Meadow CreekNews

Great Moments in Technology

Filed under Business Management, Small Business, Venture Capital and Start Ups on May 8, 2009

Every once in a while a conversation triggers some memories that have stuck with me through the years. They are usually humorous, ironic or particularly prophetic. Everything else has been compressed and relegated to external storage and basically irretrievable, just like on my own network.
Today, my daughter was putting together her resume. She’s in her senior year of high school and is trying desperately to get a summer job. She wanted some examples so I went to a file drawer in my home office and pulled out a lifetime of resumes. I pulled out the first one I did during my high school years. She asked how I did some of the formatting on it, wondering what Word function let me do it. I informed her with some embarrassment that the resume was created before personal computers. The fact that it was created with a typewriter left her somewhat in awe. I suppose it was something akin to watching The Woodwright’s Shop and watching someone create a piece of furniture entirely with hand tools. I immediately took on a greatness as a person familiar with the ancient arts of creating things with out a CPU involved.
This triggered a flashback that gives away what era I grew up in. I recalled my early career as a young Turk and financial analyst at a large corporation. The first IBM personal computer had been delivered and I had appropriated it. It had been placed in a remote room in IT to explore what magic this mysterious beast could perform. I occupied that room much like students of years earlier occupied college administration buildings. I planted myself in front of the machine and made it my own. Surprisingly intuitive, I managed to make use of the VisiCalc program. The functionality of VisiCalc over the AutoTab program I had been using was phenomenal. Early on, the CFO came to see the new technology. The IT folks were probably quite disappointed to find me there using their new baby, depriving them of the opportunity to personally show it off. In hindsight, it was perfect to demonstrate the utility of this new tool, but this was still a time of IT on a pedestal. Ordinary humans were not yet in the picture, but there I was doing my thing. After some preliminary introductory remarks the conversation paused and given the CFO was my mentor I felt obligated to say something more technically astute than “this machine certainly make it easier to add, subtract, multiply and divide.” So I asked how much memory the PC had. I really had no idea what I was asking, but in corporate speak it said volumes. At that point in time associating memory with computers said I was tech savvy – mission accomplished. One of the IT guys answered the question and I, hoping to elevate myself to IT visionary in the CFO’s eyes asked if that was enough. The answer has stuck with me, “Oh Dick, I can’t imagine any application would ever require more than 16 Kb.”

I accepted that response as Gospel at the time. None of us in that room could possibly imagine what God had wrought in the PC. Today, kilobytes are like pennies with memory now being dosed out in gigabytes to PCs.

The same individual confirmed years later that while a champion of creating canned spreadsheet applications that would merge hundreds of files into one, was no IT visionary. I had returned from an assignment at an industrial automation unit. We were a little more technically advanced than most of the company. Corporate headquarters was in the process of of being networked and we were in a staff meeting being briefed by IT and were told we would all get email addresses. I suggested, given my prior experience, that we should all hold off on having business cards printed so we could include email addresses. Our resident non-visionary replied, “I don’t think we’ll ever get to the point that we use email to communicate outside of the company.”

Another defining moment. This one I will say I understood just how unimaginative that comment was. We were already doing just that at the automation unit.

Several years later, I was getting old and technically uninspired. We were having a sales meeting at a new unit I had transferred to. There were a couple of interns that had helped me put some information (or should I say content) together for a presentation. I asked if they would like to present some of the material. They said yes, so I planned to split the presentation. At the time, using a light box or PC projector was not a proven science. Getting the PC to talk to the light box wasn’t a no-brainer and transferring files was not yet accomplished through a thumb drive. I decided that I’d play it safe and use an overhead projector. When I finished my section, the intern took her place and just stood there with a perplexed look staring at the overhead projector. About twenty years younger than most everyone in the room, she announced she had never seen one these and didn’t know how it worked and couldn’t understand why we weren’t all using the PC projector. Her audience let out a collective sigh as we all were instantly dated, something middle aged men find particularly humbling in front of attractive women in their twenties.

More recently, my office building was brought to a stand-still with a deadly customer service faux pas. We were without coffee. An emergency call went out to the coffee service and that afternoon the tech showed up. Our coffee machine needed a new mother board.

Most evenings at the Gabel household end with four of us sitting in the familyroom with the TV on and all of us staring at our laptops, fighting over the power cord when our batteries die. Who would have seen this coming?

Richard Gabel

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on TumblrShare on LinkedInPrint this pageEmail this to someone