“Engineers make great professionals because of the unique problem-solving skills that you acquire,” he said in response to a student’s question. “Apply that training to almost any field, get that training in STEM as an undergraduate and it will almost guarantee your success.”
Samueli returned to his alma mater on Jan. 17 for the Ronald and Valerie Sugar Distinguished Speaker Series, which brings international engineering and technology leaders to UCLA to share their experiences with the engineering community.
Samueli currently serves as Chief Technical Officer of Broadcom Limited, a global leader in semiconductors for wired and wireless communications. Jayathi Murthy, the Ronald and Valerie Sugar Dean of UCLA Engineering, moderated the program.
Noting that neither of his immigrant parents worked in a scientific or technical field, he said it was a 7th-grade class project that sparked his lifelong interest in wireless communications engineering. Rather than build a simple crystal radio for his electronics shop class, he convinced the teacher that he could handle building a more complicated Heathkit radio, which he had seen in a catalog.
“Sound came out,” he said of the project as he lit up describing that life-changing ‘eureka’ moment. “That hit me right there. The fact that this thing – a pile of parts that I knew nothing about, that I could put together, solder wires together and sound comes out magically from thing – it hooked me.
“At that point, I knew I was going to be an electrical engineer because I made it my mission in life to figure out how that thing worked.”
After graduating from Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, Samueli enrolled at UCLA as an engineering freshman in 1971. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he continued his education at UCLA with a master’s degree, then a Ph.D., advised by Professor Alan Willson, Jr. who was also in the audience.
Samueli recounted how he took a brand new class on digital signal processing taught by Willson.
“I took the digital signal processing class and fell in love with it,” he said. “I’m a perfectionist-type of person. I just like everything to be exact and perfect and the beauty about digital signal processing is it’s exact. You know exactly what the computations are.”
It would be the field that he pursued his doctorate in.
After his doctorate, Samueli worked in the defense industry for five years until returning to UCLA as a faculty member in electrical engineering. He had already been teaching classes part-time. The opportunity to teach students at his alma mater and lead research programs in broadband communications circuits and digital signal processing was too attractive to pass up. He remains a member of the UCLA engineering faculty.
Samueli and his first Ph.D. student, Henry Nicholas, co-founded Broadcom in 1991. The company went public eight years later.
Following the major success of Broadcom, Samueli and his wife Susan have been champions for education, integrative health care, and Jewish Culture. They have given major gifts to UCLA and UC Irvine. In 1999, the UCLA School of Engineering and Applied Science was renamed in his honor.
After discussing his academic and professional career, and the history of Broadcom, Murthy asked Samueli what he’d advise the students in the audience as they look toward their future.
“You’re life takes left turns and rights turns, and it’s whether or not you take advantage of those opportunities that define your life,” he said, citing examples from his own career.
Murthy also asked what he would like to see at the school over the next several years.
Samueli, who has supported the school as a member of the Dean’s Executive Board, said he hopes to see it continue to grow in stature. He also said he hoped the school would continue to expand access to more students, in particular women and other groups historically underrepresented in engineering.
Following the interview portion of the program, Samueli took questions from students.
Prompted by a question on how engineering has risen in the public’s perception in recent years, Samueli said it’s been a great thing for the field. He said he hoped it would prompt even more students from all backgrounds to enter the field.
“You want the diversity in the school to match with the diversity in the population at large because that creates the opportunities for everybody,” he said.
Another student asked why Samueli purchased the Anaheim Ducks National Hockey League franchise.
“It seemed exciting, owning a professional sports franchise, it seemed like a great thing for the community to keep it locally owned here,” he said. “Even though I wasn’t a huge hockey fan prior to it, I have since become a gigantic hockey fan.”
Samueli noted that following the event, he was going to head to Anaheim to catch the end of a Ducks’ game. The Ducks beat the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins 5-3.
Photo: Dean Jayathi Murthy with Henry Samueli, on January 17, during the Ronald and Valerie Sugar Speaker Series.