, I suggested to the Board that we establish and fund several LEOS, one year fellowships. This would be a one year grant or stipend for graduate students early in their career who are pursuing a degree which falls under the photonics umbrella. The Board agreed and we established them. They were very popular and we had many applications, which we had to prune. I thought that was a nice contribution.

Advice to Young Professionals

Nocks:

Well, that's a really good contribution. It sort of leads to my last question, which is, if you have any advice to give to the young professionals or even engineering students in that area, do you have any words of wisdom that you'd like to pass on?

Labuda:

Well, I guess I would say -- when I look back at my career, it's hard to say that anything was really planned.

Nocks:

Right.

Labuda:

There wasn't a roadmap, like I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that. It was more like I interview with AT&T Long Lines, and I had no idea what they were about, and all of a sudden, I'm working at Bell Labs. If I circle back to the late sixties when I went to Allentown, many people working at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, NJ, would say: “Oh, never go to Allentown or Reading. That's the boondocks. Forget it. Go out to the west coast instead, a real technology hub.” My wife said, “Think about it, and if an opportunity arises and it’s something different, and you want a change, do it. Don't just react negatively, it might lead to a better future.” Let me tell you an interesting anecdote about the unknown future. When I first started at Bell Labs in the Microwave Tube Department it was the early days of transistor development. Some of the older MTS who had spent their entire career working with vacuum tubes put signs on the doors of their labs that said “Help stamp out transistors!” [Laughter from Nocks and Labuda.]

You know, think back on that. They didn't win that battle!

Nocks:

[Laughter.] Really. A little bit of an obstacle. [Laughter.]

Labuda:

But anyway, I go to Allentown and after many years in Bell Labs running a silicon IC technology development group, I am offered a job in Western Electric, our manufacturing counterpart, as an engineering manager for bipolar IC manufacturing. Again, the question becomes, do I want to do that? I decided to take the job and see what it is like working in a manufacturing organization. It turns out I enjoyed it. Then, I got pulled into the photonics work, and I found it to be really challenging. However, in retrospect it was also a very satisfying part of my career. The main take away piece of advice is don’t be afraid to pursue new and different opportunities in your career as they arise. In addition, once you have chosen a given fork in your career path, commit to making the path you have chosen a successful one. Don’t look back and second guess your choice.

Now a piece of advice for young technical people that become engineering and/or scientific managers. I don't know if you've ever heard this term, but if you draw an organizational chart, you know, you've got a department here, groups there, all doing their own thing. If you’re the manager of these sub-organizational units, then one of your most important jobs is to manage the white space in between them. What I mean by that: Is this guy talking to and working effectively with the person over there. If you’re not careful you can get these smokestacks built up within your organization, which will significantly reduce the overall effectiveness of your organization.

Nocks:

Silos, right?

Labuda:

Yes! You've got to think about managing the white space and making sure that all parts of your organization are working together effectively.

Nocks:

Well, --

Labuda:

Make sure the gears are meshing.

Nocks:

I think that's good advice for everybody, right? and—

Labuda:

I would think so.

Nocks:

That's good.

Labuda:

During my time in management, one of the questions that would be asked a lot was “Why did this person get promoted and not me?” And you know, you can argue, maybe this person worked harder, maybe they were smarter, or maybe they produced more? There are many different reasons that it could be. Many times the person asking the question would decide they had to work harder, but were constrained by family life outside of work. For the young professional people I would give the following answer. You've got to put a circle around your private life and say, this is my private life and I'm not going to let my work interfere with stuff inside the circle. Outside, do as much as you can and do the best you can. Only you can determine how big the circle is. Now, if your circle is big and someone else's is small, maybe that person will get the promotion.

Nocks:

Yes.

Labuda:

It is each individual’s decision to make.

Nocks:

It's a choice.

Labuda:

You have to manage your own life and determine what's important to you.

Nocks:

Great.

Labuda:

It took me a little, a little thinking to say it like that.

Nocks:

Good.

Board Member for Venture Capital Startups

Labuda:

I did take one final fork in the road while I was still professionally active. While I was still an executive director at IEEE, I get a telephone call one afternoon from a person named Aram Mooridian, who was at MIT Lincoln Labs. He was starting a small, specialized laser company, and he asked me to join the scientific advisory board. I agreed to do that. That company was funded by Rothschild from New York City. They were not that familiar with high-tech start-ups, and how long it can take to get a product developed and ready for commercial use. They quickly ran out of patience with Aram’s company because the product wasn't getting developed quickly enough. So they stopped the funding stream and the company folded.

A year or so later Aram reappears on the West Coast in silicon valley in CA. He had managed to get venture capital funding for another laser start-up. He again invited me to join the scientific advisory board, which I did. As a result I met the venture capitalists that were funding his company, and they subsequently invited me to join the Board of Directors of the company as an independent director. Aram’s new company was backed by several different venture capital funds and the Board consisted of members of the venture companies providing the funding. The venture capital companies like to have an independent director on the Board, one who is not associated with the venture companies and they invited me to serve in that role. I ended up meeting a number of venture capitalists, which led to me serving on the Boards of 5 high-tech start-ups.

Nocks:

Oh!

Labuda:

That was my technical professional activity from early 2000 to 2010. In 2010, I fully retired from any technical professional activity. The 5 start-ups I was involved with all received their initial funding in the very early 2000s. Unfortunately, it was not the best time for venture capital funds and their start-up companies. Most of the funds that were formed ended up not making any money. They actually lost money for their investors. This was a time when there was a lot of money available, and a lot of start-ups got funded, which really shouldn't have got funded. Sometime afterwards people were saying “Back then if you could spell photonics, you could probably get $10 million funding for a start-up. [Laughter.]

Of the five companies I was involved with, three of them went bust, which is not unusual, because most start-ups don't succeed. One got sold for pennies on the dollar. One got sold and made some money. That’s why they call it “venture capital.” Again, it was an interesting part of my career. I got insight into the venture capital industry in which I had no experience. I learned how the venture capital industry in Silicon Valley really, really works. It was an interesting time.

Nocks:

Was there one of those start-ups that was maybe more interesting than others, even though it succeeded or failed?

Labuda:

Yeah, the most interesting one was the first one, which was Aram Mooredian's laser company. Many times we seemed on the brink of great success, but it never happened. Although you could sometimes get his designs to work in the lab, we never got to the point where they were manufacturable and ready for commercial sale. We were really interested in them because, if you could do it, they would be great. But it never really got done. So that company went under and a lot of people lost a lot of money, unfortunately.

Nocks:

Well, I just heard a talk about the history of Silicon Valley, by Paul Wesley, and he was saying that Silicon Valley, you know, the character of that environment was very much like that. People are just willing to take a chance—

Labuda:

Oh, yeah.

Nocks:

--and see if something goes, and there's a lot of, you know, like you were saying earlier, there's a lot of communication between these different—

Labuda:

Right, absolutely.

Nocks:

--groups.

Labuda:

Well, venture capital, you look back at it, and it's very interesting now, they sort of go through cycles. When there's a lot of venture capital money available, it's not a good time to invest in venture capital because they're tending to throw their money away a little bit, without enough due diligence.

Nocks:

Ah!

Labuda:

When venture capital money is tight is probably the best time to invest because then the due diligence before funding the start-ups is much more intense.

Nocks:

Right.

Labuda:

It was great to get a view of the venture capital world.

Nocks:

Yeah, really interesting.

Labuda:

Let me close on a personal note. I spent about 30% of my career as a bench scientist/engineer, 30% as a first level technical manager, and 40% in higher technical and business management. I worked in many technologies, worked for many different managers, and received a lot of kudos along the way. However, one of the best, if not the best compliment I ever received was several years ago, many years after I was totally retired. Bob Eggers, who was a department chief in my organization when I went to Reading to head up the photonics work, was diagnosed with bladder cancer. I went to see Bob at his home, and we spent the afternoon reminiscing about the early days of photonics at Reading. Near the end of our visit Bob says: “You know Ed, the photonics work was difficult, challenging, and we were under extreme time or schedule pressures, but when you came to Reading you made work fun again. I would get up in the morning and once again would look forward to going to work.”

I think that's it. I don't think there's anything else.

Nocks:

Thanks.