The Faces of Berkeley Engineering:
|Berkeley launched Floyd Kvamme's
chip career. Bart Nagel photo
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
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
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
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.