He recounts that he was schooled early on at Digital Telephone Systems (DTS), a company Donald Green led in the early 1980s, after arriving in California from the cornfields of Iowa. Chick nurtured his interest in electronics before that, as a youth, while working as a stereo store employee.
Chick arrived in the Golden State with a rock band as their soundman. The band was on its way to Los Angeles, but the “motley crew” ended up in San Francisco. They shared their lives in a school bus occupying a parking lot near Pier 39. The lead guitar player had “girl problems” back home so he split for the Hawkeye state. Chick assumed the role as lead guitar player, which he tackled with relish. The band soon found a house in Novato to live and quickly realized they needed day jobs to pay the rent. Ah, the life of a musician.
“The D1200 was an amazing PBX,” Chick recalls. It was built out of discrete components and used a homebrewed software language. Earlier PBXs even used paper tape for their programming, well before PROMs arrived on the scene. Chick developed close ties with engineers on the product floor, and after the marketing department wooed him to join their organization, engineering hired Chick away from the manufacturing side of the company. While in his early engineering phase, Chick debugged compilers and then got to write software code on the original D1200. This code was a mix of machine and assembly languages based on Intel 8085 processors.
Donald Green believed in-house manufacturing was the way to go. DTS implemented advanced wave-soldering machines and model shops to produce its products. Don even tried to establish his own manufacturing lines at AFC when he later led that company, but this foray was short-lived. Cost pressures to outsource manufacturing likely ended the vertical company models in the late 1990s, especially in telecom. Mike Hatfield closely watched this development in his role at AFC and ultimately adopted a variation of this model of outsourced manufacturing at Cerent.
Chick spent 20 years with DTS before joining Cerent on August 12, 1998. (He worked with John Henel at DTS, who later become a Cerent alumnus too.)
At DTS, Chick’s career growth saw him evolve from an individual contributor to an engineering lead and then to a supervisor. He felt he was part of a team that acted like a small company, although working in a larger company.
Times got tough once DTS prematurely announced its “2020” product. It wasn’t ready for primetime, but orders came in for the new product and this quickly dried up orders for the older D1200 PBX. Revenue dropped. A “bean counter” (controller) was brought in to run the larger Harris operation in California , once it acquired DTS-Farinon.
Chick recalls his team interview with Cerent in July 1998. “During the interview process, Ajaib Bhadare initially blew me off, but he brought me a beer. That was pretty cool.” After all, it was Friday afternoon, and even Chick knew it was keg day, which featured Lagunitas brews at Cerent’s main facility.
Chick contrasts the Cerent workplace with that of Next Level’s surroundings during his selection process, “Cerent sported commando digs and labs scattered in cubicles while Next Level had amazing [facilities] including offices with doors for its engineering team. I chose the commando digs because the energy level seemed to be so much higher at Cerent.”
Chick’s first project was a reworking of the fan try and its alarms for the integrated LCD display. This led to work on the AIC module that many of the telco customers were clamoring for.
Chick eventually worked for Humphrey Chin in early 1999, once Humphrey became a supervisor in the software department, “likely due to his DS1 project success,” according to Chick.
Chick’s key learnings at Cerent can be encapsulated in two bullets:
- Avoid use of homegrown software code – The DTS development environment seemed antiquated compared to the Cerent experience. At Cerent, a whole new world came about because of the VxWorks operating system versus the use of an Intel development environment where most of the code was homegrown.
- Maintain a strong focus on what you’re doing. “This is what we need to do and then we went and did it.” Chick adds, “We executed to each and every plan.”
Chick’s view of Cerent’s legacy in the optical transport arena can also be summarized with two bullet points:
- “Yes, the industry needed another SONET ADM. The fact that it was evolutionary versus revolutionary carried the day.” This is akin to, Apple saying years ago that, yes, we need another mobile phone, one that is user friendly.
- “Cerent became the #1 OC-48 platform as well as being the first to incorporate data traffic into a SONET multiplexer.” Indeed, Cerent would redefine the entire optical transport space to focus not on optical bit rates, but on multi-service provisioning platforms (MSPPs) that could scale with the bit rate required for the application. By 2006, more than 50 percent of the optical business would use MSPPs.
As a footnote to Cerent’s Friday afternoon beer socializing, Chick assumed the role of lead guitar player for those end-of-day jam sessions that Paul Elliott instituted as early as the Fiberlane days in 1997. Chick played his 1963 Fender Stratocaster, which he bought for $750 during his early rocker days.
Paul Elliott played bass on Fridays. Keith Neuendorf donated the drums and he and many others took turns playing them to close out the work week. Keith also played guitar and the piano. The engineers in Petaluma contributed money to buy an old Wurlitzer piano too. Often guest musicians came over from other companies in Telecom Valley, such as AFC. Kegs were ever present on Fridays, plus chips and salsa on many occasions.
 The DTS PBX was a dial-telephone subsystem. It was built upon a network of Harris DTS D1200-Series PABXs, including a D1204 PABX at the onshore control. Dave Ehreth was Product Director of the D1200 PABX, responsible for independent P&L for the PBX family.
 My belief is that you should “never have a controller run a company or a product division.” The success of Tim Cook, Steve Job’s successor at Apple, may give me pause. We’ll see.
 Chick notes, “Even though there was no processor on the AIC, they tried to fit it into the shelf operation so that it looked like the board had a processor.”
 Dave Hillard joined DTS before he arrived at Cerent and after the D1200 introduction. He writes, “I knew Chick and his capabilities well from our Harris days, so my portion of his interview was mostly a sales job to get him to join Cerent. I'd been pestering him to do so for many months at every DTS going away party (and there were many around that time as things imploded [at DTS] about that time).”