Charles C. (Rocky) Rhodes

For his international reputation for innovation and creativity in the design of visual computer systems, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Charles C. (Rocky) Rhodes.

Co-founder and Chief Engineer
Silicon Graphics Inc.
BSIE '75, MSIE '78

Rhodes bust

On Silicon Graphics' early days

One story captures the spirit of those days. When I left Stanford to help found Silicon Graphics, 10-megabit ethernet was just starting to take hold. The company didn't have a driver for the 10-megabit ethernet that we had just had strung throughout our facility. I had never written a Unix device driver before, and neither had Tom Davis, one of my co-workers, but we figured, "How hard can this be?"

So we took our existing 3-megabit ethernet driver and kind of beat on it until it seemed to work. The only trouble with it was that it didn't quite work: it would get hung up after a sustained period of use, and we could never figure out how to fix it. So instead of fixing it, we wrote a separate little way into our device driver to shut everything down and restart the system again.

But whenever it did that, whatever was going on the computer network at the time would just get destroyed. We'd all be using the network; then things would slow down and finally grind to a halt. Somebody would yell to Tom or me, "Hey, the network's not working anymore!" and we'd go, "Okay, just a second." Then we'd run our little program, everything would go down and then back up again, and things would be fine. But if you didn't happen to hear the guy shout or you happened to be doing something else on the network at the time, it just got yanked out from under you.

On the most surprising thing about his career

As a student I thought I knew what subject areas I liked-math and science-but it took me until the age of 27 to find out that computers could ignite this intellectual passion. It took that long for me to find that niche. I can remember, growing up, seeing people going to work year after year and feeling that they weren't excited about their jobs. I feel fortunate that after poking around awhile, I was able to find a job in an industry that I was tremendously excited about. That's where the risk-taking aspect of my personality worked for me. Leaving a good, steady job at Procter & Gamble and moving out to Silicon Valley was one big adventure.

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On how he's changed since his student days

As a student I was interested in practical, short-term things-getting a good grade on a particular exam so that I'd get a good grade for the course so that my GPA would be high and I could get my degree and then a good job. I didn't really give much thought to the bigger picture or take full advantage of my educational opportunities. I wish I'd learned a foreign language, taken some literature courses, studied more science-all the things that I have a passion for now.

Now I have the desire to broaden myself and give back. The past couple of years, my career has taken a back seat, and I've become much more interested in the big issues of life: meaning and significance. I read a book called Halftime, by Bob Buford, and in it he speaks of changing your focus from one of success to one of significance-to those things in life that you really think count. He quotes Kierkegaard: "The thing is to understand myself to see what God really wishes me to do, to find the idea for which I can live and die."

If I could change people's outlook, I would encourage them to honor the things that they really value-the big issues-rather than thinking as narrowly as I did about college and career.

On family and community involvement

I try really hard to put the demands of my family first. Gabriel is 4 and will be in kindergarten next year. Bianca is 6 and is a first-grader this year. Dustin is my oldest and is a 9-year-old third-grader. My wife, Diane, is a great partner who holds me accountable for these family commitments and reminds me when my life starts tilting the scales toward busyness and away from those commitments I value the most.

Over the last couple of years I've volunteered with several organizations, in addition to my work with Highway Productions [a studio that produces video series for the Christian market]. I'm on technical advisory boards for the Children's Discovery Museum in San Jose and the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, have published a book with an old friend, serve on an engineering advisory committee for Purdue, and have done a bit of computer consulting.



Chief Engineer. Co-author of IRIS showcase, a presentation package incorporating 3-D graphics, full-color images, text, audio, and video. Company-wide leader and evangelist for digital media technology. Sixteen-bit DAT-quality audio support, video option boards available at product introductions, bundled video input, and various third-part SW and HW products resulted from this effort. Chief engineer of Digital Sight and Sound, the SGI division responsible for the Indy personal workstation, the industry's first personal workstation with bundled video camera. Chief engineer for R&D.
Principal Engineer. Led investigation and implementation of MIPS RISC technology in company's first RISC workstation. Key contributor to the personal IRIS, the industry's first under-$20,000 3-D interactive graphics workstation. Led design team that generated the original concepts incorporated into the Indigo personal workstation, the industry's first under-$10,000 3-D interactive graphics workstation with support for digital media.
Member, technical staff. Helped design and implement the prototype for the IRIS 1000 graphics terminal. Co-author and original implementor of the IRIS Graphics Library, now an industry standard graphics interface, the Open GL. Principal architect and implementor of the industry's first window manager with support for interactive 3-D color graphics.
Co-founder, Silicon Graphics.
Systems Analyst, Procter & Gamble. Internal consultant with Analytics and Graphics group for the corporation's manufacturing facilities worldwide.

BSIE '75, MSIE '78, MSIA '79, Purdue; completed coursework for PhD in industrial engineering at Purdue and for PhD in computer science at Stanford