What were your inspirations to start Zeidman Consulting and Software Analysis and Forensic Engineering Corp.?
Both companies were the result of serendipity rather than actual planning. After a few years in the industry, designing chips for companies, I grew disappointed with the lack of opportunities to learn and experiment. I tended to be pigeonholed into working on small, well-defined projects that no longer offered me a challenge. I decided to leave engineering and write the “Great American Novel,” but I needed cash and saw how well consultants were paid. So I made up a card that said “Consultant” on it and shopped around my hardware and software design services. Suddenly I was getting interesting, challenging work and paid much better than before. So I stayed in engineering (with occasional explorations into other fields). That became Zeidman Consulting.
Eventually, I went from designing stuff to reverse engineering stuff for intellectual property litigation. In the process of doing that, I was asked to compare software source code to find copying. The work was excruciatingly tedious and painstakingly slow, but I got paid per hour so you’d think I’d just put up with it and complain all the way to the bank like many other consultants. Instead, I automated the process and found that there were really no useful tools like this on the market, so I created CodeMatch®, which eventually expanded into a suite of tools called CodeSuite®. I kept improving the tools with feedback from other consultants and rigorous testing. My consulting business began growing because lawyers discovered that I could get more precise results in much shorter time than anyone else. They didn’t really care if it was due to better technology or black magic. I eventually spun the tools into Software Analysis and Forensic Engineering Corporation (SAFE Corp.) so that I could license them to other consultants besides myself.
Both companies continue to grow.
What are the books you have authored? Can you tell us more about them?
I’ve written a number of engineering books that I’m proud of, like “The Software IP Detective’s Handbook,” my book on software forensics, but I think the more interesting ones are my three novels. The first was “The Amazing Adventure of Edward and Dr. Sprechtmachen.” It’s a young adult novel about an inventive young boy and a strange scientist/engineer who become friends, blast off in a rocket to Pluto, and accidentally start a worldwide race war that they need to figure out how to stop. It started out as a story to my son. We would go on trips to visit relatives and he’d get restless on the trip home. This particular story sounded like it would make a good novel so I wrote it.
My second novel was “Horror Flick” about a movie that’s so bad, people die watching it. I just like old B horror movies. My wife was into Stephen King novels, and I thought I’d give it a try with a silly, scary story. It’s a lot of fun. It won an award at the Hollywood Film Festival where I walked the red carpet with Harrison Ford, Patrick Swayze, Penny Marshall, Sandra Bullock, and a lot of other celebrities.
My most recent novel is “Good Intentions,” about a future world where the government takes care of everything for you. It’s been called a funny “Atlas Shrugged” and also been favorably compared to “Animal Farm,” which is really flattering. I’ve been favorably compared to John Stewart, Monty Python, and even Voltaire. There’s a small cult following for the book.
Aside from being a successful entrepreneur, you are also a film producer. Can you tell us about the films you produced?
When I was transitioning from employee to consultant, and trying to figure out what to do with my life, I started taking film classes at De Anza College in Cupertino. They actually have a great program and some graduates have become very successful in the film business. I made a number of short films that won awards, but I found that making it in Hollywood is as tough as they say. I wasn’t willing to move down there, and I know some very talented people who had one success and were then abandoned down there. So I stayed up here and continue to write screenplays. I’ve had a few nibbles but no bites. I continue to win awards, though, which feeds the ego but not the stomach.
The Santa Clara Valley Section of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) recognized you with its Outstanding Engineer Award in 2015; can you tell us more about this award and how it feels being an Outstanding Engineer awardee?
I was really flattered to be nominated twice and receive the award twice. Most recently I went on to win the regional award. It’s gratifying to have the respect of my peers. I won for my pioneering work in software forensics. I’m most proud of that work because of all the things I’ve done, software forensics has had the most real-world impact. Still, I hope that my best work is still ahead of me.
Your August 2016 article at Embedded.com was entitled “Was DOS copied from CP/M?” Can you answer that question in a few sentences?
I can answer in one word: “No.”
I’ve done two exhaustive analyses of the two early microcomputer operating systems, and the results came out the same. DOS was not copied from CP/M. Still, there are a lot of people who don’t believe the result because the stories of copying have been around for a long time. I have a lot of respect for the genius of Gary Kildall who created CP/M, and Microsoft owes a lot to his pioneering work, but there was no copying of code. I’m so certain that I’m offering two $100,000 prizes to anyone who can show copying. So far no one has come forward with any evidence.
You are a busy person, considering the number of businesses you own. Do you still have time for yourself and your family? What are your hobbies outside of work?
I don’t have hobbies, I have obsessions. It’s really hard for me to get excited about something unless I strive to be excellent at it. I have a hard time doing something just for the fun of it. The fun is striving for excellence. When I get interested in something, I belly flop into it. At some point, I try to sell my product or service because a significant measure of excellence is to make money at something. It may not always be a direct correlation—some great stuff never sells and some real crap does sell for reasons I can’t figure out. So when I want to write a novel, I write it and then start a publishing business to see if people will buy it. When I design a funny novelty item, I produce the Silicon Valley Napkin and then start a novelty item company to manufacture and sell it.
But I do have a good social life and family life. I like meeting interesting people, so I go out of my way to meet accomplished people and learn from them. My wife Carrie is an artist and a workaholic like me. I get up at about 7 each morning and work until around midnight. She gets up later, around 10 a.m. At midnight we meet for a little television to clear our minds before bed. But we’ve always made time for vacations. We go on art collecting cruises, visit historical sites around the world, go SCUBA diving, and even skydiving. It’s hard for us to just go shopping or talk a walk or do anything passive because before long she gets ideas for a new painting or I start thinking of a new invention or a story I want to write and soon we’re back home working on these things.
What does your office look like?
I’m actually an extremely organized person—you have to be to do all the things I do—but over the years I’ve learned to live with some amount of chaos (as seen in my home office). Life is messy, but I do my best to organize my little spot in it and not let the surrounding disarray bother me (too much).
This is Bob's Office looks like. Batman is guarding the place together with a troll. :-)
...and this is his home office.
What’s your favorite food?
I like a nice, medium well, juicy, marbled steak!
What future do you see for young electronics engineers?
On the one hand, there are an increasing number of really exciting opportunities for EEs in our high tech world. On the other hand, I see educational programs being dumbed down in the effort to encourage more students to become engineers and scientists. This is wrong. We need to encourage students who are excited by solving really hard problems and coming up with new ways of creating things. We need to encourage students who hate failure but are willing to pick themselves up afterward and renew the struggle toward their goals. We need to encourage students who have the discipline to study complex facts and equations while also having the imagination to look at problems in unconventional ways. Both skills are important. And we need to be truly blind to a person’s color, ethnicity, origin, gender, and religion. We need to stop pushing students into science and engineering in order to meet diversity quotas so that we can feel good about ourselves. This is why I’ve set up the Zeidman Award for computer science and electrical engineering achievements by middle school students in the Santa Clara Valley. It’s completely merit based. It’s given me the opportunity to meet and encourage some really brilliant students, many of whom will go on to accomplish great things in engineering.
Is there anything you’d like to say to young people to encourage them to pursue engineering?
I’d say that if you enjoy solving tough problems, engineering is hard, fun, exciting, and ultimately very satisfying. Pick something in your life that you’d like to fix, study it, test different solutions on paper, and then build it. Always learn from your failures and never rest on your successes. If you do that, engineering can be a great lifelong career that offers a lot of opportunities for success in many different ways. And it pays well.
- The Way I Work: Interview with Natasha Baker, founder of SnapEDA
- The Way I Work: Interview with Todd Dust, Senior Staff Systems Engineer at Cypress Semiconductor
- The Way I Work: Interview with Bel Haba, an engineer with 400 patents
- The Way I Work: Interview with Robin Williamson, VP of Engineering at Teralytics