Chris Maddox is an electro-mechanic with expertise in robotics and pneumatics technical assembly.
“It was no problem for me to figure out how to do that [chip tester]. I could build anything …”
A few years after high school Chris Maddox worked on circuit board assembly—it was here where she learned her skills through hands-on work. She first heard about Atari when her friend from high school, Betsy who worked in the stockroom, encouraged her to come work for Atari in manufacturing. At the time, Atari went by the name Syzygy, and its manufacturing took place in a building called the “Old Continental Ballroom,” where employees manufactured circuit boards for coin-operated game consoles. The vast majority of the people soldering circuit boards on the assembly line were women, and Chris Maddox joined them in 1972.
Chris was proud of her work, which she could do quickly and accurately. When her work went to quality control, it never came back. As she recalled: “It might take a little longer to do, but I never got it back. So do it right the first time, even if it takes a little longer.” Due to her extraordinary skill for electronic mechanical construction, Chris was asked to build the first prototype for an automatic chip tester at Atari; she built it without hesitation. When manufacturing needed a new lead for the assembly line, Chris won the competition to see who could solder the quickest and most accurately; however another woman got the promotion due to seniority. Chris’s precision work was impressive and later she was promoted to work in quality control herself.
After months at Atari, Chris grew tired of continually ingesting the smell of solder on the assembly line. The solder infiltrated her lungs and eyes, causing lasting irritation. In response, she asked Atari management for a new position, and became a “gofer” for purchasing. In her words, a gofer means that “you go for this and you go for that.” In the coming years, she began trucking material and products across the city. As a truck driver, she enjoyed the fresh air and frequent interactions with people. One of her tasks as a gofer was to pick up prototype cabinets and bring them to the silk screening company where they added the artwork onto the exterior of coin-operated game consoles. She remembers a Mountain View trip where she picked up the game console cabinet from the silk screening company for Atari’s first famous arcade game “Pong.” After delivering the cabinet in Los Gatos, she was called back the next day to return it to the silk screening company. The cabinet tag “Pong” was to be replaced by “Ping.” It turned out that the cabinet was on its way to Australia, and in Australia “Pong” means “a stench or bad smell,” thus the need to change the name.
Chris Maddox left Atari after her fiancé was fired due to a closure in the manufacturing department he was working in. When she left, she expressed during a department meeting that she would not work for a company that treated employees as disposable. After leaving Atari, Chris Maddox worked for 36 more years as an electro-mechanic in domains as varied as digital communication, robotics, and pneumatics. Her work included final assembly of large electro-mechanical devices, and she enjoyed working on ladders when she added huge fans on top of large machinery. She knows all there is to know about mechanical assembly.