A Quarter Century in Tech
Saturday, May 19, 2012 at 2:05PM
Don Campbell

Twenty five years ago today, on May 19th 1987, a young, naive software engineer fresh out of university, took a deep breath and walked through the doors of his first full-time job. That software engineer, was me.

The tech world was a different place then. There was no Internet. There were no iPhones. Twitter was strictly a bird sound. And contrary to what my kids think, yes, there were computers, but a fast computer was an IBM PC '386' with a math co-processor. My first job, at Canadian high tech giant Cognos, was to use the beast to program a 4th generation language called "Powerhouse". Powerhouse was designed to run on much larger 'mini' computers,  so the challenge of building a PC version was daunting at times. Sharing files among team members meant using the 'SneakerNet'. Without a proper network to share files on, SneakerNet was simply a set of physical binders with floppy disks in them. If you wanted to update a master file, you had to put on your 'sneakers' and walk over to the master cabinet where the binders were stored. It was much less efficient than an online system, but you certainly got your exercise!

I remember the day the new '486' PCs arrived. They were so fast that you could ask DOS for a directory listing and it would give it to you so fast you couldn't read it before it scrolled off the screen. Now that's fast! The building wasn't wired to have so much power drawn from each cubicle, and I can remember blowing many circuits on our section of the floor. I had a secret weapon though...a 30ft extension cord. That meant I could simply plug my PC into the extension cord and walk it to the other side of the building and get power from there.

One day, the IT department connected to this new service called the WorldWide Web. The Web was only available on a single machine in the glassed-in computer room. As a new technology guy, they asked me to take a look at it. I remember the first page I went to was a tourist site for Hawaii. It was so cool to think that I was actually connected to information in a distant land! "Hmmm. Who knows...this thing could catch on." I was contracted by the company to work after hours and create the first Cognos website. I learned to write HTML by hand, and soon www.cognos.com was alive!

The business changed from creating 4GL software, to this new thing called 'Business Intelligence', and our technology changed with it. Our PCs became 'connected', and even replaced by connected workstations. Our development environments matured, and we dabbled (somewhat unsuccessfully) with object oriented languages. I became a graphics guy and had a system with a special high performance graphics card costing thousands of dollars. Of course, whatever device you're viewing this blog on likely costs much less, and is orders of magnitude more powerful. Such is the world of technology.

After many years of fiddling with technology, and the occasional award and wildly successful product, I eventually landed with my dream job as Chief Technology Officer. It's the only position I ever aspired to. CEOs work way too hard, but CTOs get to play with new stuff and experiment all day. I always seemed to have a new gadget at my disposal, with lots of people asking me to show them how it worked, and that was key to making the experience fun. Blazing new trails is always more interesting than following in someone else's footsteps.

Our acquisition by IBM only opened the aperture of possibility. Still with a CTO role, but now having access to world leading technology, and an entire division of top notch research talent meant more places to play.

In the past 25 years, I think I've learned a lot about technology and how it applies to business. I've learned from leading experts, and from customers always pushing the envelope. I've had the extremely good fortune of traveling the globe, and speaking to tens of thousands of people about technology trends and directions. Perhaps I've even influenced a few.

One of the best parts about a career in high tech, is that it is always changing. From the PC to the Internet to social media to whatever the future holds. Guaranteed, it will be exiting and challenging.

As my friends and family know, this journey with Cognos/IBM, lasting a quarter century, is about to end for me. Retiring next month will provide me, oddly enough, with even more opportunity to parlay my knowledge and interests forward. I'm looking forward to the next 25 years in tech. We may still not have our flying cars, but I'll bet it will be spectacular!


Article originally appeared on ConnectWithDon (http://www.connectwithdon.com/).
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