Profile of Distinction: Sun Choe

Photo of Sun Choe

An Interview with Sun Choe
President, Norcomp SC

Interviewed for the Fall 2017 ECE Current newsletter

Perhaps surprisingly for someone who founded his own company and has operated it successfully for more than twenty years, Sun Choe (BS ’86) never saw himself as a born
entrepreneur. It was only while studying for his degree at UCSB that he realized, “I wanted to apply my technical education and experience in the business world.”

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Choe grew up in Los Altos as the son of a Silicon Valley electrical engineer, but he entered the UCSB College of Engineering only after doing well in a few engineering classes. Even then, he recalls, “I chose ECE as my major not necessarily thinking about future jobs or what was the hot field at the time. I didn’t know much about engineering.”

He chose UCSB because it was far enough from home to allow a degree of independence — in that pre-cell phone era he would speak to his parents only every couple of weeks on a pay phone in the dorm hallway. He also thought that at UCSB, he could balance the social and academic aspects of school. Finally, he said, “You can’t beat the weather.”

After graduating from UCSB he worked on the Maverick missile at Hughes Aircraft. He then spent time in semiconductor sales at Integrated Device Technology, and in sales and sales management at several semiconductor companies. He started Norcomp Southern California in 1996, inspired by an industry trend at the time.

“Semiconductor suppliers were moving toward using independent sales organizations or manufacturers reps,” he recalled, “but very few reps were technically driven or had an engineering sales team. All of my sales team are engineers, mostly with some kind of design experience, so they can relate to the engineers who are their customers.”

Members of his sales team help companies solve technical challenges or provide solutions for them — perhaps a smaller footprint, reducing power use, decreasing cost, or achieving better integration, enhanced firmware/software, or advanced functionality. “Sales engineers have to quickly and efficiently ascertain their customers’ challenges and how they can provide value in the product development process,” Choe said.

He said that his experience studying ECE supplied him with many skills and tools to succeed in business. “It provided me with the base knowledge to deal with my own employees and manufacturers we work with — so, the ability to understand the products, not only the products we’re selling, but also the ones our customers are building today. That’s essential in our business.”

Specifically at UCSB, he developed public speaking skills through class participation, clubs, and social activities. “People might think that they need those skills only in sales and marketing positions, but in every area of engineering, you are involved with group projects, with representatives from other companies, with people in your own company, and with your customers. So, you have to be able to convey technical thoughts, concepts, and ideas clearly. That skill can take you a long way.”

He found that his student internships “provided valuable exposure to personal likes and dislikes in terms of work environment and job functions,” and that team project work helped him develop his ability to work effectively in a collaborative group. “There can be multiple mutual co-dependencies in business, as there are with partners in completing a lab assignment,” he said. “The most successful people in sales and business possess leadership skills; their ability to convey their strategic direction can make huge differences between winning and losing.”

He advises ECE students who want to pursue careers in the industry to take chances and develop multiple skills. And during visits to UCSB to speak to students about engineering careers, he said, “I try to instill in them the idea that an engineering degree does not limit you to a technical position, but allows you the latitude to explore other interests as well.”