About 29 years ago, I touched my first computer. It was an IBM 360/1500 at Fairfield University. I was a freshman at Fairfield Prep on the same campus. In between the 2 semesters we had mini-courses, which were a 2 week break from normal classes and an opportunity to investigate topics that you wouldn’t normally be able to take. Some people took classes in architecture, other in meditation (the most highly sought after class, of course…who wouldn’t pick a class you could sleep through for credit).
I chose the class in APL programming. This happened to be taught by a Junior student because none of Jesuits knew much about the computer, let alone APL. So I took that class and the same class next year. During this period I wrote my first major computer program. Domino7 was the character sequence on the 3270 terminals that called a random number generator. This was just what you need to write a computer game. Being a child of the post Viet Nam Cold War era I wrote a program that allowed the player to pick a city and blow it up. Back then Don Imus used to have people call his WNBC radio program out of New York City and as for people to get nuked if they ticked you off. “Nuke ’em….boom….Yay!” That was the inspiration. During my Junior and Senior year I taught the class. I keep forgetting that when I go through the list of things I’ve done. My Senior year, I had 10 members of the varsity football team in my class. I wonder if any of them remember the class 🙂
Anyway, playing around with the computer led me to apply for schools that had a computer engineering program because I, at the time, couldn’t figure out what the heck computer science was and engineering sounded more prestigious. Being from a blue collar steel-worker family, and being the oldest child, I had to figure out how to pay for school. Knowing that RIT and Northeastern had co-op programs, bingo, there I was at RIT in cloudy and snowy western New York, fighting my way through my EE classes, cruising through my CS classes and finding out that I was pretty good my Liberal Arts classes. People have often told me that I’m not really an engineer, I just play one in life.
That’s when I got my Co-op job at DEC which eventually led to an 11 year stint in the end. There’s a whole story about that, that I should elaborate on, but I’ll leave that for a different entry. Eventually I made it through all the weed-out EE classes and took my full time job at DEC in the low end workstation firmware group. If anybody cares, I wrote the SCSI and NI drivers for the firmware on several vax and alpha workstations. In the process I had my first taste of leading teams.
When things got bad at DEC in the early 90’s I started looking and finally got a job at Teradyne before the DEC wave crashed. I worked at Teradyne for 11 years touched just about everything but the analog side of the tester. Those wavy things are scary 🙂
Anyway, during that time I got to go on all kinds of trips to big places like Texas, California, Germany and India, although I remember several trips to Allentown, PA. I worked on Solaris and the NT on the digital side of the testers and got my first chance to manage teams and never looked back. I really wanted to move to a company on the web where all the action seemed to be about 2000-2001, but couldn’t get out.
After watching Teradyne react to the commoditization of testers and chips with outsourcing, layoffs and a weird refusal to build smaller testers like the J750 and their inexplicable surrender of the memory test market to Advantest, I then went to a company called Lakeview. It was strange place where I lived the ups and downs of 2 previous companies all compressed into a 2 year demise. It ended by a buyout by private equity. I survived all the downsizing but I was unhappy. Knowing that I always wanted to get out of the hardware industry, I got a job at Intuit QuickBase where I am now.
Intuit is an awesome place and QuickBase is an phenomenal product. I stepped in just as the QuickBase Developer program was being scoped out and tomorrow, in conjunction with several other team within Intuit, QuickBase will present our new development environment based on Adobe Flex at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco.
In the end, I’ve lived my dream. Stuff I’ve worked on was used by the armed forces during the first Gulf War, was used to test chips in every cell phone and disk drive on the planet, and is about to change the world via networked collaborative technologies. So maybe I wasn’t as wildly successful as Gates or Jobs, but hey, I’ve done some incredibly complicated things and nobody can take that away from me. In the process I’ve worked with a lot of really smart people along the way who can claim the same thing.
Here’s to changing the world, flipping one bit at a time!