As graduation creeps up on the more than 10,000 seniors expected to graduate from California State University, Northridge in May, some will not have a definite idea of where their future will lead. Alumnus Michael Brown was one of those students. After graduating from the campus in 1973 with a degree in kinesiology, Brown had no idea that his career would take him to the top of Silicon Valley.
Brown entered CSUN as a psychology major, but after taking multiple classes on the subject, he realized that a career in psychology would be difficult without a doctorate. He switched to kinesiology, where he explored a number of fields, from physical therapy to independent study courses, which included lab work and helping people with cerebral palsy. After a while, however, Brown realized that the field was not for him, and he went to the student center to learn about other careers that might interest him. The counselors recommended that he explore a career in sales, as many kinesiology majors had extrovert personalities that made them a good fit for that field.
Drawing on his experience as an electronic technician in the United States Army reserves during the Vietnam War, Brown began his sales career in Dallas at Texas Instruments, a company that sold semiconductors. The large scale of the company meant that Brown had to attend many classes and seminars to learn about the different facets of the industry, but he saw this education as invaluable when it came to advancing his career, he said.
After a few years, Brown decided to branch out to a smaller company where he could make a name for himself. This decision came at a time when the Japanese technology industry was booming, and he took a job as a salesman for a then-small company called Hitachi. Over the course of 15 years at the company, he enjoyed great success, rising from salesman to vice president of sales.
But after some time as an executive during the 90’s, Brown craved another challenge, so he made a move to work for a Silicon Valley-based startup, Quicklogic. He helped to take the company public, and the experience left a profound impression on him. He now recommends that everyone take classes in business and finance if the opportunity presents itself.
After Quicklogic, Brown went to work for Oki, a Japanese company dealing primarily with computer hardware. He attributes his hiring there to his previous experience working at Hitachi, as well as dealing with Japanese business customs and people. This kind of experience is something that Brown sees as invaluable when it comes to securing a job in today’s market.
“One thing I would tell graduating seniors is, take time to get to know people,” he said. “You make a lot of friendships during your undergraduate career, so be sure to spend sincere time with people maintaining those relationships. You never know where these connections will get you.”
Today, Brown works with a number of small startup companies, primarily dealing with the “Internet of Things”, which is the linking together of devices, vehicles, buildings and other items that are embedded with electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity, as well as some consulting work.
He never expected that one recommendation from the student center could lead him on a path to the board rooms of Silicon Valley, Brown said. But one thing remained certain — by exemplifying the CSUN values of hard work in any and every aspect of his life, Brown was able to distinguish himself as a terrific role model for young Matadors who may not be sure where life will take them.