I’m very surprised to see so many important hardware companies started by Taiwanese-Americans especially back from the 80s and 90s. As there is the impression that while there are many Chinese engineers in Silicon Valley, few make it to the top. It does seem that most of the Chinese who hit it big in entrepreneurship in America are in hardware, and there are more of them than I would have expected. I guess this is also more evidence in favor of strong technical ability and innovative capacity of Chinese, as hardware is much more loaded on technical ability than is software, which relies much more on marketing/connections. I’ve always felt industry is real economic power, while software is a service that is very virtual/artificial with low barrier to entry. So I’ll make a list of hardware companies started by Taiwanese (and also those of Chinese descent in general, most of which are Taiwanese) in America.
- Nvidia – top GPU company, stock soared past several years from deep learning GPU boom, founded in 1993 by Jen-Hsun Huang, etc.
- Garmin – GPS technology company employing 10,000+ people, founded in 1989 by Min Kao, etc.
- Wang Laboratories – sold computers and word processors, started in 1951, employed 30,000+ people in the 80s, defunct in 97, its founder An Wang (from China before communist takeover) was main inventor of magnetic-core memory which was the predominant form of random access memory between 1955 to 1975.
- Lam Research – semiconductor equipment company, founded in 1980, 20+ billion market cap, second largest manufacturer in Bay Area as of 2018. Founder David K. Lam was born in China pre revolution and raised in Vietnam and Hong Kong.
- TSMC – world’s largest dedicated semiconductor foundry for long, founded by Morris Chang in Taiwan in 1987 after a successful career in America.
- Kingston Technology – largest independent producer of DRAM memory modules, owning approximately 68% of the third-party worldwide DRAM module market share in 2017, according to DRAMeXchange. Founded by John Tu and David Sun in 1987.
- Marvell Technology Group – integrated circuit company founded in 1995 and employing 5000+ people as of 2016. Started by Indonesian-Chinese brothers Sehat Sutardja, Pantas Sutardja, and female mainland Chinese Weili Dai.
- ATI Technologies – specialized in graphics processing units and chipsets, founded in 1985 by four guys from Hong Kong by the names of Lee Ka Lau, Francis Lau, Benny Lau, and Kwok Yuen Ho, went public in 1993, acquired by AMD in 2006.
- Trident Microsystems – fabless semiconductor, well known supplier of graphics chipsets, founded in 1987 by Frank C. Lin, bankrupt in 2012 after having been on NASDAQ.
- Vivante Corporation – fabless GPU companies founded by some guy named Mike Cai with Weijin Dai (brother of Weili Dai) in top leadership position.
- Verisilicon – founded by Weimin Dai (brother of Weijin and Weili).
And lol, I remember how that mad Asian on Steve Hsu’s blog Yan Shen loves to mention Jerry Yang of Yahoo and Steve Chen of YouTube (along with Jensen Huang of Nvidia). Obviously of these three, Nvidia is by far the most impressive technologically. In fact from the list above, arguably only Nvidia is well known to the general public, and not even all that much. After all, the flash of software is much more easily remembered by the typical computer/phone user than the substance of hardware that serves as the foundation of all computing, by far the most technologically difficult.
Yes, there is the bamboo ceiling with few Chinese-Americans able to ascend the corporate ladder even in Silicon Valley. But in terms of actually starting important hardware companies, those Taiwanese in the 80s and 90s really made an enormous impact and contribution. This doesn’t seem to be well known though, as those companies are not well marketed despite being the backbone of computing. It wasn’t really to me until relatively recently. And as an FYI, I didn’t really learn any EE in college regrettably, but I know C and assembly language, and I have a hard time taking seriously a software engineer who doesn’t. I remember early in college multiple old experienced people advised me to major in computer science not electrical engineering for better job prospects even though the latter is much more technically involved.