A young couple helps computers talk to each other

When John Torode, president of Digital Microsystems Inc., goes on a business trip, he often takes his vice-president along. They have to buy two plane tickets, but they save money by sharing a hotel room.

The vice-president is Mr. Torode's wife, Patricia, and the two head up a business in the growing fields of personal computers and ''networking'' between computer systems.

The company was founded by the two engineers in 1975 and is based in Oakland, Calif. The question of who was to get top billing in the firm was never a problem or a case of male vs. female, Mrs. Torode says. ''John was already well known in the industry,'' she noted in a recent interview in Boston, where the couple met with financial analysts and industry consultants.

Before they started the company, Mrs. Torode said, her husband had been doing consulting work while teaching at the University of California, Berkeley. He had also helped develop a new floppy-disk computer-processing system, which became the company's first product.

Mrs. Torode, who studied mathematics and computer science in college, had been working at American Telephone & Telegraph's Bell Laboratories on projects to automate some coin-telephone operations.

The fact that they ''talk shop'' both at home and at work does mean ''we are possibly a little narrower couple,'' Mr. Torode acknowledges. ''But we are often dealing with such different parts of the company that each one can tell the other something they don't know.''

With some 50 employees and revenues of $6 million last year, Digital Microsystems cannot be considered one of the giants of the computer industry. But small size means it can grow faster than the IBMs and Hewlett-Packards of the world. That $6 million was more than double the previous year's total.

The company expects revenues of $10 million this year, indicating a slightly lower growth rate because of the recession.

The heart of the company's growth lies in finding ways to link a variety of computer systems. Known as ''networking,'' these systems are viewed as the leading edge of the computer industry. With sophisticated cables and complex connections for each machine, networks can connect individual terminals, central disk drives, printers, and master computers. They can also hook together machines from different manufacturers. Companies like Xerox, IBM, and Wang are scrambling to perfect and place their network systems in offices.

The Digital Microsystems strategy for battling these giants is to aim at the low end of the market. Many of the firm's customers have fewer than 50 employees , and some as few as five.

While competitive systems are faster and can perform more complex functions than the Digital Microsystems network, many users do not need the additional capacity, Mr. Torode contends.

Mr. Torode, originally from Washington State, and Mrs. Torode, from Iowa, agree that locating near California's Silicon Valley isn't the necessity it once was. With better communications, transportation, and the spreading of the computer industry throughout the US, it is possible to find qualified people and good suppliers in many parts of the country.

While he says he might locate elsewhere if he were starting the company today , Mr. Torode has no plans to join firms leaving California. ''We've had to move into a new building every two years,'' he said. The newest is under construction , and like the last one, it is in Oakland.

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