Dennis Holeman

Meet the author

Dennis L Holeman

My professional life has focused on a systems perspective: understanding how systems work and applying that knowledge to the development of advanced technologies in a wide range of fields.  I have sought to be a generalist rather than a specialist in any particular field, and have been able to work in interdisciplinary/ multidisciplinary environments throughout my career. 

Early Life and Undergraduate Education

I am a leading-edge member of the baby boom, being born in 1946, nine months after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan to end the Second World War.  Most of my youth was spent in suburban Portland Oregon. Upon graduating from high school in Tacoma, Washington in 1964, I was awarded a four-year Thomas J. Watson National Merit scholarship sponsored by the IBM Corporation. Accepted at MIT, I instead decided to attend Harvey Mudd College, one of the six Claremont Colleges in Claremont, California, because of its exclusive focus on undergraduate science teaching.

When I entered, Harvey Mudd was very new--only 7 years old--and very small, with a total enrollment of 275 students.  Just four majors were offered: physics, chemistry, mathematics, and general engineering, and the college placed a strong emphasis on the humanities and social sciences with the goal of educating socially-responsible scientists and engineers. I received a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering from Harvey Mudd in 1968. I was accepted for graduate school in the Engineering and Economic Systems program at Stanford, but decided not to attend because of having a very low draft number while the Vietnam War was at its peak. 

First Career Phase—Undersea Systems  

Upon graduation from Harvey Mudd, I was hired by Westinghouse Electric Corporation.  I was assigned to Westinghouse’s Ocean Research and Engineering Center, which provided me a critical skills draft deferment. I spent most of my time with Westinghouse in a field office supporting the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California.  While there, I attended graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley under Westinghouse’s Advanced Degree Program work-study arrangement. I received a Master of Engineering-Mechanical Engineering degree from Berkeley in 1970, with an emphasis on systems design.  At Westinghouse, I worked on a wide range of ocean systems for the U.S. Navy, including special-mission nuclear submarines, ultra-deep human diver systems, multiple types of underwater sensor systems, and a variety of unmanned and manned submersibles designed to reach extreme depths (over 20,000 feet). While at Westinghouse, I obtained my Professional Engineer license.  Always captivated by all things aeronautical, I learned to fly, with a special interest in soaring, and received my pilot’s license in 1972.

Second Career Phase—Microcomputers

 In late 1975, a former roommate from Harvey Mudd approached me with an opportunity to be a co-founder of a firm to take advantage of the brand-new microprocessors for creating the first professional-quality personal computer systems.  The startup came to be known as IMSAI (short for Information Management Systems Associates Inc.). IMSAI developed a line of microcomputer systems that led the market at the beginning of the personal computer era and achieved an international market presence.  Unfortunately, the president of IMSAI chose to spin off a parallel company of which he was sole owner, the pioneering personal computer store franchising chain ComputerLand. This activity drew off most of the financial resources of IMSAI and resulted in IMSAI’s eventual failure.

Third Career Phase—SRI International

At the time IMSAI’s decline was becoming apparent, I got in contact with SRI International.  SRI (previously known as Stanford Research Institute) is a world-renowned not-for-profit independent research organization headquartered in Menlo Park, California, close to the Stanford University campus. SRI was working on exploiting a highly-innovative parallel computer architecture IMSAI had been developing to support large-scale simulation and modeling systems. The Hypercube architecture was so named because it connected large numbers of individual processing centers in a four-dimensional topological arrangement.  I joined SRI in mid-1978 to pursue Hypercube development. I then continued to work at SRI for over 36 years. During that period, I was SRI’s most senior systems engineer, supporting projects in almost every part of the Institute. As a systems engineer, I analyzed the user requirements for a new system, wrote the specifications for the system, performed tradeoffs of possible alternatives, defined the top-level system design, and developed tests for validating the system design.

Following my initial work on massively-parallel computing systems, major project areas in which I was involved at SRI included multiple aspects of the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite navigation system, robotic surgery systems, unmanned vehicle systems of all types and sizes, aircrew training systems, automated highway systems, artificial intelligence for decision aiding systems, spoken and written language understanding and translation systems, computer vision-based postal automation systems, military and commercial aircraft avionics systems, cubesats and other small spacecraft, manufacturing systems using thousands of microrobots, military command and control systems, computer-aided instruction systems, commercial aircraft market studies, alternative energy systems (including novel wind, wave, and ocean thermal gradient energy generators), radars to monitor space weather, humanoid robots, neurological instrumentation, seaport security systems, and automated soil chemistry sensing systems, among many others.  

Clients in my work at SRI included the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E); the National Science Foundation; the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA); multiple agencies of the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Army; major aerospace companies in the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, and Israel; and many other U.S. and foreign government and commercial organizations. 

In my last position I reported to SRI’s Vice President of Engineering and was responsible for strategic planning for the 800-person group.

Professional Associations

I have been a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and the IEEE Computer Society, the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS), the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).  I was a member of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, helping prepare its landmark 50th anniversary study New World Vistas: Air and Space Power for the 21st Century in 1995.


I retired from SRI in early 2015. I currently live with my wife Jeanette (Jenny) Sill-Holeman in Ashland, a small town in Southwest Oregon known for hosting the world-famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the home of Southern Oregon University.

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