An Interview with Mr. Ken Gracey of Parallax, Inc.
by Marvin Mallon
One of the leading suppliers of
is Parallax, Inc. The company
is located in Rocklin, CA — a short
commute from Sacramento. They offer a
complete line of BASIC Stamp modules,
SX chips, and an innovative assortment
of robotics. Parallax has historically
been close to the microcontroller
architectures, which they support. Most
recently, they have put this skill to use by
designing the Propeller processor entirely on their own, transistor by transistor.
The company remains privately owned
and is doing gross yearly sales of approximately eight and a half million dollars.
Two friends, Chip Gracey and
Lance Walley, founded the company in
1987. These longtime acquaintances
shared a mutual interest in computers
and anything dealing with electronics,
especially Apple computers and eight-bit controllers. Lance left the organization about 10 years ago and went on to
start other companies doing advanced
technology design. Chip is the President
of Parallax and Chief of R&D and
engineering operations in the company.
Ken Gracey is the 37-year-old
younger brother of Chip. He is a
vice-president of Parallax and is
responsible for manufacturing, marketing, sales, and support. In 1988, he
was the first employee of Parallax. His
duties included taking orders over the
phone, building cables, and shipping
orders. He left to complete a science
degree at UC Davis and returned to
Parallax in 1997 when the company
had a need for business management.
In a recent interview with Ken, he
responded to the following questions:
Ken: Parallax operates in a 20,000
square-foot building. We have approximately 41 employees including a few
in China and Hong Kong.
M: What is your principal business?
K: Parallax’s main business is as a micro-controller design company, manufacturer, customer support, distributor, and
educator. None of these specialties can
exist without the others. Parallax’s R&D
team focuses on processor design and
layout and development of boards and
sensors to support our core products.
An educational team shows instructors
(high school and college) how to use
our tutorials and microcontroller
products in a classroom. The manufacturing capabilities in our facility include
a full surface-mount and reflow
assembly line, CNC (computerized
numerical control) machining, kitting of
educational products, and stress testing
characterization. The sales, marketing,
and support sections of the company
manage the distribution and support of
Parallax products worldwide.
M: On the personal side, what other
interests or hobbies do you have?
K: Chip’s primary interest is his family.
He enjoys cooking for them and their
friends when they entertain. Church
activities are an important part of his
family life. He gets a lot of pleasure
out of running and other physical
activities. At Parallax, his principal
interest is chip design.
My primary interests are my family,
snow sports and running, metalwork,
and working with people. Parallax is
also a personal interest of mine,
particularly the educational “Stamps in
Class” program and working with our
different distributors and customers.
M: What are your most popular products and when were they introduced?
K: BASIC Stamps, which were first
released in 1993 and remain one of our
most popular products to this day.
Parallax SX microcontrollers — eight-bit
high-speed microcontrollers for which
we’ve provided tools since 1997, and
now chips. Propeller, our own custom
silicon design consisting of eight
processors and a shared memory.
This chip is our most recent product and was released in 2006.
M: Finally, what else would you care
to add about your organization?
K: From a corporate standpoint, our mission is to provide the electronics industry with products that are technically
innovative, unique, and economical.
This also means that we serve the hobbyist, educator, and commercial user all
at once. It’s really rewarding to obtain
feedback from our customers and put it
to use in our company. We strive to treat
customers just like we would like to be
treated and to keep Parallax a flexible,
interesting, and stable place to work for
our team. We are particularly proud
of our employees and recognize
them as friends and part of the
company. Without their efforts, skills,
and motivation to succeed, Parallax
would not exist as it does today. NV
Parallax — exterior
Marvin: How large is your facility
in Rocklin? How many employees
do you have?
599 Menlo Drive, Suite 100
Rocklin, CA 95765
May 2007 67