[BOOK REVIEW] Samsung’s chip master Hwang Chang-gyu describes his journey

Cover of “Encounters with Great Minds” authored by Hwang Chang-gyu [SIGONGSA]

Hwang Chang-gyu helped make Samsung Electronics the largest memory chipmaker in the world. He’s such a pioneer in the semiconductor industry that a theory has been named for him — “Hwang’s Law” — a refinement of the famous “Moore’s Law.”

In “Encounters with Great Minds,” the former of Samsung’s memory business depicts his president’s dramatic journey and describes various encounters with other industry titans including the late Steve Jobs, his successor Tim Cook and Lee Kun-hee, Samsung’s second-generation chairman.

An English edition of the book was published in March, following its initial release in Korean in April 2021.

Hwang led the development of new chips that gave Samsung its control over the industry, and he describes critical behind-the-scenes moments at the company. Among them is the development of the 256-megabit dynamic random access memory (256M-DRAM) chip in 1994, the technological feat that made the company a major player in an industry dominated by Intel and Toshiba at the time.

In that process, Lee Kun-hee showed his tenacious pursuit of becoming the top player in memory chips while ensuring a fair deal of autonomy to Hwang.

Following the successful launch of the 256M DRAM chip, Samsung Electronics gained the upper hand over industry leaders in the US and Japan. The quick pace of development of memory chips gave birth to a new theory observed by Hwang.

At the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in 2002, he announced that memory density would double every year, a more rapid evolution than the widely-accepted Moore’s law.

Intel co-founder Gordon Moore famously observed that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubled about every two years.

Another major triumph for Samsung Electronics was the release of NAND flash chips starting in the early 2000s. Hwang led the drive into the relatively new segment.

He predicted a surge in demand for NAND based on consumers switching to mobile devices from PCs. From that followed big deals with Apple for Samsung Electronics to supply NAND flash for iPods and application processors and DRAMs for early versions of the iPhone.

Hwang led the negotiations with Steve Jobs that started in 2004 and recalls a tense mood.

At one point, he was accompanied by Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, son of Lee Kun-hee and the company’s current leader, who played a critical role in adjusting contract conditions with the late Apple CEO.

Hwang moved on to become leader of R&D strategy team under the former Lee Myung-bak administration and CEO of KT, and the author shares his view on the adoption of 5G, artificial intelligence and big data.

Other encounters include with Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff and Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s holding company.

Born in 1953, the author earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Seoul National University, by a doctorate degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst followed.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [park.eunjee@joongang.co.kr]

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