Alex Bouzari is the co-founder and CEO of DataDirect Networks. Prior to co-founding DataDirect Networks, he served as CEO of Personal Writer, Inc., and co-founder of MegaDrive Systems, Inc. Bouzari has bachelor of science degrees in engineering and economics from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and has done graduate work in engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford University.
Sramana: Alex, let’s go back to the beginning of your personal story. Where are you from?
Alex Bouzari: I was born in France but am originally from Iran. I started school in France before my parents moved back to Iran. I did elementary and high school in Iran in a French high school. I then moved back to France, where I started my undergraduate studies. After my freshman year I realized that I had a desire to create things and Europe is somewhat difficult for that. During my sophomore year I decided that I wanted to go to school in the U.S., so I applied to several universities without really knowing anything about them.
Somebody told me there was this thing called the SAT which was a test to determine if you were able to get into a good university. I found a book which had SAT scores in it and I looked for the schools that had the highest SAT scores. Caltech, MIT, Stanford, and Berkeley were on top of the list for engineering and science. I applied to those schools and I was accepted by all of them. At the time I did not know which one was the best school, so I decided to attend Caltech because it had the highest SAT score, and it was absolutely fantastic. I was there in the early 1980s studying engineering and economics.
Caltech was an open research environment, the total opposite of France. It was all about nurturing, encouraging, and fostering innovation and growth. I took most classes I could, and I ended up graduating at the top of my class with a double degree in engineering and economics. After that I wanted to go to graduate school and explore the East Coast. I got a fellowship to MIT to study electrical engineering.
My advisor at Caltech put the bug of entrepreneurship in me. That added some complexity for me at MIT because I then started taking some classes at the Sloan [bu school. The engineering department got somewhat aggravated at that since I was there under an engineering fellowship. Fortunately I found somebody at the Sloan school who was sympathetic to my predicament and he agreed to take on half of the amount that the engieering department was paying for me. As a result of all of that it became an uncomfortable situation.
After a year there I decided to call someone at Stanford who had been recruiting me to go to school there and asked him if his offer to attend there still stood. He called me back a few days later and told me I could come whenever I wanted. I then told him that I had no money and that I needed some funding to pay for my schooling and my living expenses. That was asking for a lot, but a week later he was able to arrange a scholarship for me. I really loved my year at Stanford.