I love working with broadband mobility today.
When my parents came to the US one parent could still earn enough money to raise a family. My Dad took an job, and hoped to one day use his engineering skills from his training in Germany, to work a professional job. He did, working at a mechanical engineer, a scientist at Bell Labs and onwards to engineering management, eventually retiring as VP of Engineering, with a patent or two to his name.
He could design a new mechanical device, fix a pipe, or redesign a manufacturing line. He’d make things stronger, better than original, if something around the house failed. He could sketch a solution on a napkin and have it made in a machine shop to precision specs, all within the week. He was a nature lover and loved camping. He breathed in what life had to offer and smiled back.
I decided I enjoyed electronics at an early age. With imperfect/junk solar cells Dad brought me from Telstar, a radio, and light I broadcast music over a lightbeam at 10 years of age. Amazing, I thought. It would be 20 years later that all those childhood experiences turned up again in my professional career.
In college I studied philosophy. I was particularly enamored by Structuralism. It is a branch of Philosophy which used an approach to describing a view of sets of behavior, language in ways that built upon observations, deductions and hypothesis, layer upon layer. Thus supporting a construct which served a pragmatic purpose. This, to me, resonated deeply. Functional philosophy meant I was learning a skill set that would help me, a few year later, to solve some difficult conceptual problems, but constructing techniques in the ‘C’ language that offered, what we later referred to as re-use, re-purposing, open interfaces, logical descriptions, hierarchical functional relationships. By breaking down a large nebulous problem into components that could be addressed through logical reasoning, a very difficult problem set could have a break through approach for a solution.
Those key learnings affected all product designs, and coding, and later on how project management and task establishment were formed.
It was more important than any single subject in College, in my entire career. Take along a “C” programming language book, and a few texts on structuralism, and you’ve created a framework for solving much of the challenges of applied computer systems.
In 1975 I was programming a small scientific calculator, providing statistical quality analysis data from an experimental non-woven fabric line at Kimberly Clark Corporation’s development facility. It was powerful, and time saving. I couldn’t do my job without it.
I considered how the program in that calculator might be applied to machines which made the high-tech fabric directly. Testing on-the-fly, in real time. I read everything I could on microcomputers. They were the solution for this mind numbing statistical analysis and line testing job. It would be 3 years before the skills I developed there, and new technology made it possible to improve production line quality using small computers, but I did it.
Programming classes in college in 1975 were offered in Fortran for science and Cobol or RPG or another batch language. I thought “that is so 1972″ at the time. I wanted to leap frog into the thick of it, so I picked ‘C‘, and Unix.
By 1979, I was designing bits of code that were embedded in a multi-processor system I’d selected as the best of the day. 5 microprocessors all working to do my bidding, all in parallel, all working in real-time. Still, today, designers don’t build this way. Its harder to design, but some problems are made specifically for this solution.
By 1980, I was building systems to monitor and manage multi-million dollar production lines around the country. I had a problem tho. I didn’t know how to scale up my business. I had an offer from a company to purchase my business. I didn’t know how to sell it. By 1983, I was convinced, I needed to get into the world of software development, where serious work is done, and serious business is transacted.
I couldn’t be more thrilled than the offer I received as group leader for CCI – a company that dominated the real-time, distributed database world of 411 information systems. My job – group leader for communications and User interface systems development and enhancements. Yip. Surrounded by smart people, many x-Bell Labs engineerings, I love it. Compared to worrying every week about everything from customer support, to the next release of my company’s software to design and development issues, this job was a walk in the park. I could breath. And Upstate NY was a great place to do just that. Over the next few years I was promoted and added more responsibility.
A couple of close workers decided to take a leap into the next generation of communications – the promise of Integrated Services Digital Network and the national backbones that Sprint/MCI/ATT and others would need to deploy to make it a reality.
I jumped at the chance to learn about that field, and experience my first ‘startup’ company. in 1988 TTSI, was a small, Dallas based startup, hoping to hit it big with systems for MCI/Sprint/ATT on the backbone. The trouble was, 100s of millions were being spent by Bell Labs (now Bellcore) and IBM to try to hit that market as well. TTSI didn’t have 10s of millions, let alone 100s of millions. After struggling for a couple of years. TTSI was sold to Tandem, the Bank computing services builder. Tandem had an office on Lake Washington – which I promptly applied to become a part of.
Banking and Telcom it would prove, didn’t mix as well as many hoped. While the market sorted out standards that would never be completed for the backbone of ISDN, I returned to my CCI roots – Internet services, and promptly created an email and news service out of my home office, and connected with Sun Microsystems and AT&T. Millions of messages each week, deep diving Internet technologies, I was one of the first Internet managers in 1988, registering my first domain name in 1989, and building strength in Internet technologies.
I was thrilled in 1992, to be offered a management job in startup company in the Pacific Northwest. I’d fallen in love with the pacific northwest when I applied to Tandem in Bellevue years before. ProTools network management systems were a fine startup, funded and with skilled engineers and good leadership. They were about to transition from windows to OS2, and in my case, to Unix, as a core platform for Foundation Manager – an integrated RMON console and app deployment environment. It turned out Bellcore’s architecture – that of Service Management systems and Service Creation environment – the core of ISDN network app deployment, were good models for the FM/Unix system.
The strongest network management platforms of the day – IBM’s NetView and HP’s Open Network Management platforms were keen to see our RMON and console FM integrated. Eventually I and my team was invited to show our product in San Francisco at IBM’s Netview booth, and later in Paris at their booth. The strategy to encourage IBM and HP to take an interest in ProTools products paid off. On the flight back from Research Triangle Park, a rumor was apparently started that IBM might be purchasing ProTools, simply because of our proximity.
Network General bought ProTools, fired their sales force and subsequently pointed to their sales slump. ProTools products no longer competed with Network General’s products. After turning down an offer to move to California, I took stock of the industry in 1993, and suggested a search engine development to my boss. I spent a few weeks in California and decided to take off and ski for a while.
Aspenworks was born in Colorado in 1996, and by 1997 I had launched 800 new users on an Internet Service Provider system I designed and developed there. Next year, I worked out the business plan for a DSL broadband venture and designed a DSL modem that sold for 1/10 of the only DSL modem on the market at the time of the design. ISPs as an annunity turned out to be good business. DSL was hot, billions were poured into the market place, I left for greener pastures. Much greener than Dallas, was Portland, Oregon and ProTools Network management.
In a small community, the question is, how do you create an environment for sustainable economic activity? Internet services is a possible approach, but its a swampland today. Fraught with mega mergers, patent fights, little technical advances, and tons of market fluctuations.
In 2007 and part of 2008, I worked as a global project manager for Microsoft, to help define the market opportunity for broadband mobility products. At that time, Microsoft wanted to know how their company could prepare itself for the coming mobile broadband revolution. With 23 countries participating in a multi-million dollar market research project, Microsoft defined a 50 billion dollar opportunity.
Just 2 years later, that opportunity was eclipsed by the smartphone products of Apple, HTC, Samsung and others. A new convergence is taking place in communications and computing.
I built a wireless ISP, a broadband management system to manage scarce wireless spectrum and continued on to design a few applications for the next convergence technology – smart handsets.
I designed a product to help Mass Transit operators better understand the behavior of vehicles, and to provide riders with better interaction to boost ridership.
Treating my community – wherever I live, as an business, helps establish what RMI calls “Natural Capitalism” – a way to improve and extend economic benefits across a broad section of the community, and thereby benefiting many.
and that’s where I am today, building apps for Smart Handsets and iPads and tablets.