(Editor's note: This is the full text of the Message to the Graduates from the Doctor of Science Honoris Causa Engr Diosdado "Dado" Banatao at the Academic Convocation during the 80th Commencement Exercises of Xavier University - Ateneo de Cagayan on March 28 at the XU Gymnasium.)
Father Bobby Yap, President of Xavier University,
Bishop Honesto Pacana,
Members of the Board of Trustees,
Faculty and distinguished guests,
Graduating Class of 2019,
I am the son of a rice farmer from a small barrio of Malabbac in Iguig, Cagayan Valley in northern Luzon. My father finished high school and worked a variety of jobs before he left for Guam as an overseas worker. His goal was to earn enough to buy a bigger plot of land so he could support his children through school. Education, to my parents, was key for us to be able to live a better life. He sacrificed for 7 years working as a grocery worker in Guam, came home once a year, saved his salary to be able to buy a rice farm when he returned to the Philippines. My mother, Rosita, was a single parent all those 7 years. Nanang never finished high school. While my father was in Guam, she supplemented the family income by having a small sari-sari store. I have 3 siblings, Rodolfo who became a school teacher and eventually an elementary school principal in our barrio. My brother Vicente finished Electrical Engineering and is now managing a paper mill in Bataan. My sister Fenegunda who finished library science immigrated to Australia and has worked as a librarian.
My grand aunt, Rosa, who we called Mama Osa, was the grade school principal when I was a young boy. She was the one who brought me at barely 5 years old to start first grade. I remember learning math with the use of 20 bamboo sticks that we brought to school. Having graduated valedictorian from elementary school, she saw my potential and convinced my parents to put me at Ateneo de Tuguegarao High School in the nearby town of Tuguegarao, Cagayan. Out of that class of 30 students from elementary school, only two of us went to high school. It was a difficult time for me through high school as I had to live in a small boarding house in Tuguegarao. No family to talk to in a small room at that tender age of 12. On one of my father’s home visit, he bought me a bike to use from the boarding house to school and back.
In my first days at Ateneo, I felt unsure if I would fit in, coming from a small barrio and most of my classmates came from big private schools in town. But the Ateneo system at that time gave us a month to acclimate ourselves and then, gave us an achievement test to see where to place us. When the results were put on the board, I nervously started at the bottom of the list and surprisingly found myself to be in the top tier. I’ve always excelled in Mathematics and that helped. I participated in school organizations such as Sodality of Our Lady and the Sanctuary Society, serving early morning masses. I loved it because after serving mass we were served free breakfast when we served mass. If there is something that I credit my Ateneo education, it is that they taught students how to think. I totally believe that they challenged us and emphasize the critical thinking process. So, I am grateful for my Jesuit education.
Having excelled in Math and Science those high school years, my Jesuit Academic Counselor advised me to take Engineering in college. My father decided that I should attend Mapua Institute of Technology, MIT, as it was the one University that excelled in engineering education. I chose to study Electrical Engineering. I was a very focused student, one who solves every problem at the end of each chapter of the whole book, not once but twice. Being a good student, I was granted a scholarship that allowed me to help cut the cost of my college education. It was still a struggle when rice harvest is damaged by poor weather conditions, then my father would have to borrow money to fund my expenses having to live away from home, in Manila. I was barely twenty when I finished my Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, Cum Laude.
After the board exams, I was expecting to find an engineering design job. The best job offer was at IBM to be a programmer, but that was not my goal. Unexcited about the job offers, I was lucky enough to be selected for the Philippine Airlines Pilot Training School. Nearing completion of my flight training, on one of my visit to Mapua, my former professor in Electronics, gave me a job application for Boeing in the USA. Boeing was designing the 747 and wanted to hire more engineers. I was unsure at first because I enjoyed flying and was close to completion. But one of the senior pilots, a captain advised me to go and take my chances at Boeing. It was in April 1968 when I immigrated to Seattle, Washington. It was also in 1968 when I met my wife Maria who also just immigrated to the US that year. After 6 months at Boeing, I applied to Boeing’s graduate study program where you can attend courses and continue to work at a full salary. They also paid for all my University costs when I passed my courses. It helped that Maria was also a full-time graduate student at the University of Washington, finishing her Masters in Educational Psychology. After another year, I decided that I really wanted to devote my time to full-time study and chose an excellent Engineering School, that’s how I ended up at Stanford University in the Fall of 1971.
Stanford University is in the heart of what is now known as “Silicon Valley.” At first, I was again feeling intimidated. But Stanford, like Ateneo, emphasized that they will train their students to think as part of the process. I was lucky that my high school and graduate school were thinking along the same lines. Again, I had to work hard. It was a good thing that throughout my University of Washington graduate student days, I prepared by taking courses that strengthened my skills for the more demanding courses at Stanford. During those early years, there were no computer science departments, so I worked with my adviser so I can take courses in computer science and combine it with my electrical engineering courses. It was during this time that Maria and I were apart, she was working in Oregon and I was a full-time student in California at Stanford. But, the long-distance relationship worked for us. As they say, “distance makes the heart grow fonder,” missing her that year, we decided to plan a wedding after graduate school at Stanford. We were married in August 1972.
My first design job after graduate school was at the National Semiconductors. I was lucky enough to find a design job in an innovative company who at that time was designing a complex Microprocessor, something that I was excited about. I continued to enhance my design skills from one job to the next, from being a design engineer to managing a group of engineers in designing semiconductor chips. My technological innovations include many “firsts”: developing the first single-chip 16-bit microprocessor-based calculator while working for Commodore Business Machines. That company was able to beat HP and TEXAS Instruments and grew from a revenue of 3 million dollar company to a growth of 100+ million after our calculators came on the market; the first 10-Mbit Ethernet Media Access Control (MSC) and Physical Layer Transceiver Chip while at SEEQ Technology in the early 1980s; the first system logic chipset for the PC-XT and the PC-AT while at Mostron in 1984 and Chips and Technologies in 1985, respectively; the pioneering high speed local bus concept for the PC while at S3 and the first Windows Graphics Accelerator chip while at S3 in 1989. Later as a venture capitalist, I’ve funded the first GPS chipset at SiRF, hard disk controllers at Marvel Semiconductors, the first noise-canceling chip for mobile phones and graphics accelerator chips.
My innovations for the PC made personal computers smaller, more powerful and less expensive. So I’ve been called the “Benevolent Disruptor” by Forbes Magazine. For me, the process of creation and innovations is not only accumulating knowledge in engineering, design, and technology but also understanding of markets. My goal is always to make people’s lives better and find it exciting to see people use my innovations and designs.
After founding three companies, Mostron, Chips & Technologies, and S3, having 2 successfully-listed in Nasdaq, I became an angel investor and eventually founded Tallwood Venture Capital. Having a keen sense of trends and opportunities involving technology solutions for computing and communications, I have funded several very successful companies and serving as Chairman of several of these companies. It is with great pleasure for me to have a profession that I am passionate about. I consider myself as a “Natural Engineer.” It is my passion and obsession that sustained me throughout my career, having to go through many difficult situations.
In the early 1990s after 2 successful start-ups, I began helping my mother country, the Philippines. First as an advisor to then President Fidel Ramos through the Science & Technology Advisory Council for the Philippines (STAC), through other administrations of President Arroyo & Aquino with the Philippine Development Foundation (PhilDev). PhilDev’s 3 pillars are Education, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation. Lobbying government to fund programs like ERDT (Engineering Research for Development of Technology), scholarship program for masters and PHDs; PCARI (Philippine California Advance Research Institutes), a cooperative research program between Philippine universities and UC California universities; and through other grants from USAID, UNDP for training entrepreneurship and helping start-up up businesses succeed.
As a family man, I am also truly blessed to have a wife who supports me, 3 children who remain down to earth and humble. We are blessed with 9 grandchildren who are proud to be Filipino-Americans, who love visiting the Philippines.
It was in early 2000 that my family decided to financially give back to the community. First was helping my little barrio school be the first elementary school to have its own computer center, providing scholarships to outstanding students who succeed to pass science high school exams and providing them college scholarships. In California, through Asian Pacific Fund, we provide college scholarships to outstanding FilAms focused in STEM and through our work with PhilDev, finding ways to help with economic development through establishing and helping technology-based industries. We have established Institutes at UC Berkeley and UP, to do research in solving societal issues that helps developing countries all over the world.
My journey from Cagayan Valley to Silicon Valley is arguably remarkable because I did not inherit wealth, land, or business. Neither did I accomplish it through social media or political connections. I achieved my success through the use of my own intellectual capacity and through strong values of hard work, perseverance instilled by my parents who lived by the soil. I can also firmly say that my accomplishments truly had a positive impact on global industries and economies.
I am very passionate about helping my country, the Philippines, because my being a person was defined here. I cannot forget that I came from here from very humble beginnings. The legacy I want to leave is simply to be remembered as a good person first, an engineer second. I firmly believe that true fortune resides in fortitude, family, and faith.
To all the graduates, if there is anything I would like to share with you, NEVER GIVE UP, STAY FOCUSED on your dreams, it’s OK to fail as long as you get up and continue to fight for your dreams. With hard work and determination, you will get there!∎