A Classic Silicon Valley Story – The Tomco Odyssey Begins

Filmed in December, 2016, Tom Olson discusses how he made his way from upstate New York to Santa Clara Valley and the contributions he and his cohorts made throughout the decades to the cable and telecommunications’ industries. The three plus hours of video that follows below touches upon a number of topics from discrimination in the 50s to the Cold War in Turkey to the early years of Silicon Valley, Tom demonstrates an amazing recall of detail for both circuits and people. And, as great an engineer as he is, it is his ability to understand and serve people’s needs that has served him well through the years.

[Note:  For hiring him at Tomco and letting him make countless mistakes, this author is forever indebted to Mr. Olson.]


Tom Olson – The Early Years in Rochester – From Ham Radio to Pinsetting

Tom Olson talks about his formative years growing up in Rochester, NY, his early tinkering with electronics, his first job and his decision to attend RIT.


The College & Work Coop Years – The 1950s

Olson talks about his time in college, at Rochester Institute of Technology, which was a mix of work and study. Although still a student, he made an impact, designing the first solid-state proximity switch for the Sidewinder missile. Given the nature of the RIT program, most of his classmates were older, which broadened Tom’s perspective. It was also during this time that he made a productive stand against a landlord’s racist rental policy.


Early Career – From Cold War Era Turkey to the beginnings of Silicon/Microwave Valley – The 1960s

Tom Olson spent his early career in New York, Turkey and Germany before finally settling in California. This set the foundation for lasting friendships and experiences that would serve him well in the decades that followed.


The Tomco Days – The 1970s to early 80s

Starting in a garage in 1970, in a classic Silicon Valley way, and with a $25,000 loan to purchase stock in a company that shared his name, Tom Olson explains why he moved from the relative security of Military/Aerospace supplier, Aertech to found a start-up without customers or even a product. He talks about the importance of the early investors, who clearly believed in him and his abilities.

Olson discusses some of the interesting technologies that were being implemented in the still nascent cable industry, such as a two-channel, switched cable system, manufactured by Ameco, and installed in cable systems in Pacifica and Daly City. The relationship he developed with the manager of those systems, Henry Gastman, led to additional work for a new franchise in Fremont.

Olson convinced Gastman and his engineer, Jay Dennis, to take a leap on a new idea for a set-top enabled system in Fremont; one where the carriers were inverted. That system, in addition to selling converters for antenna to headend transmission, led to significant revenue generation in the early days of Tomco.

He explains that the Anaconda cables and amplifiers that were used in the distribution plant didn’t quite live up to their specifications and ultimately cost Gastman his job. One of the many long-term friendships that began in that era was that of Mr. Yoshika Furahata, of the General Corporation (later Fujitsu General). Mr. Furahata led the effort on behalf of General for the manufacture of the set-tops that Tom envisioned and that were implemented in Fremont.


The Catel Days – The 1980s

Olson describes why he believes Catel purchased Tomco, what he learned at Catel and why he decided to leave for a new venture.


Olson Technologies – The 80s to Present Day

Tom Olson discusses the launch of and the operation of Olson Technologies. With Sue as the operations and manufacturing complement to Tom’s engineering and business genius, Olson Technologies synthesized the decades of learning from his previous work and built on those relationships to develop and ship tens of thousands products that shipped worldwide.