Tech Graduate Became Electrical Engineering Entrepreneur
Albuquerque, N.M. June 1, 2010 – The study of electronics has become more than just a career for 1985 New Mexico Tech graduate Chris Henderson.
The Albuquerque native is the owner and operator of his own company, Semitracks Inc., which specializes in educational training in the semiconductor industry.
Chris Henderson, 1985 graduate of New Mexico Tech, in his office in Albuquerque. After 17 years at Sandia, Henderson started his own company.
Henderson started Semitracks in 2001 after working for 17 years at Sandia National Laboratories. He felt like the industry was prepared for a niche company that provides professional training in fabrication, failure analysis and process engineering.
When he matriculated at New Mexico Tech in the early 1980s, Tech did not offer a bachelor’s in electrical engineering. Henderson earned his degree in physics with an electronics option.
Tech was in a transition period on several fronts. In facilities, the campus had not expanded in step with the growing student population, which had reached 1,200.
“The old Student Union was about the size of my office,” Henderson said. “Just a little snack bar and a game room. Workman Center was only one floor. Tech is much better equipped now. Back then, the equipment was like World War II surplus.”
Henderson said he found mentors in the physics department in Dr. Vern LeFevre and Dr. Steve Sherry. He was made lasting friends who he still stays in contact. He was active in the Baptist Student Union, which periodically joined with students from other N.M. universities for outreach projects.
“Back when it was safe to do mission work in Juarez,” he said, “we worked at orphanages, helping repair facilities and building playground equipment.”
New Mexico Tech was also in a transition in culture.
“The 1970s were very freewheeling – almost out of control,” Henderson said. “Tech had quite a reputation as a party school. In the 1980s, Tech kind of grew up and developed a more civilized environment. But there was still a clash of the old culture and the new culture.”
Chris Henderson of Semitracks Inc. explaining his company with a few visual aids -- semiconductors.
Much like today though, most students came to Tech to study science and engineering and prepare for a career.
“It’s a difficult school where you go to study,” he said. “When I first visited tech, I found that it was a good school and a good value. And that’s still true today.”
Henderson considered other engineering schools – Stanford, Rensselaer Polytechnic and Rice. Ultimately, he decided the cost of those schools was not justified. He graduated from Tech without debt and started his career with Sandia.
In 1990, he completed his master’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of New Mexico, where he was at the top of his class.
“I recommend Tech because it’s a school where you get in-depth level of discovery and critical thinking to help you contribute to society,” he said. “Plus, it’s a reasonable cost.”
After 17 years at the national lab, Henderson decided to start his own business because he had been teaching classes at Sandia and felt like the time was right to start his own business. In retrospect, the time could have been more wrong.
“We made the jump in 2001, which was a horrible time,” he said. “After 9-11, no one wanted to buy new services.”
Despite the bad timing, Semitracks weathered the storm in 2001 and again had to survive lean times when the economy turned sour in 2008-09.
The main employees include Henderson, his wife, Teri, who runs the financial side, and their son, Jeremy, who is the company’s information technology guru.
The Hendersons all play a role in the Semitracks. They are Chris, Teri and son Jeremy.
Semitracks also employs business development managers in Austin, Texas, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a course administrator and several web developers in Albuquerque, and a programmer in Fairbanks, Alaska.
The company offers training courses around the world that are open to professionals. Henderson and his instructors also provide in-house training for larger companies. Some of the courses are also offered on-line. Semitracks also provides a training module that customers can embed on their own websites to train their employees and customers.
His customers fall into three categories. Small to mid-sized semiconductor manufacturers avail themselves of Semitracks’ services. Also, Henderson finds customers among users of integrated circuits, including defense contractors like Northrop Grumman, automotive suppliers like Bosch and corporate manufacturers like Dell and HP. The third category is companies that supply equipment that use circuits, like Novellus
Through the business, Henderson gets to travel the world on occasion, although he often hires instructors to deliver classes in various locations.
“Sometimes it’s difficult, but it gives me satisfaction to know that we are providing a meaningful service to the industry,” he said.
In his own way, Henderson serves as an unofficial ambassador and recruiter for New Mexico Tech. Through his church and family connections, he regularly encourages teen-agers to pursue careers in science and engineering and to consider New Mexico Tech.
As one example, Rachel Clements, a 2010-2011 Macey Scholar at Tech, decided to come to Tech after Henderson encouraged her to do so.
“I always tell kids to pursue science and engineering because those careers make us more productive,” he said. “We have enough lawyers. Science and engineering are ways to help the nation be more productive. Discovering new things pushes us further. All these little things help our nation succeed.”
– NMT –
By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech