The Engineering Pathway profiles Weili Dai, Co-Founder of the Marvell Technology Group, Ltd and Vice President and General Manager of Communications and Consumer Business, as our hero for Asian-Pacific Heritage month. A graduate of UC Berkeley’s Computer Science program, she is considered one of the most successful women entrepreneurs in the world. Newsweek named her one of the “150 Women Who Shake the World“. She also has the distinction of being the only female co-founder of an American semiconductor company.
Marvell is a leading global semiconductor company, providing expertise in integrated analog and digital chip design with a large portfolio of broadband communications and storage solutions. The company started in 1995 and has grown from a three-person (Weili Dai and her husband Sehat Sutardja and his brother Pantas Sutardja), family-funded start-up to a multi-billion-dollar technology company with 7,000 employees. In 2004 Dai and the Sutardjas were recognized by the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Weili Dai explains the importance of Marvell using a pizza analogy in a CNN interview: “We are the pizza dough. The tomato sauce are different operating systems…and the toppings are the applications. Essentially we are the one-stop shop providing the guts of the electronic products.”
In 2012 Weili Dai was selected to give the 2012 College of Engineering’s Commencement speech at UC Berkeley. I had the pleasure to sit on the stage with the other faculty in the College of Engineering to hear her speech and recognize our graduates and their families and friends. Her youngest son, Nicholas, graduated this year with a degree in electrical engineering. She talked about the joy of seeing her first son Christopher graduate from UC Berkeley with a degree in electrical engineering in 2010 and reflected on holding him in her arms when he was one month old when her husband Sehat Sutardja received his doctorate in electrical engineering on the same stage. I was inspired by the talk as were the students, who gathered around her afterwards.
Weili proudly considered herself a geek in college because she was focused on her academic work. Yet she emphasized the importance of teamwork for success in industry and used her experience as a semi-professional basketball player to illustrate this concept. “You have to be strategic in teamwork. You must always keep your eyes on the goal (getting the basketball in the net) while keeping your eyes wide open to everything happening around you. When you pass the ball you have to see the big picture and find the right opportunity in order to win.” She offered to stage a basketball game with the UC Berkeley student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers in future.
In a follow-up interview I had with Weili Dai recently at her offices at Marvell, she emphasized that women can lead the tech industry but they need to “embrace their inner geek“ by developing their technology skills and leveraging their differentiators. For example, Weili emphasized to me that women are particularly suited for the teamwork and human-centered designs skills needed to produce successful twenty-first century technologies. She reflected that “they can pull in their family experiences and their natural talent for connectivity.” She also believes engineers with a sense of style provide an edge for women; clearly she is the ultimate role model for all of these qualities.
What’s her future vision for Marvell? She envisions R&D playing a larger role: “In the next wave of our technology will be to develop smart devices that have pipes to pump the real world through digital interfaces in 3D environments.” She envisions Marvell technologies providing “one stop shopping” for the human-centric technologies, such as for tangible surfaces for video communication or the next generation of smart homes.” As part of this strategy Marvell just recently entered in a partnership with Google to transform TVs into smart devices that can provide a connected multimedia communication experience in the home, at work and while traveling.
For more information, see the Engineering Pathway’s resources on Computer Science. For related educational resources, visit the Computer Science, Electrical Engineering and disciplinary community or the Teamwork and the Broadening Participation in Computing interdisciplinary communities.