One Word Brought the Team Together

Apr 14, 2005
Naoki Asami, Editor-in-chief of Nikkei Electronics
By Naoki Asami, Editor-in-chief of Nikkei Electronics

Did you have any concerns in carrying out this project?

We all have our own realities, such as quarterly goals to meet or solving the most recent product issues. We cannot help but being shortsighted in thinking that way. Honestly, I was not really confident that I could find engineers who could embrace such far-fetched, bold ideas and share this dream of ours. To me, this was not just an empty wish, but something that was logically sensible. Well then, would I be able to win the empathy of top-level engineers? I wasn't sure. This was the kind of a project that could create a new history, and so I needed to have everything in place -- the right people, a substantial amount of time for a project that could last for some years ahead, and drawing out management decisions from the participating companies to pour management resources -- all needed to be there at the global level and transcend the framework of a single company.

And you chose Toshiba and IBM as your partners.

I was rather optimistic in getting support out of Toshiba, as I knew a lot of people there through the PS2 project. In addition to Toshiba, I wanted IBM to be a part of this project, as this project was all about setting off a paradigm shift. Some say I went after IBM because they had the SOI technology, or because they had PowerPC technology, but these weren't the reasons. These two technologies are undoubtedly important in realizing Cell, but what mattered most to me was to work with a partner that could really share with us the strong determination to change computing history. We all know that IBM is the leader of the computer industry. The company created the era of the mainframe with System/360. As the word "PC" once almost meant exclusively "IBM PC," PC technologies originated from IBM technologies. In other words, IBM had always been there in the history of computers. And so, IBM was indispensable for this project to create the next computing paradigm.

Was IBM really cooperative from the beginning?

They really were; they orchestrated an all-star team for us. It was like lining up an Olympic athlete-class of engineers. I was really thrilled by their enthusiasm.

It must be hard to mesh the vectors of the different companies.

I myself had initially thought it would be. I thought there would be some kind of strains, in one way or another. But the engineers consolidated the instant they shared a sense of purpose. Actually, there's a story to this. One day, when we were having a meeting, one of IBM engineers - and he was among the top star architects - got so excited that he began to speak very passionately. It happened to be an extraordinary scene for the rest of the IBM engineering team as well. Then, somebody said, "Why are we so hot about this?" and somebody else simply said, "Because it's a once in a lifetime challenge." That stroked the hearts of twenty engineers. It was at this very moment that I realized their vectors got aligned in one direction. Just think of the Apollo program that sent human beings to the moon, or Celera's project to analyze the human genome. Not every engineer has the chance to participate in such projects that can impact the course of the history. Cell is exactly this kind of project. In the day-to-day world, engineers design microprocessors with model numbers. In this project, however, you are to create a chip that has a proper name. You never know, thirty years from now, some members of our team may end up being looked up to just like Shockley or Moore. Wouldn't that be just exciting?

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