Saying Goodbye to Bob

Bob Montgomery¬†was a coworker, friend, and cherished family member to so many of us. But for me, he was also a mentor. He and Janie were responsible for the success of my internship at AMD in the Summer and Fall of 1998 and, as a result, much of my career in software that followed.¬†I don’t think I ever told them what that meant to me. I’ll try now, if it’s worth something.

As I look back on my career over the past 20 years, I’m struck by how much of it was not really a personal choice of mine. Rather, it began with Bob’s decision¬†to bring someone into his work life, to live in his home for six months, and to deliver on a promise to his coworkers that a young business student from CSU Chico could add value to the AMD team. My mentor, it seems, chose me.

Bob came into my life through my wife’s sister, Amanda. In late 1997, Amanda had been working as an usher for the immensely popular Chico Heat baseball team here in Chico. Her skill in serving beers to the premium section caught the eye of the Heat’s closer, Josh Montgomery. One thing led to another and I suddenly had a connection to Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), through Josh’s father Bob. This series of events occurred, as can happen in close-knit families, without me even asking or prodding Bob for an internship. My mother-in-law Lorna probably spoke to Amanda, who asked Janie, who likely mentioned it to Bob and so on. I don’t know the story, because I selfishly never asked.¬† Being twenty-one has it’s downsides.

So, Bob decided that I could use his help and vouched for me at AMD. He decided his input, experience, and guidance was worth passing on to me. What I didn’t know at the time, was that Bob and Janie were to become a huge part of who I am today.

As the summer of 1998 approached, I prepared for an internship at 1 AMD Place, Sunnyvale, CA. Having agreed to take me into their home for an extended six month period, Bob and Janie received me and all of my worldly possessions–predominantly stereo equipment and a gaming computer–to their beautiful home tucked into the forest surrounding Felton, CA. Soon after the Spring semester ended, I began work at AMD.

Fast forward to January. After a busy and stress-filled internship–there was this thing called Y2K that everyone was all freaked out about–I returned to Chico in the Winter to finish up my degree. And in the process, Bob and Janie had become my friends and my family; my Felton Mom and Dad.

I want to thank you, Janie, for all that you did for me. I am so sorry for your loss.

In the short time I was under Bob’s informal mentorship,¬†here are a few things I learned:

  • How to treat your coworkers with respect and to earn their respect in return
  • How authority figures are people too and can even be friends, as were so many to Bob at AMD
  • How to consider, deeply, what others might be thinking as they go through change in a workplace or in life
  • The value of rising early and exercising (I’m still struggling with this one). You’ve never seen someone improvise in a gym like Bob. 7 reps of bench presses, 23 lunges, some time on the bike…you never knew what to expect!
  • How walking Labradors along the beach in Santa Cruz can feed your soul
  • How to make small talk in the car, even during the white-knuckled gauntlet of the Highway 17 morning commute
  • The difference between drinking alcohol to get drunk–a well-honed skill of mine up to that point–and drinking to complement a meal, smooth out a conversation, and make the stress of the day just a bit less sharp
  • How to treat your wife, whom I observed he loved more than life itself (still working on this one too, honey)
  • How to laugh at life
  • And many more

Recently, I have been working as a mentor with ChicoStart, a local startup incubator, to help energize and grow the tech and entrepreneurial community here in Chico. We talk a lot about what mentors can do to better energize and serve startups in the area. One of the recent efforts has been to formalize what makes a healthy mentor/mentee relationship; how does an entrepreneur choose a mentor and so on. This is a challenging topic for us, as we witness promising young minds making the same mistakes we made years ago. Lately, though, I have been thinking: I just need to be more like Bob. To just give and expect nothing in return. To listen, thoughtfully. To help others consider the weight of their decisions and actions. Bob was so effortlessly good at this.

I hope Bob knew, through the years, that my later career progress could all be traced back to these lessons he passed on to me in those six months in Felton. I believe now, in hindsight, that they are my secret weapons.

He was for me, then, the mentor and friend I didn’t know I needed, but without whom I would not be who I am today.¬†I feel lucky to have known him and will miss him greatly.

Thank you.