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Engineering school namesake Henry Samueli discusses life, career

By Emi Nakahara

Jan. 18, 2018 12:14 a.m.

Technological entrepreneur Henry Samueli, the namesake of UCLA’s engineering school, said at an event Wednesday that engineering has become an increasingly popular and lucrative field over the past three decades.

Samueli spoke to more than 150 people at the Mong Learning Center in the Engineering VI building about his career path and gave advice about how to create successful engineering startups. He spoke as part of the Ronald and Valerie Sugar Distinguished Speaker Series, in which various leaders in engineering and technology give talks to engineering students at UCLA.

Samueli, who completed his bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. at UCLA, is a professor of electrical engineering and chief technical officer of Broadcom Limited, a digital and analog semiconductor corporation.

Jayathi Murthy, the dean of the engineering school who moderated a discussion with Samueli, said he has been a major philanthropic contributor to the school of engineering, which is named after him. She added the talk was the first large event in the recently built Mong Learning Center, which was occupied to full capacity.

“He’s a name we all recognize,” she said. “The whole point of this review is to see what Henry Samueli’s been doing with his time.”

Sameer Khan, a third-year mechanical engineering student, said he had been accepted to engineering schools at both UCLA and UC Irvine, both of which are named after Samueli.

“This guy’s a big name, and I was curious how he got so successful to have both schools be named after him,” he said.

Samueli said both of his parents survived the Holocaust and migrated from Poland to the United States, where he was born. He added he discovered his passion for engineering in the seventh grade when he begged his electrical shop class teacher to allow him to build his own heathkit radio.

“I worked on it the entire semester, brought it to class, plugged it in, and sound came out,” he said. “It hit me right there – the fact that this pile of parts could be put together and sound comes out just hooked me. I made it my mission in life to figure out how that thing worked.”

Samueli, who graduated with a 3.8 GPA in electrical engineering in 1975, said that engineering was not a popular profession at the time.

“Back then, engineers were driving taxi cabs,” he said. “My pursuit of engineering was not because it was going to be a lucrative field, it was just because I loved it.”

Samueli said his interest in broadband communication networking led him to develop computer chips in a cable modem to help individuals access the internet quickly. Numerous companies invested in the technology, which led to Samueli co-founding Broadcom in 1991 to produce and develop the microchips. The company was later sold for $37 billion to Avago, another semiconductor company, in 2016.

“When the market that you’re developing technology for is massive and everybody wants it, you take off rapidly, and it was literally exponential,” he said. “We didn’t push the technology, it was pulled out of us.”

In a Q&A session with audience members, Samueli said startups’ outcomes are unpredictable and believes they can only be successful when focused specifically on one product.

“Being successful doesn’t mean having a grand plan for the future,” he said. “I never planned on the success of Broadcom. Set short-term goals, work hard … and take risks.”

Samueli said he thinks individuals who study engineering can go into diverse fields, and added that successful doctors and lawyers often have engineering degrees. He added being an engineer gave him valuable problem solving skills when he started his own business.

“The logical thinking of an engineer will outexecute any MBA,” he said.

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Emi Nakahara | Science and health editor
Nakahara is the assistant news editor for the science and health beat. She was previously a contributor for the science and health beat.
Nakahara is the assistant news editor for the science and health beat. She was previously a contributor for the science and health beat.
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