Published Thursday, December 2, 1999, in the San Jose Mercury News 

Nerds rule at reunions

MY WIFE, Susan, and I were the classic nerds in high school. I graduated from San Lorenzo High School in the East Bay in 1953, she from Norwood High School in Massachusetts in 1964. We were both from working-class families. My clothes and haircut were nondescript. My Coke-bottle glasses, slouching 6-foot frame and ungainly locomotion gave the impression of a teenage Mr. Magoo.

In the classroom I was uneven: great in science and history, OK in math and English but hopeless in Spanish. In PE I was always the last chosen, and a disaster in Thursday dance class.

Socially I didn't fit into any one group, so I nibbled on the edges of two -- college prep because we were in the same classes, and hot rodders because of my fascination with cars -- but I wasn't a member of any clique.

Susan's classmates tell me she was skinny and shy. Susan said because her family could not afford the latest fashions, she chose to rebel in unfashionable hippie-style black. She lived literally ``on the other side of the tracks'' in South Norwood.

She was artistic and produced the artwork for the '64 yearbook. Her marks were decent enough to qualify her for a college prep track, but she was not a cheerleader -- or on anyone's A-list for a date or party.

When it came time to apply to college, my choice was clear. Cal Berkeley was within commuting distance of San Lorenzo, and in 1953, virtually free. But what to major in? My biggest concern was that there be no foreign language requirement. My high school Spanish experience had shown dramatically that I was an English-only guy.

So I enrolled in what was literally the only major with no foreign language requirement, electrical engineering. When it came time to declare a specialty within EE, I chose the easiest, digital. After all, what's simpler than ones and zeros? I went on to get an MSEE at San Jose State, work in a variety of engineering jobs and, in 1981, become a founder of LSI Logic in Milpitas.

Meanwhile, Susan's parents were too poor to fund her college education, so she lied about her age to get hired as a draftsman in a Boston high-tech firm on the second shift to save money for her education. The firm was Itek; after she graduated from high school they sponsored her as a co-op student into Northeastern University in the electrical engineering program.

In later years she got her MS in computer science from Rutgers, and to this day maintains a successful and lucrative career in technical marketing and business development in emerging IT technologies.

Susan and I met in 1981; she was in charge of EDA and computer aided design at Wang Labs, LSI Logic's first big customer. One day Wilf Corrigan and I took her to dinner at Ming's in Palo Alto, as Wang was crucial to our new company's survival.

We got the contract and went on to great success, but at the expense of Susan's reputation! Local gossip columnist Don Hefler printed a piece in his Microelectronics newsletter implying that the married Susan was dating one of the LSI founders.

The folks at Wang were concerned, and grounded her from visiting the valley for six months. Remember those ``good old days,'' ladies? Anyway, I was engaged, she was married, so we continued as business associates and friends. Some years later we both divorced, and in 1997 we married and began a high-tech consulting business called Walker Research Associates.

This year we both attended high school reunions: My 46th from San Lorenzo High was held in a hotel in Pleasanton, her 35th from Norwood High was held at the Ramada in Norwood, Mass. To our surprise we were no longer the outcasts. By high school standards, the nerds had won! We were the best dressed, drove the hottest cars, and had successful and groovy jobs in the heart-of-the-action, happening high-tech Silicon Valley.

Now, we observed, even the class jocks had Coke-bottle glasses, beer guts and poor posture, but I at least had hair! Several of the women looked disapprovingly at Susan, who was slimmer than most in her tasteful black pants suit. She also had a business card that listed her title as president.

So the lesson to all you nerds, both guys and gals, is this: Hang in there and you, too, can blossom. If you aim high in your careers you will eventually stand tall among the jocks and cheerleaders; the best revenge is living well.

~ Rob Walker lives in Atherton, CA

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