Date Published: 03-14-2022
Publisher: Open Book
A high tech AI startup, the Russian mafia, and the downfall of a 'resident
Professor Andrija Krstic is a bright man―some would say brilliant―with a
stellar and secure career at one of the best universities in the country,
teaching electronic engineering and pursuing leading edge research in
semiconductor technology. But when an opportunity for financing an
Artificial Intelligence high tech startup presents itself, he embraces the
offer even though the seed money comes from an odd and somewhat suspicious
It all seemed to be too good to be true, but the professor and his
cofounders take all the right steps and successfully grow their startup.
However, in parallel they also discover the truth behind the roots of their
Krstic finds himself trying to balance two disparate worlds―that of a
high-tech Silicon Valley startup racing toward the twenty-first century's
technological future, and that of shady wealth rooted in the collapse of the
The professor knows he must do the right thing for his company. His
reputation and legacy depend on it, not to mention the livelihoods of his
colleagues and employees. And yet he must fend off the pressure from the
Armenian oligarch who has probably told him far too much.
Here and now, I feel
safe. This might be due to the effect that this place has on me more than the
reality of my situation. Hiding in this old house, with its thick stone walls,
double windows and wooden shutters, I feel secure as a mouse in its den.
Outside, I can hear
the rhythmic sound of the waves lapping against the stony shoreline, some
twenty feet from my window, and I can discern the sea, the mountains and the
night sky, all blending into blackness along the Bay of Kotor.
And inside my head, I can
also hear the now distant echoes of excited children—the sounds of my cousins
and myself romping through my grandparents’ seaside home. But that was more
than half a century ago, so far away both in time and experience.
By way of
introduction, my name is Andrija, but my Anglo friends, as well as my
colleagues and neighbors, find the Serbian name hard to pronounce (it’s that
‘j’ toward the end that always confuses) so they have long ago changed it to
Andrew. By now I am quite used to it, or perhaps I am now truly more of an
Andrew than an Andrija.
I am originally from
what used to be Yugoslavia, but my compatriots managed to screw up that nation,
and I was lucky enough to get out before the worst of the bloody
disintegration. I was truly fortunate and after getting my EE degree at the
University of Belgrade, I stumbled into a scholarship that funded my graduate
studies in America. And I have lived there ever since, other than visits to the
Montenegro coastline every couple of years to catch up with family.
And if neither Andrew
nor Andrija works for you, then call me Professor. Everybody does, because I
formerly taught at one of the top engineering schools in the world. But that
seems like another lifetime, even though I left academia only a few years ago.
Good Old Days
Yes, I was a
professor, tenured at a university that many of us believed to be equal or
better than the famous Ivy League schools. Holding the coveted Alfred S. Harris
endowed chair since 2001—an amazing achievement, if I say so myself, for an
academic who at the time had not yet turned forty and with what then seemed
like sufficient funding to pursue leading edge research in my chosen field:
semiconductor technology. I had a state-of-the-art research lab, which at its
zenith was staffed by half a dozen permanent technicians, a couple of associate
professors, two or three visiting researchers, up to eight Ph.D students, a
handful of MSc grunts, and a number of operators and administrators.
Yes, I was flying high
back then. I could happily hand off most of the boring teaching chores to my
TAs and concentrate on research. And my team was churning out some excellent
work. We were publishing dozens of papers each year that routinely won awards
and recognition at many industry events and conferences. Our grant applications
were frequently funded by DARPA, or SRC, or NSF or even by various private
foundations or corporate programs. Attracting talent was not an issue. The best
and brightest were vying to join my team.
Back then I was like a
rock star in the business, and invitations for keynote talks, review papers,
contributions or simply introductions to various technical books were often
extended. I could happily turn down all sorts of speaking engagements, even the
private corporate invitations that offered those obscene, but so very tempting,
honorarium fees—$10,000 plus expenses for a lecture and a two-hour-long
round-table chat—evidently a small price to pay for an opportunity to nourish
the egos of a few corporate bigwigs who enjoyed grandstanding in front of a
Yes, it looked like
the millennium had brought good things for us, and the sky was the limit.
And not just
Bev and I had met back
in the ’90s in one of those combined interdepartmental undergrad
classes—something like ‘Science, Technology and Society.’ I got involved with
the course because it was trendy, and an easy way of earning an extra teaching
credit. A feather in a cap for a newbie, especially because such courses were
shunned by the more senior professors who did not have to worry about
burnishing up their teaching rep. I thought that teaching science to
non-scientists would be easy and would not require much prep work—something
that I could easily do off-the-cuff. But as fate would have it, the class held
something much more significant than teaching credits. The moment I walked into
the first lecture, I noticed her, and everything changed. It was not just the
deep azure eyes that were such a contrast to her jet-black hair, or the tight
jeans that showed off all her beautiful curves, or… It was the dimples in her
cheeks that seemed to amplify the sparkle in her eyes whenever she smiled. And
the tiny furrows between her knitted eyebrows whenever she raised a question.
And the insidious acuteness of the questions she would raise.
I must admit, with all
the brilliance of hindsight, it was lust at first sight—certainly so for me.
Ethics be damned!
Sounding awkward and
tongue-tied, I tried to focus on the question rather than on her.
“Please explain…” With
dimples framing a most enchanting smile, her eyes dared me to impress her.
So I had to be stellar
in that class, just to keep up with her questions. I mean, how does one explain
magnetism or electricity to a non-engineer without sounding stupid or
But as we got to know
each other, the relationship deepened, we fell in love, moved in together,
and…well…lived happily ever after. A couple of years later we married. We
bought and renovated a perfect house in a good neighborhood. Summer breaks in
Europe—often in Montenegro where we congregated with my family. Winter or
spring breaks in Mexico. Fall weekends camping in New England… A few years
later Lara came, our wonderful daughter, which of course changed everything.
All for the good, though. Diapers, pre-school, play dates, kindergarten,
school. We settled into a family routine of two professional careers and a kid
and looked forward to the continued bliss of middle-class existence in modern
But then Moore’s Law
caught up with me.
About the Author
Riko Radojcic is a lucky man who has been blessed with a fulfilling life
rich in its diversity. He was born in what was then a poor post-war
Yugoslavia and enjoyed a very happy and secure early childhood there. When
he was twelve his father took a job with the UN World Health Organization,
and Riko spent his teen years in East Pakistan (Bangladesh now), Nigeria,
Kenya and Tanzania, observing both, the demise of the colonial Raj, and some
harsh Third World realities. He completed high school in Swiss private
schools - a polar opposite of the Third World - which gave him a peek into
the lives of the one-percenters. He then moved to Manchester, UK, where he
witnessed the bleak circumstances of the working class in the heart of the
then-decaying industrial England. He earned his BSc and PhD degrees in
Electronic Engineering and Solid-State Physics there, and after a couple of
years of working in England he immigrated to the US. Riko and his then-wife
settled in the San Diego area, where they brought up their three wonderful
children, and he got to experience the American Dream – yet another
polar opposite. He enjoyed a rewarding and a very stimulating career in the
semiconductor industry, working in a variety of technical, managerial and
business development roles. His professional life exposed him not only to
the amazing wonders of the silicon chip technology, but also gave him an
opportunity to travel internationally and to interact with smart and
talented people from very diverse and multicultural backgrounds. After
35+ years in the world of high tech and engineering management, Riko retired
and is now trying to be a writer. Always more comfortable as an
observer than the observed, as an analyst than a participant, he is trying
to bring to life the magic of technology, the reality of the high-tech
industry, and some of his diverse life experiences through
Amazon Author Page
Barnes and Noble
a Rafflecopter giveaway