Profile of Distinction: Jeff Blokker

Photo of Jeff Blokker

An Interview with Jeff Blokker
Founder & CEO, Sandhill Software Development

Interviewed for the Fall 2013 ECE Current newsletter

  • Degrees: B.S. '80 and M.S '84, UC Santa Barbara, Electrical Engineering and M.S. '10, Stanford, Financial Math
  • Industry / State Agencies: Sandhill Software Development, Founder & CEO (2002-present); CablesSoft, Inc., Founder & CEO (1984-2002)
  • Engineering Interests: material, software development, networks including wireless and advanced computing
  • UCSB Service (1996-present): Member UCSB Engineering Deans Cabinet; Member UCSB Engineering Advisory Committee; Member Board of Directors UCSB Center for Engineering Entrepreneurship and Engineering Management
  • UCSB Awards: 2013 College of Engineering Outstanding Alumni Award

UCSB Side Notes:

  • In the mid 1980s, the endowed Donald W. Whittier Chair in EE was founded by the Mericos Foundation to support teaching and research activities of a distinguished faculty member in the CoE. The foundation was established in conjunction with the estate of Donald Whittier, who is the father of Joanne Whittier Blokker, Jeff's mother. Nobel Laureate Prof. Herb Kroemer held the Whittier Chair until 2012. Prof. Umesh Mishra was named the Whittier Chair in 2013.

Jeff Blokker completed PhD course work in Electrical Engineering and was a research assistant under Nobel Laureate Herbert Kroemer investigating GaAs device fabrication at UCSB. He left school with a Masters degree in 1984 to form a corporation, CableSoft Inc., that he ran as CEO for 18 years. He has a broad engineering background with expertise in material, software development, networks including wireless and advanced computing. In 2010 he completed a Masters degree in Financial Mathematics at Stanford University.

What do you think UCSB’s engineering program strengths are – particularly in electrical engineering?

There’s more growth here than I’ve seen anywhere else. I think the power and the quality of the research at UCSB and the professors at UCSB are more concentrated, meaning they do more with a lot less resources. There’s more vitality in the research in the engineering department at UCSB than I’ve seen in any other place.

What do you think of research opportunities for undergraduates and graduate students?

At UCSB you can get connected to the top researchers. You can specialize and get a really in-depth experience in the field that you’re interested in. You may even try others that you didn’t realize you were interested in and go in an entirely different direction. I think the diversity of this school really makes it stronger than other universities.

Tell us more about your time spent with Herb Kroemer as a graduate mentor before he was awarded the Nobel Prize.

Herb Kroemer was really the teacher you had to impress if you wanted to go on. His classes were notoriously tough but also notoriously thorough. I learned a lot of things from him: to take pride in your work, to work hard and the quality of work. It was really his leadership that set a standard for the entire device fabrication department and it took the engineering school where it was to where it is today.

Do you have any advice to entrepreneurial students who are going to be graduating soon?

You need to figure out what the market is and how the market works rather than just going out and developing an engineering idea. You also need to talk to people who have been in business to see whether or not your idea will flourish. The Technology Management Program (TMP) has a business plan competition. It has actually spawned new businesses and allowed these young entrepreneurs to gather feedback about their business plans.

You and your family have generously given back to UCSB Engineering over the past 20 years. What motivates your
investment in your alma mater?

We’re actually very proud to speak of everything that we’ve done. The money has been spent in various different places around Santa Barbara, California, and the world. I would encourage ECE alumni to come back if they have the opportunity and find something that interests them and spend the time to make a simple donation because it will pay back beyond what you can imagine.

Any advice to your fellow Engineering Alumni in getting involved with the College of Engineering?

I would suggest going back and figuring out what you’re interested in and exploring it at the University with the professors. There may be opportunities there for alumni to contribute and it could be contribution by money, time, effort, or in any way that makes you feel good, but I definitely think that the time and money spent here is a good investment.

Any advice to new freshmen who might be looking to make the most out of their career but are just starting off?

Don’t be afraid that you don’t know what you want to do. If you don’t know what you want to do, explore all the different avenues that you might imagine you want to do. College is the time to find yourself and there are so many doors here at UCSB, you should open as many as you can and don’t waste the time because typically, your college years are the best years of your life.