Interviewed by Ron Dennison on 2018-02-27 in Mountain View, CA X8519.2018
© Computer History Museum
This oral history records Doctor Gordon Hughes’s contributions in the field of magnetic recording technology at Xerox and at Seagate, and as a successful researcher and educator at the Center for Magnetic Recording Research, a joint university-industry research center at the University of California at San Diego. He is credited with advancing the technology development of hard disk drives and their early product development at the start of Seagate Technology in the early 1980s, where he made major contributions to Seagate’s success. He is also the author of a personal adventure novel relating events in his career, especially those at Seagate Technology, entitled “Hard Drive! As the Disk Turns.”
Born in West Los Angeles, to an attorney father and a mother that managed the personnel department of a department store, and Gordon went to public schools in West Los Angeles, Hamilton High School, and to Caltech, and so lived in Pasadena through his undergraduate and graduate years. He has a Bachelor of Science in Physics and a PhD in Electrical Engineering both from CalTech.
Gordon had the good fortune to attend the school during the years when both Linus Pauling and Richard Feynman were on the faculty and tells a number of anecdotes about them.
His first job after graduate school was with North American Rockwell where he worked on the minuteman missile system. His work involved an early hard drive with only 32 KB of memory that used perpendicular recording! He then left the defense industry to continue work on hard disk drives at Xerox-Librascope which was making a 2314 plug compatible drive. He designed the recording channels, the electronics, and the disks and recording heads for these products. His experience at Xerox with very early thin film plated cobalt disks and recording channels led ultimately to a job offer at Seagate Technology as Director of Magnetic Recording Technology.
Gordon worked with Doug Mahon, Al Shugart, Finis Conner and Tom Mitchell at Seagate and again tells a number of interesting and insightful anecdotes about these industry luminaries.
Gordon and his team were responsible for the integration of Grenex and its thin film disk technology into Seagate products. The result was that Seagate was the first to market in volume with thin film disk based hard disk drives. These disks essentially allowed doubling of the recording density and thus doubling of the drive capacity for the same number of heads and disks. This move established Seagate as a market and technology leader. Gordon later in his Seagate career also helped make the company one of the early adopters of Partial Response Maximum Likelihood recording channel technology.
Tiring of the boom and bust cycles of the high technology industry, Gordon next moved to a position at the University of California San Diego’s Center for Magnetic Recording Research. There he worked with Shelly Shultz, Neal Bertram and Jack Wolf among others. One of his major projects there was improving the level of reliability prediction afforded by the Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology (S.M.A.R.T.). He also worked on Bit Patterned Media (BPM) and Secure Erase.
Gordon has had a long standing relationship with Jim Lemke which may have resulted in several of his job offers, but certainly resulted in his becoming a private pilot with over five thousand hours and many, many enjoyable trips with his wife in their turbo Mooney. light, single engine airplane.
Gordon’s advice to young technologists is to go into data storage; it’s a great career.
* Note: Transcripts represent what was said in the interview. However, to enhance meaning or add clarification, interviewees have the opportunity to modify this text afterward. This may result in discrepancies between the transcript and the video. Please refer to the transcript for further information – http://www.computerhistory.org/collections/catalog/102738750
Visit computerhistory.org/collections/oralhistories/ for more information about the Computer History Museum’s Oral History Collection.
Lot number: X8519.2018
Catalog number: 102738751
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