Interviewed for the Fall 2011 ECE Current newsletter
David Wong received his BSEE, MSEE, and PhD from UCSB. He went on to be involved in multiple start-ups, including D2 Technologies, which he founded in 1993 and for which he is the current CEO and chairman. He helped spearhead the College of Engineering’s Technology Management Program, and he currently serves on three College of Engineering boards. In 2007 Wong was presented with the College’s Alumni Award to acknowledge his generosity and service to the department, college, and university as a whole.
I wasn’t exactly sure what Electrical Engineering was. In high school my grades were good all around. I could have gone into medicine; I almost did. I could have gone into science or engineering. I got some advice that Electrical Engineering was a really flexible undergraduate degree, and that it’s harder to go from science into engineering, but I could go from engineering into science. So I chose Electrical Engineering.
A really big influence was the course work in my junior year. I took a course in engineering analysis from Dr. Gray who actually became a lifelong good friend of mine. He was very inspiring. I wasn’t exactly a tinkering engineer who liked putting things together; I was more of an analytic engineer. I took just as many math courses as I did engineering classes. So when I took analysis, I thought, “oh perfect, the two of them together – it’s practical and it’s math.”
Well for one, I’ve had life long relationships with a number of my professors, who inspired and guided me through my early years. And the other thing that made my experience unique is that my interests were very broad. When I was at UCSB I took a tremendous amount of philosophy classes. One of the philosophy professors ended up being my neighbor and we became very good friends. I took music classes and the music teacher said I was the first engineering student he had in a music class. I think UCSB encourages the kind of environment where I felt free to explore a wide range of interests. And I think that’s been very helpful in my career. Running a business you have to be aware of things like media and social networking; and these are not engineering disciplines. These are sociological, philosophical, and related to language, media and art. So I think engineers today need to branch out beyond math, computer programming, computer architecture, etc, and understand the broad fields of media, communications, languages and more.
In terms of startup and investment, my first start up was really kind of a challenge to myself. I just wanted to see what it was like and whether I might like it. Now I’m involved in about four companies and chairman of three. I get involved and interested in what some of the younger people want to do. I want them to do what I was able to do with the same good advice I got from my investors and partners. And investing really keeps my mind stimulated. Every company eventually has to figure out what it is. Some figure it out, some never do. And there’s a path for the founders also, to discover who they really are and what they really want to do. It’s a very interesting discovery, and a learning and teaching process. I think that’s why it keeps me interested. I don’t actively pursue investments; they come to me. I start out a little interested, then a little more, and then I’m all the way in. That’s how I ended up in 5 or 6 different companies. It was not planned.
At some point as a student you need to think about if you’re a strategic thinker or non-strategic one. And you need both kinds in any company. You need to first decide which kind you are. If you’re a big picture strategic guy, I think the department offers basic training, but it’s up to the individual to pursue other knowledge. If you are going to be working on technology for medicine, for example, you should certainly find out more about medical issues. And if you want to do things with consumers, you need to learn about consumer marketing, branding, and so forth. I think the department offers a framework, but each student needs to pursue his her interests. As a student I got that opportunity because the department was small and nobody had time to stop me from roaming around and exploring different interests on campus, which has proved very useful. I think that breadth of experience is good for strategic thinkers, big picture thinkers.
In terms of giving back, to me, I don’t give back for a reason. Giving is a privilege. Giving is its own reward. I certainly felt UCSB took care of me very well. It was the turning point in my life when I came to UCSB in 1969 from Hong Kong. I had no idea what Electrical Engineering was. I had no idea what a venture capitalist was or what a startup was. And it’s really through UCSB that I got introduced to that world and it has been a very exciting and rewarding experience. I would certainly like to see more students be given the same opportunities I was given.
I work with UCSB for the same reason I get involved in start-ups. It is very exciting to get involved with faculty who are either more senior like myself, working on the same goals as mine, or with junior faculty that have exciting new prospects, and to see all these students with bright futures ahead of them. It’s exciting to be involved with people when they are at the threshold of their career. They have all these opportunities and prospects in front of them. Most of the people I see at UCSB and in start-ups are in their 20s or 30s. It’s a privilege to be involved in that stage of their personal and career development.