Ed Hsu holds the distinction of working at groundbreaking companies that have created and defined technology. In the space of 20 years, Hsu worked for Bell Labs, Pyramid, Oracle, Netscape, and Chinadotcom. Like many tech leaders, he job-hopped, seeking both opportunity and challenges in mastering new technology.
In the process, the 47-year-old Taiwanese-born Hsu became a citizen of the world, logging more miles than he can remember. But it was the required relentless travel that eventually brought the Fremont, CA, technology executive home for good last year—temporarily halting a tech career that reached from the United States to the Pacific Rim.
A fantastic training ground
When Hsu entered the technology rat race, he had little trouble landing jobs, thanks to a strong educational foundation. After graduating from the University of California with a bachelor’s degree in linguistics and mathematics, and a master’s degree in linguistics and computer science, he launched his career at Bell Labs. Hsu held the position of “member of technical staff”—the title given to all software developers at the time. During his seven years there, Hsu discovered UNIX when it was still considered "revolutionary." He was responsible for some commercial uses of UNIX development and witnessed the transition from a 16-bit to a 32-bit to a 64-bit machine.
“Bell Labs was great training,” recalled Hsu. “I learned a lot there. It was my exposure to breakthrough technology.”
In pursuit of a CTO/CIO role, he left Bell and spent the next two years at Pyramid Technology as an engineering manager. Pyramid was a high-end UNIX vendor that was soon sold to Siemens AG and dubbed Siemens Pyramid. Hsu discovered that his passion was truly software, not hardware, while working for the $3 billion open enterprise computing division of Siemens.
“When you work for a hardware company, software is second,” he explained. “I’m a software guy.”
Headed for a tech pinnacle
Hsu went to work at Oracle Corp. in 1991 as a senior director of UNIX development. When Hsu joined Oracle, UNIX accounted for only 10 percent of the company’s revenues. By the time he left Oracle in 1994, UNIX revenues had grown by nearly 90 percent.
Hsu recalls those growth years as extremely exciting.
“I was fascinated with new technology and wanted to be on its crest,” he said.
It was that desire that prompted Hsu to join Netscape as senior director of application programming. The new role again gave him the opportunity to work for a company where advanced technology was “defining new territories.”
“Netscape was the pioneer Internet company,” said Hsu. “It created the Internet shopping mall and cookies, to name only two revolutionary concepts.”
Using Sun Microsystems' Java programming language, Netscape became the first widely used browser designed to run Java applications in 1995. When it went public, it became the hottest IPO in Wall Street history—within a day, a company that had yet to make a profit was valued at about $2 billion.
During his time at Netscape, Hsu ran the Asia business for professional services unit, a sprawling, virtually untapped market. While the challenges were extraordinary, so were the travel demands.
Grabbing the gold career ring
Still striving to reach the top tech executive branch, and realizing he had developed a strong connection to working along the Pacific Rim, Hsu saw an opportunity to grab the career gold ring and still work in a global environment.
The role was CTO/CIO with the primary responsibility for managing data centers at Chinadotcom, Inc., an e-marketing B2B company in Hong Kong.
Hsu loved China and relished contributing to the thriving technology industries sprouting up throughout the Pacific Rim. Yet, the continuing travel requirements—six months in China and six months in the United States—began to take a toll on his personal life. While he loved his job, he missed his wife and three kids, and within a year, he knew it was time to make a much-needed lifestyle change. Hsu quit the full-time job, and he now works in a consulting role while seeking a U.S.-based position that offers the technology and professional challenges his past jobs have provided.
In reviewing his long tech career, Hsu says he’s been extremely lucky to have worked for such contemporary companies. Yet he admits it was often hard getting used to continual overwhelming challenges, both personally and professionally.
“There was constant pressure to ship premature products,” he recalled. “Nothing is more frustrating than when people (bosses or customers) expect everything. It’s unrealistic and sometimes impossible to cope with from day to day,” he added.
A big fallout for many who have had similar careers, he says, is that keeping pace with the technology changes causes many tech leaders to become arrogant and cocky—characteristics that can impede a career.
“It’s a small world, and being cocky can come back to haunt you,” he said. His advice to upcoming tech leaders is to “stay humble and don’t lose touch with the world.”