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Berkeley launched Floyd Kvamme's chip career. Bart Nagel photo

 
The Faces of Berkeley Engineering:
Floyd Kvamme

In spring of 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Floyd Kvamme, EE '59, to co-chair the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). It's the capper to a long, illustrious Silicon Valley career in semiconductors and venture capital that began at Berkeley's College of Engineering.

The first member of his Norwegian immigrant family to go to university, Kvamme chose Berkeley on the advice of his high school English teacher. "I loved mathematics, and he told me that engineering is really applied math," he recalls. Initially he considered majoring in civil instead of electrical engineering, since it was more familiar: Kvamme spent every available moment after school working on construction sites with his father, a carpenter, to help pay his tuition.

Kvamme's pursuit of the nascent semiconductor field originated not in his undergraduate coursework, but from dropping in on afternoon colloquia. "Berkeley's openness was terrific -- being able to wander in and hear a seminar," he says. "They were mostly for graduate students, so I only understood 10 percent of the material. That was enough to pique my interest."

Electrical engineering at Berkeley in the late '50s was very close to a physics major, according to Kvamme. "John Whinnery, the EE chair then, wanted to make sure that students got a very technical education," he says. "And I just loved that. When I graduated, I had a technical background that was — as I learned from engineers from other schools — much stronger in the underlying physics and theory of my profession."

After getting his master's in semiconductor-focused EE from Syracuse University, Kvamme went to work for the seminal chip companies Fairchild Semiconductor and National Semiconductor, which he helped transform from a small East Coast transistor company to a leading microelectronics supplier. Running National's Advanced Systems subsidiary gave him the experience he needed to head Apple Computer's sales operations.

Then, in 1984, the premier venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers made him an "offer too good to refuse," to invest and nurture cutting-edge chip startups. In March 2001 Kvamme moved his venture capital work to a back burner in order to head up PCAST, counseling President Bush on technology issues ranging from homeland defense to federal research-and-development spending.

Asked if there was anything he'd change about how this career began, Kvamme says, "Taking part in collegiate athletics would have been a lot of fun, had my circumstances been different. But c'est la vie. I got a solid education and had a great time at Berkeley."

Floyd Kvamme is an active College alumnus and was recognized with a Wheeler Oak Meritorious Award by the UC Berkeley Foundation for excelling as a leader in fund-raising efforts for the College.
Faces of Berkeley Engineering

Meet other students, faculty and alumni who make Berkeley Engineering great.

Kibibi Moseley   Ruzena Bajcsy   Oren Jacob  
Kibibi Moseley   Ruzena Bajcsy   Oren Jacob  





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