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October 8, 2004

Internet conference recalls days of ‘lovefest’

I remember the glory days of the Internet oh so well. It was a special time in my life, a time of tremendous chaos, amazing amounts of hard work, rich rewards (sometimes), and a careless disregard for the looming risk that was always there. Most of all, however, it was a time when the unlimited potential of technology — manifested by the Internet and the World Wide Web — created a sense of mission and a sense of destiny.

I consider myself very fortunate to have been deeply involved in that crazy time, riding the waves along with everyone else. It was not even the first wave of unfettered technology investment of which I had been a part. In the early 1990s I had joined a company called Pensoft, an ISV for the PenPoint operating system being created by a company called GO. At the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s, the hottest thing in computing was “pen computing” and GO was the undisputed leader in the emerging area. GO was a company founded and staffed by gods of the software business (see Jerry Kaplan’s seminal book Startupfor the whole story). Pensoft was a brilliant little ISV started to build a “day planner” application for PenPoint, and the resulting product is still better than anything I have seen to date.

Anyway, I actually left Pensoft after a while and went to work directly for GO. It was like leaving the road crew for the Beatles to becoming the back-up drummer to the back-up drummer. I may have been a late addition, but I was part of the best band in the world. Days and nights of hard work were rewarded with the satisfaction of changing the world. Eventually it all came crashing down, as Jerry recounts in his book.

Actually, now that I am recalling this time, GO was not really my first involvement with the next big thing. In 1989, when I joined Ashton-Tate, I was working on a spreadsheet application for the newly created NeXT computer. If you don’t recall the brilliance of the NeXTStep OS, just take a look at Mac OS X today. One of the real highlights of this time, in addition to being part of a team building a great application, was the opportunity to have Steve Jobs give deliver a demo to me and a couple of other folks at the NeXT headquarters of the 2nd generation NeXT machine (the “pizza box”) and OS. If you have have seen Steve on stage, or even on screen, imagine his magnetism magnified by 1000. That moment stands out in my mind like it was yesterday. There I was, a young UI designer and product manager, meeting Steve Jobs and being overwhelmed with his brilliance and charisma. To this day, Steve is still the single most charismatic person I have ever met. For someone like me, who had used an Apple II in high school and then owned my first Mac in 1984, it was an amazing experience. It solidified my belief in the future as a better place, and in technology as the holy grail that will lead us to that future.

From that time in the NeXT headquarters, to working with Jerry Kaplan and Robert Carr at GO, to working at Oracle, technology was moving the world ahead and making it better. In 1996, after 2 years of real personal and professional growth at Oracle, the Internet called out to me and I was lured away to a small company called I/PRO (Internet Profiles). The story of that company is well-recounted in Robert Reid’s Architects of the Web. From there is was one great Internet company after the other for me.

Rather than rambling through my resume, however self-indulgent and fascinating it might be to me, I want to return to my original thought. If someone sees a spark, then a fire will result. The days of technology innovation are not over at all. In fact, I can feel it in the wind myself; the next great wave is about to hit. The software gods are beginning to grow restless and will send their lightning bolts down from Mount Olympus and push us into the sweet chaos that fuels innovation. Today, from my perspective inside the largest software company in the world, I see changes occurring at a macro level that will make the future, once again, brighter than the past. Somewhere out there, the Beatles are warming up and about to release their first record. The demo tape is already cut and the melody already exists in the heads of Paul and John. Listen carefully to the static between stations and you might hear it too.

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