Andy Bechtolsheim

Andy Bechtolsheim bigraphy, stories - Engineers

Andy Bechtolsheim : biography

September 30, 1955 –

Andreas "Andy" von Bechtolsheim (born September 30, 1955) is an electrical engineer who co-founded Sun Microsystems in 1982 and was its chief hardware designer. He later became an investor, writing the first major check to fund Google, and starting several computer networking companies.

Early life

Bechtolsheim was born near Ammersee, in the German state of Bavaria. He grew up on a farm with the Alps in the distance, the second of four children. Since the isolated house had no television and distant neighbors, he experimented with electronics as a child. In 1963 the family moved to Rome, Italy and then in 1968 to Nonnenhorn on Lake Constance in Germany. When he was only 16, he designed an industrial controller based on the Intel 8008 for a nearby company. Royalties from the product supported much of his education. (Many words are spelled phonetically)

As an engineering student at University of Technology Munich Bechtolsheim entered the jugend forscht contest for young researchers, and after entering for three years, won the physics prize in 1974. (German) Bechtolsheim received a Fulbright Award and moved to the US in 1975 to attend Carnegie Mellon University, where he received his master’s degree in computer engineering in 1976. In 1977 Bechtolsheim moved to Silicon Valley to work for Intel, but quit when they transferred him to Oregon the first week. He took a summer job at Stanford University and became a Ph.D. student in electrical engineering.


At Stanford, Bechtolsheim designed a powerful computer (called a workstation) with built-in networking called the SUN workstation, a name derived from the initials for the Stanford University Network. CSL Technical Report 229 (First author name is misspelled on cover) It was inspired by the Xerox Alto computer developed at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. Bechtolsheim was a "no fee consultant" at Xerox, meaning he was not paid but had free access to the research being done there. In particular, Lynn Conway was using workstations to design very-large-scale integration (VLSI) circuits.

Bechtolsheim’s advisor was Forest Baskett and in 1980 Vaughan Pratt also provided leadership to the SUN project. Support was provided by the Computer Science Department and DARPA. The modular computer was used for research projects such as developing the V-System, and for early Internet routers. Bechtolsheim tried to interest other companies in manufacturing the workstations, but only got lukewarm responses.

Founding Sun

One of the companies building computers for VLSI design was Daisy Systems, where Vinod Khosla worked at the time. Khosla had graduated a couple years earlier from the Stanford Graduate School of Business with Scott McNealy, who managed manufacturing at Onyx Systems. The three wrote a short business plan and quickly received funding from venture capitalists in 1982.

Bechtolsheim left Stanford to found the company, Sun Microsystems, as employee number one. Bill Joy, who was part of the team developing the BSD series of Unix operating systems, was the fourth member of the founding team. For a while Bechtolsheim and Joy shared an apartment in Palo Alto, California. The first product, the Sun-1, included the Stanford CPU board design with improved memory expansion, and a sheet-metal case. By the end of the year, the experimental Ethernet interface designed by Bechtolsheim was replaced by a commercial board from 3Com. Sun Microsystems had its Initial Public Offering in 1986 and reached $1 billion in sales by 1988. But Bechtolsheim wanted something new and around this time formed a project code-named UniSun, to design a small, inexpensive desktop computer for the educational market. The result was the SPARCstation 1 (known as "campus"), the start of another line of Sun products.

Other companies

In 1995, Bechtolsheim left Sun to found Granite Systems, a company that focused on developing high-speed network switches. In 1996, Cisco Systems acquired the firm for $220 million, with Bechtolsheim owning 60%. He became Vice President and general manager of Cisco’s Gigabit Systems Business Unit, until leaving the company in December 2003 to head Kealia, Inc.