In August of 1990 I joined SEMATECH for a one-year assignment that, among many benefits, brought me to Austin. In those days, SEMATECH was a great place to work, full of energy and promise (and yes, too much politics as well). The pre-competitive research consortium wasn’t very efficient at spending money to make a difference, but it most definitely made a difference. It was what the US industry needed at a time of competitive uncertainty, and it attracted some really great people working in a uniquely collaborative environment.
Ten days ago SEMATECH announced its own dissolution, as it merges with SUNY Polytechnic Institute in its new home in Albany. It saddens me to say that my first thought at hearing this news was “ten years too late”. While SEMATECH was the right organization at the right time in the 1990s, it lost its way in the 2000s and never recovered. As the semiconductor industry, and the world, changed to be more global, SEMATECH’s original mission of shoring up the US semiconductor industry became obsolete. But instead of recognizing its fading value, SEMATECH proved the first law of organization: organizations strive first and foremost for the survival of the organization. With all due respect to the many good people that worked there over the years (and still do today), the survival of SEMATECH became the primary goal of SEMATECH, with helping the semiconductor industry a distant second. They left Austin in 2010 chasing money that the State of New York dangled in front of them, and completed their slide into irrelevance.
So, it is with decidedly mixed feelings that I say goodbye to SEMATECH. The last decade has been one of lost opportunity for the organization, but their accomplishments over the years are worth remembering. Mostly, though, I’ll remember the many good people, and good friends, that SEMATECH brought my way.