Inside/Out: It's a "10"

Ten years go by pretty quickly, don't they? In the IT industry a decade can seem like a century. Who can remember what happened 10 years ago? I do remember that in September 1988, my first column ran in MIDRANGE Systems, and I've had fun writing for this publication every issue since.

Jim Lardear, our editor-in-chief, said it's OK to reminisce for this column, and that started me thinking back to 1963 when I first joined IBM as a systems engineer. Following a free association of thoughts, I began to analyze why this industry has always fascinated me. After all, I turned down a job as an industrial engineer with a ball bearing manufacturer to accept an offer to join Big Blue, a company I knew little about.

All of this required a personal leap of faith in the fledgling data processing industry because, at that time, the prestigious engineering school that had granted both bachelor's and master's degrees to me had only a simple IBM 1410 in the math department -- a "monster" which few students used. But a fraternity brother who preceded me into IBM said it was a great job. I took it, and spent the next thirty years fascinated with the industry and happy to be a part of it. It is doubtful the feelings would have been the same after thirty years with ball bearings.

But what is it about the industry that's so fascinating? Since this is the 10th anniversary of MIDRANGE Systems, how about a list of ten things that make our industry a "10" on my scale? Maybe you'll want to add some, or disagree with some of these. If so, drop me an e-mail. I'd like to know what most fascinates you. Here's my list:

1. The industry provides a launching platform for eccentric, intelligent, creative people -- both "geeks" and business people -- to become outspoken, (even entertaining) corporate leaders. From Thomas Watson, Sr. to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, with many in between, there are always high profile executives to admire or hate.

2. Big winners can burst on the scene out of nowhere. Youngsters, seniors, male and female with a new idea or product have climbed on the stage of the IT Improv-Theater to play to eager audiences. And when the show is good they're rewarded handsomely.

3. The reality that every eighteen months hardware performance doubles and price halves. What a powerful engine we have driving this industry!

4. The new world of the Internet that is changing everything about how we interact, from business communications to retail sales to communicating to learning and on and on. Skeptical at the start, and still uninterested in surfing for surfing's sake, I find the coalescing of information on the Web is really making the tool useful.

5. Creating an application that works. The challenge to understand a business process -- production, accounting, or otherwise -- and then devise a way to perform it using computers has always appealed to me.

6. Controlling a giant computer with a few well-chosen commands. Just like application design, I remember the pleasure of figuring out for myself how to write a sort program that worked.

7. The sheer size of the industry. From a small beginning with systems hidden in backrooms for accounting, IT has become the glue and the engine of today's society.

8. The speed with which the future comes at us. New developments are announced almost weekly. This is exciting to watch as an onlooker but frightening if they come from your competitor.

9. The competitiveness within the industry. Turf wars, love-hate strategic relationships, joint projects that end in acrimony -- the stakes are so big that players chomp down on their cigars and glare across the table at each other.

10. The passion of computer users. Some might even call them bigots. Even more than lovers of Harleys or haters of Disco, IT people choose up sides and make their voices heard. When they e-mail me to dispute the column, it's a sure sign that we are in an industry where people really care. And that's great!

Ten years writing for an industry that rates a "10." What a wonderful job. What a fascinating industry.


After 18 years in marketing and sales at IBM, Bob Diefenbacher founded Denbrook Systems Associates, an IT consulting firm based in Malvern, Pa.