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12 Tech Greats: Where Are They Now?

What happened to Rod Canion, Andy Grove, and their peers who shaped modern technology? Catch up on some original tech visionaries.
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Sadly, many of the early pioneers of the computer industry, from Admiral Grace Hopper to Digital Equipment Corp.'s Ken Olsen, are no longer with us. Even some second-generation pioneers, such as Apple's Steve Jobs and the reengineering guru Michael Hammer, have passed in the prime of life.

But what about the inventors and entrepreneurs who built on the work done by the first generation? They are the leaders who helped drive the PC industry, who packed computers into smartphones, and who innovated not just in how computers were built and operated, but also in how they changed the way modern business operates. Their technologies have changed our lives.

We plucked a handful of names from the technology history books to revisit. The faces that follow certainly don't comprise a definitive list of all-time great living tech leaders; that's a project for another day. Rather, these are examples drawn from a cast of thousands: engineers who created the next great thing, thinkers who sought a better way of utilizing IT, entrepreneurs who risked it all -- including their life savings and credit ratings -- to bring a startup to commercial success, and businesspeople who took charge of a tech company, driven by an inner confidence that better days were ahead.

In many cases, these second-generation tech pioneers have long outlived the companies for which they are known. And there's no shame in that; it's how technology progresses and business works. The technologies offered by those companies not only served a purpose back in the 1980s, 1990s, or later, but they also set a foundation for the capabilities that we enjoy today.

Take the example of the PC, which provided the arena where many of these folks operated. The traditional PC may be heading for the boneyard, but the concepts it introduced in terms of power and miniaturization -- an information device that's under the control of an average worker, and eventually, mobility -- are the bricks with which today's business is built.

You'll notice that this list is male-dominated. Frankly, so was the technology sector in the 1980s and 1990s. However, women are making great strides today as entrepreneurs in startups and through the corporate ranks to CEO of giant tech companies. This list will look very different 10 or 15 years from now.

Since this list is far from comprehensive, we'd love to know who we missed -- and what they are doing today. So share a comment or two and update us on a tech great you admire.

Jim Connolly is a versatile and experienced technology journalist who has reported on IT trends for more than two decades. He has written about enterprise computing, the PC revolution, client/server, the evolution of the Internet, networking, IT management, and the ongoing ... View Full Bio

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Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
7/9/2014 | 5:24:51 PM
Re: Where Are They Now?
He pops up a lot, commenting on various technologies (such as cloud). I wonder how differently Apple would have turned out if Woz had been at the helm instead of Jobs?
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
7/9/2014 | 2:43:59 PM
No patent issued, and that's a good thing
"Bricklin and Frankston hadn't patented VisiCalc, for a variety of reasons." One good reason not to patent VisiCalc was prior art. There were many predecessor spreadsheets in accounting packages and on minicomputers. Bricklin/Frankston brought the spreadsheet to the PC format, as a tool for everyman. Nice move but no patent issued by this office. There should be fewer patents awarded on software and this happens to be an example of where one shouldn't have been, if the owners had applied.

 

 
Jamescon
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Jamescon,
User Rank: Moderator
7/9/2014 | 1:51:24 PM
Re: Where Are They Now?
Right, Woz certainly had the technical skills, but he also left Apple (at least as a day to day employee) in 1987. Jobs not only was more of the public face but even after he left he got a lot of attention launching NeXt, and then he returned as sort of a conquering hero, getting credit for iPod, iPhone, iPad and other consumer and enterprise products.
Henrisha
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Henrisha,
User Rank: Strategist
7/9/2014 | 1:28:14 PM
Re: Where Are They Now?
Woz was always one of my favorites. Seems like he should've gotten the spotlight instead of Steve, but he was always happier to be in the background than to be in the forefront of things. Brilliant mind.
Jamescon
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Jamescon,
User Rank: Moderator
7/9/2014 | 1:08:38 PM
Re: Where Are They Now?
@Xerox203. Thanks, I appreciate the feedback. This was a fun project for me. I knew some of these people personally way back when, and got to learn a lot about the others over the past week. You're right, the variety of interests and activities that these people have been involved with is amazing. And, these are only examples of a much broader tech population.
Jamescon
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Jamescon,
User Rank: Moderator
7/9/2014 | 11:40:25 AM
Re: Standing on the shoulders of giants
Thanks, Doug. I'll admit that I did keep finding myself saying, "Wow, that happened 30 years ago." Seems like yesterday.
ANON1241634185360
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ANON1241634185360,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 11:15:24 AM
Re: Where Are They Now?
Interesting and rich read on these well-known tech pioneers, but I was curious on Woz. Was he supporting Wikipedia or Wikileaks? I am thinking it should be Wikileaks, but thought I would ask. 
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
7/9/2014 | 11:00:35 AM
Re: Where Are They Now?
This is a great list, James. Thanks for including the twitter handles where applicable, too - it gave me an opportunity to follow some of my favorites that I've lost track of over the years. This turned out to be a pretty lengthy article compared to the standard fare on InformationWeek, yet as yourself and our anon friend have pointed out, it's still far from a comprehensive list, even on just the people featured. That in intself ought to be a reminder of just how deep a topic this is. The computer age exploded between the 80s and today, but that doesn't mean every story within that timeframe isn't worth exploring on it's own merit.

Some of these are surprising to me - I guess I could have guessed that tech mogels of the 80s and 90s would have gone on to chair all kinds of firms and charitable organizations, but nevertheless, the number and variety (sports team ownership?) surprises me. Others of these names are new to me entirely - it's true what you say about the list being male-dominated, and I regret to admit I'd heard of neither of the female members of this list, but it was certainly a joy to read their stories. It's also true what you mentioned about the fade from glory to more humble ends - many of these latter investments I've never heard of, and many of the stories began to blend together. That makes them no less important, though.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
7/9/2014 | 10:33:11 AM
Standing on the shoulders of giants
It's a joy to look back and realize how far we have come and how much we owe to these pioneers. Thanks for the thoughtful, well-researched collection.
Jamescon
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Jamescon,
User Rank: Moderator
7/9/2014 | 10:14:37 AM
Re: Paul Allen
Great point. Thanks for the additional info about Paul Allen's support at SETI.
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