James V. Barnett, II

James V. Barnett, II
James V. Barnett, II

Innovator in the fields of semiconductors, liquid crystal displays, and digital watches; pioneered the industry of programmable gate arrays; Co-founder of XILINX, the field programmable gate array creators.

Based on his experience in two Silicon Valley startup companies, James V. Barnett, II first discussed founding a company with fellow Illinois alumnus Ross Freeman (MS 1971, Physics) during a business trip to Hong Kong in January 1983. Six months after their trip, Freeman came up with an idea for a new semiconductor product that Barnett also recognized as an architectural breakthrough in programmable logic technology.

Their new company, Xilinx, was incorporated and founded on January 9, 1984. Within a month of the founding, the new company had solved technical and cost limitations by going to a static RAM-based volatile technology similar to microprocessors instead of nonvolatile e-prom or ee-prom technology used in earlier, small programmable logic devices. The field programmable gate array, or FPGA, was born. The company went public in June 1989, and today, Xilinx has 4,000 employees, more than 3,000 patents, 20,000 customers, and revenues of more than $2 billion a year.

Barnett is the recipient of three U.S. patents and is a member of the Band of Angels in Palo Alto, CA, the first angel investor organization. He has served on many boards of directors, including Xilinx. Retired from Xilinx, Barnett does private venture investing and consulting through Barnett Ventures.

While attending the U of I, Barnett worked for Babcock and Wilcock; Huber, Hunt and Nichols Construction; and Coors Porcelain R&D. After graduation, he worked at Fairchild Semiconductor, Raytheon Semiconductor, American Microsystems, Ness Time, and Zilog Semiconductor. In addition to his awarded degrees, he completed classwork and thesis research for a master’s degree in ceramic engineering while at Illinois, and he has since accumulated more than 100 credit hours of math, computer science, electronics, finance, and accounting classwork at local Silicon Valley colleges.


BS Ceramic Engineering, 1967