Bay Area Alumni Hold Engineering Close to Heart

Northern California is home to the largest concentration of Cockrell School graduates outside of Texas. Meet four California alumni in high tech, venture capital, public service and winemaking.

Bay Area Alumni

Steve Poizner, Jennifer Gill Roberts, Anthony Marie Truchard (with wife Jo Ann Truchard) and Tom Fallon

Four highly successful alumni of The University of Texas Cockrell School of Engineering who live and work in the Bay Area offer an interesting case study of the many ways one leverages his or her engineering education. While their career paths vary, the group shares a common trait they trace back to their collegiate days in Austin: a sense of confidence to embrace new business opportunities rooted in the discipline, independence and inquisitive thinking they developed as engineering students.

Thomas J. Fallon: Telecom Exec Knows Where to Find Best Opportunities

Chief Executive Officer, Infinera Corporation (Sunnyvale , CA)
B.S.M.E., The University of Texas at Austin, 1983
M.B.A., The University of Texas at Austin, 1985

Thomas Fallon

Tom Fallon’s career in Silicon Valley seems a little like a Forrest Gump copycat: right place, right time. However, there is one distinct caveat. It’s not that he’s just been lucky, but that his sense of business opportunity is razor sharp.

Upon completion of his B.S. degree in mechanical engineering and operations research and his M.B.A. degree both at UT Austin, Fallon leveraged his internship contacts through the Cockrell School Engineering Career Assistance Center and secured a job as a process engineer with Hewlett Packard. From there, he went to Sun Microsystems for operations management opportunities, then on to Cisco Systems, Inc. as one of the first 500 employees and part of the initial generation of professional managers groomed at Cisco. In 2004, Fallon joined Infinera Corporation, a company that merges photonic integration at the component level with unique bandwidth management technology at the system level to create digital optical networks. Since all internet traffic is transmitted photonically, Infinera is at the innovation forefront of creating the next generation of telecom infrastructure.

“My engineering education has been invaluable to my career, given my line of work where we are constantly looking at how to solve problems with both rigorous methodology and unbounded creativity,” comments Fallon, a four-year member of the Cockrell School Engineering Advisory Board. “I gained valuable practical skills at UT working in the mechanical engineering machine shop in the ENS and through my internships where I was able to integrate what I was learning in the classroom to a work environment.”

Fallon has seen many ups and downs along his ride through Silicon Valley and the impact of globalization. “Competition and commoditization around technology has never been more intense and this trend will surely continue. Our opportunity is to continue to lead the world in innovation and collaboration. I believe the only sustainable competitive advantage an organization has is created through its ability to rapidly learn and nimbly respond to change.” For the engineers of the future, Fallon also encourages them to enjoy the journey. “Take advantage of the broad learning opportunities that UT provides outside of core engineering curriculum. Take the time to make lifelong friends and plant the seed of being a lifelong learner.” Sounds like good advice to share with future Longhorns, one of whom is Fallon’s son, who will begin studying at the Cockrell School in Fall, 2010.

Jennifer Gill Roberts: Venture Capitalist Leveraging Mobile Technology to Improve Health

Founder, Vive Solutions, Inc. (Menlo Park, CA)
B.S.E.E., Stanford University, 1985
M.S.E.E., The University of Texas at Austin, 1987
M.B.A., Stanford University, 1993

Jennifer Gill Roberts

Californian Jennifer Gill Roberts spent many summers with her extended family in Texas as a child, so going to UT to earn her master’s degree in electrical engineering was like coming home. "It was a great time to study computer architecture and to meet graduate students from all over the world” says Roberts, founder of Vivecoach, a technology company focused on personal health applications for corporations looking to lower costs and improve the health of their employees.

Exposure to high quality research was another positive influence on Roberts’ experience at UT. “I received funding for my research from Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC) and learned a great deal about microprocessor design from my thesis advisor, Professor Harvey Cragon, a TI Fellow. What I learned about memory design and computer architecture allowed me to secure a hardware engineering job at newly public Sun Microsystems in 1987.” Roberts worked her way up the engineering corporate ladder at a time when Sun was an innovator in numerous technology domains beyond computing that would eventually become commercially deployed including email, video streaming, and wireless networks. She leveraged the discipline and independent thinking she had gained during her engineering studies at UT and decided an M.B.A. was her next logical career move.

During her M.B.A. studies at Stanford, Roberts and classmate Denise Brousseau founded the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs & Executives (FWE&E). What started out as an independent study project about women entrepreneurs and their access to venture capital has evolved into the premiere Silicon Valley organization connecting exceptional women entrepreneurs and executives. To focus more on younger entrepreneurs, Roberts and Brousseau recently launched a mentoring program for second-year women business students at Stanford pursuing entrepreneurial careers.

After completing her M.B.A., Roberts worked for 15 years in venture capital, first as a general partner at Sevin Rosen Funds, and then at her own fund, Maven Venture Partners. Today, Roberts is pouring her considerable energy into her mobile-health startup company, Vivecoach, which leverages her venture work funding and building IP and wireless technologies and mobile applications. “What I have learned in my career is that focus and passion are key. At Vivecoach we are all about using mobile technologies to engage people in their health. Smart phones and mobile devices are causing the disruptive shift in healthcare that we saw generated by semiconductors, PCs, local area networks, and the Internet in previous waves. We have created a mobile application that we hope will bring great value to people worldwide.” Balance is another big priority for Roberts. She receives her greatest joy from her family and three children and her non-profit work.

Anthony Marie Truchard, M.D.: Physician and Winemaker Merges Skills through Chemistry

Owner, Truchard Vineyards (Napa Valley, CA)
B.S.C.E., The University of Texas at Austin, 1963
M.D., The University of Texas Southwestern School of Medicine

the Truchards

If Tony Truchard were to have looked into the future while studying engineering at UT in the early 1960s, winemaking surely wouldn’t have been on his radar for a career 50 years later. Becoming a doctor seemed more logical, which happened first. “I knew I wanted to go to medical school after finishing my chemical engineering degree. I was in R.O.T.C. and signed up with the Army,” comments Tony. The good study skills and work load Tony was accustomed to from his engineering studies paid off during medical school, not to mention all the chemistry he had already taken.

After finishing medical school at UT Southwestern in Dallas, Tony was assigned to Walter Reed Hospital for his internship and Fort Sam Houston for his internal medicine residency. From there he was transferred to various hospitals out west. This is where the story gets interesting.

“I grew up in Cat Spring, Texas, near Columbus (west of Houston). My father was a truck farmer. He raised a variety of crops and sold them out of the back of his truck. I was surrounded by the farming lifestyle growing up,” says Tony. So while in Northern California, Tony and his wife Jo Ann, also a UT alum, started exploring the vineyards of northern California and Tony got a crazy idea.

“I wanted to grow grapes. We bought our first parcel of land, 20 acres, in the Carneros region of Napa Valley in 1973. There was only one winery in the region at that time as the soil in that area was known to be shallow, with clay underneath and little water supply,” says Tony. The price was right given the perceived low quality of the soil and the Truchards took the leap.

Tony’s engineering mind, combined with his farming background and Jo Ann’s pragmatic nature, has been a perfect combination guiding the Truchards in good and bad times while growing their vineyard and winemaking business. Installing drip irrigation and water pumps and digging reservoirs were all necessary to have a robust crop in the Carneros region. More parcels were purchased over the years. The family of eight moved to the vineyard in 1987 and Tony closed his medical practice in 1991. The winemaking began in 1989, using only grapes grown on their estate. Once again Tony found that his chemical engineering background was a perfect complement to thoughtful discussions and decisions with the Truchard Vineyard’s chief winemaker.

“Looking back, it is hard to believe all the hurdles and challenges we overcame growing our business. Tony was the visionary and I was the practical one. I would tell him the accountant and loan officers thought we were crazy to buy another parcel of land and he would talk me into it. There was great vision and passion in what we have built here over these 30 years,” says Jo Ann.

Steve Poizner: Silicon Valley Entrepreneur Gives Back through Public Service

Entrepreneur, Republican Primary Gubernatorial Candidate (Los Gatos ,CA)
B.S.E.E., The University of Texas at Austin, 1978
M.B.A., Stanford University, 1980

Steve Poizner

Most successful business professionals give back to their communities by supporting philanthropies and serving on non-profit boards. Cockrell School alum Steve Poizner has taken the concept to a new level. Leveraging his success as an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, Poizner joined the White House Fellow Program one week before the September 11, 2001 attacks. His knowledge of GPS technology landed him as a director in the National Security Council. From there he taught government in a public high school in east San Jose, was elected California’s Insurance Commissioner and is now running as a republican candidate in the California primary for governor. All along the way, he recalls the value of his engineering education at UT.

“My undergraduate education (in electrical engineering) inspired me with a strong desire to succeed. The ability of UT to combine education and research and include their undergraduate students in the dynamic mission of the university ensures that every student can achieve their full potential,” says Poizner. “UT’s diverse academic resources and dedicated faculty instilled in me the values of leadership, dedication and creativity that have allowed me to achieve all my success later in life. Most importantly, UT taught me that the future is full of possibilities for those who are willing to work for them.”

While at UT, Poizner was named the Top Male Student in the student body of 40,000. He also was recognized as one of the top 10 electrical engineering students in the nation. He says, “My UT undergraduate engineering degree placed the groundwork for my future opportunities. The knowledge I gained at UT empowered me to tackle Silicon Valley. Without a solid understanding of the concepts and tools required in the field of engineering, my success in launching companies such as SnapTrack and Strategic Mapping would not have been possible.”

Poizner combined his technical knowledge with business savvy gained during his M.B.A. studies at Stanford University and embraced the high tech industry in the early 1980s. “Upon finishing both my undergraduate and graduate education, I entered the work force excited and determined, yet slightly naive of the challenges that I would face. My entrepreneurial spirit made me immune to the potential of disappointment and risk. I wanted to dive head first into the center of the high-tech, Silicon Valley innovations. Engineering and technology offered me endless possibilities, and I wanted to place these inventions in the hands of consumers.”

That is exactly what Poizner did. His first big success was the building of Strategic Mapping Inc., a company that assists police departments, utilities and transportation companies with strategic planning and logistics. This was followed by the development of Snap Track, a company focused on technology that put life-saving GPS receivers into 700 million cell phones around the world.

“My time spent in and out of various careers has not diminished my independent and entrepreneurial spirit. I have been able to gain more experience and understanding about how to accept challenges and produce success. Yet, I will never abandon the passion and determination I felt the first day I stepped out of the classroom and into the workforce,” comments Poizner, honored as a Cockrell School Distinguished Engineering Graduate in 2007.

“My success in the private sector has made me fortunate enough to be able to change careers and enter the public service. I had a fantastic education experience, I felt the joy of watching my hard work produce results, and I had the constant support of my friends and family. This success instilled in me the desire to give back to my community and make sure that others have the same opportunities I did. “