End of the Fellowship of the B5900?

I went to Ron Tucker and told him the bad news. I told him that it would be risky to bring in a new hire to replace Dave, I needed an experienced CPU designer. Not only that, we were behind schedule in several other areas. I needed to replace Dave, and I needed at least one more engineer on top of that. I told him that even with additional help, we would slip the schedule at least one quarter. Our breadboard would now be delayed until March of 1979.

Just a few weeks before, one of the B6900 engineers, Jerry Ragland, told me how much he admired what we were doing. Jerry had worked on the B6800, and felt they were not doing enough innovation on the B6900; he wanted more of a challenge. It so happened that Jerry was an opinionated guy, so Bob Leamy and Gary Beck considered him “difficult to manage”. I knew this and intended to exploit it. I talked to Ron Tucker, and told him I wanted Jerry on my team. Ron had heard from Bob and Gary that Jerry was hard to manage, I said “good, managing is something I can do, what I need is an experienced engineer to replace Dave, I can’t do that since I am already stretched thin designing the DP”. Well, Ron met with Bob and Gary and they agreed to give me Jerry.

One of the first problems I had with Jerry was his attitude. Since he came from the B6900 group he felt superior to my other engineers. I straightened him out very quickly. After work the first day I took him out to dinner, I told him, “Look Jerry, I know you are the most experience CPU designer on my team, but we are a team. I have a masters from MIT, and am a lot smarter than you, or anyone on the team, but that is the last time you will ever hear that. We are a team, we succeed together or fail together, so there is no room for attitude”. I never had a problem with Jerry after that dinner.

I put Jerry on the PC to finish up Dave’s design. After a couple of days, he came to see me. He said “Jack, Dave is a clever architect, but not a logic designer, his implementation will never work, I need to start over”. I was dumbfounded; I asked if he was sure? He told me to review some specific design areas and see what I felt. I took a day to look at the logic Jerry had questioned, and found he was right. I asked him the impact. Jerry said the basic architecture was fine, in fact inspired. The problem was mostly implementation. He felt he could straighten it out in two months. He actually finished in six weeks, costing us only one and a half additional months in the schedule. I was very glad to have Jerry on board; he would rescue us with his experience many times. Ron also arranged for me to add a couple of other engineers, Lee Watson and Mike Lithgow, which really helped get the design completed.

I have mentioned schedule a couple of times. Schedule in technology projects is critical. If you are building a house and are six months late, you may have some angry customers, but the house is still valuable and you can still sell it. In technology, if you miss a schedule by six months, you might as well cancel the project. No one wants it since newer and better computers are now available.

At the time of the B5900 the conventional wisdom was a new CPU required at least two years to design, in fact most schedules were 30 months. The B6900 was a 26-month schedule, considered aggressive (Bob Leamy actually beat the schedule, delivering in 24 months). I felt we could do better, I proposed a 16-month schedule for the B5900, which Erv made me pad out to 18 months. Since the B6900 was started about 6 months before the B5900, the shorter schedule meant the B5900 would be available about the same time as the B6900, which was desirable from a sales and marketing standpoint. If the B5900 slipped by too many months, it would not be as desirable. By the end of the design phase, we had slipped the schedule to 18 months, or the middle of 1980.