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Gordon Bell

Gordon Bell

C. Gordon Bell is a legendary computer designer and architect. He received his B.S.E.E. (1956) and M.S.E.E. (1957) from M.I.T. In 1960, Kenneth Olsen and Harlan Anderson the co-founders of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), recruited Bell to join their start-up. For the next six years (1960-1966), Bell made major contributions to the PDP-1, including designing the first UART chip. He was also the principal architect of the PDP-4 and PDP-6 computers. He then left DEC to join the faculty of Carnegie Mellon University to teach computer science (1966-1972). In 1973, Bell rejoined DEC where he became vice-president of engineering in charge of developing the VAX computer, DEC’s most successful computer. Through out this period, Bell was also a member of the ARPA community. Tragically, Bell suffered a heart attack in 1983, and shortly thereafter resigned from DEC. Not content ‘taking it easy,’ he founded Encore Computer that advanced the state of computer design. Unsuccessful yet not discouraged, Bell next became one of the founders of Ardent Computers in 1986. In 1988 he became vice-president of R&D, the position he held when he agreed to sit for this interview.

Bell also gave me a valuable introduction to Stu Wecker, the creator of DECnet, who I would also interview. As I left his Ardent Computer office, I realized I had triggered his joy of teaching and his justifiable pride in his accomplishments with DEC. It had been a valuable use of my time as well as a lot of fun, to say nothing of how much I had learned.

Keywords: Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), PDP-1, UART chip, PDP-4, PDP-6, VAX

Gordon Bell Interviewed by James Pelkey 6/17/88