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7/9/2014
08:06 AM
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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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anon7533277611
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anon7533277611,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 10:05:56 AM
Re: Paul Allen
I just wanted to add that Paul Allen also funded the Allen Telescope Array at the SETI Institute, a network of forty-two (and growing) small dish antennas that search for radio signals originating outside our solar system.
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.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
7/11/2014 | 7:02:56 AM
Re: Paul Allen
I wonder if computational power needs to increase in order of SETI to deliver results, meaning that data has been collected but not yet processed. Or are computers already fast enough to process all the data that has already been collected and the primary need is to collect more data. Overall, SETI is an extremely interesting project.
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 | 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.
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.
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. 
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 | 1:51:24 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.
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?
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/9/2014 | 6:03:03 PM
Re: Where Are They Now?
I'd have liked to be such a tech stud that I could get away with naming my kid Maverick. Does McNealy he have another kid named Goose?


Jamescon
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Jamescon,
User Rank: Moderator
7/10/2014 | 8:56:52 AM
Re: Where Are They Now?
@David Wagner. Sorry, wrong movie genre. Google shows McNealy's kids names as Maverick, Scout, Dakota, and Colt. Maybe a fan of westerns?
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/10/2014 | 12:45:45 PM
Re: Where Are They Now?
@Jamescon- That's cool, too. But then I'm sad he didn't name a kid "Rooster."
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/10/2014 | 12:54:24 PM
Re: Where Are They Now?
@jamescon- I was jsut talking about this with someone and they asked what Maverick's middle name was. Turns out it is Scott (I was hoping that was where Goose came in). But in looking up the middle name I discovered that McNealy named all of his kids after cars. His dad was Vice Chairman of American Motors and he grew up in Detroit. 

All the names are cars with native American connections. 

http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2002-03-31/a-talk-with-scott-mcnealy

 

 
Jamescon
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Jamescon,
User Rank: Moderator
7/10/2014 | 9:08:52 AM
Re: Where Are They Now?
@Alison. Everything I've heard about Woz indicates that he wanted to do engineering rather than run a big company. It seems like he is more of a hands-on techie with a leaning toward running a startup if being the CEO of anything. Also, when Woz left Apple it wasn't under Jobs but John Sculley. Jobs left in 1985 to do NeXt, and Sculley stayed on until 1993. I didn't realize until I just looked it up that Sculley was there for 10 years.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
7/10/2014 | 4:07:03 PM
Re: Where Are They Now?
That's right! Thanks for the refresher... I should have remembered that Sculley was there when Woz left.
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.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
7/11/2014 | 6:53:38 AM
Re: Where Are They Now?
@James, it is amazing how a pioneer can revolutionize a number of disciplines. For example, Jaron Lanier, virtual reality helps so many engineers to test products and concepts in a controlled environment (simulations) -- has helped students to learn at a quicker pace. Universe Sandbox is a good example, and many video games also have a learning aspect to them.
Jamescon
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Jamescon,
User Rank: Moderator
7/11/2014 | 9:01:14 AM
Re: Where Are They Now?
@Brian Dean. Right, Lanier isn't a household name but he's had an impact on many fronts.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
7/23/2014 | 3:45:24 AM
Re: Where Are They Now?

This was a really interesting look at tech giants and where they are now.  Thanks James !

Jamescon
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Jamescon,
User Rank: Moderator
7/23/2014 | 8:03:28 AM
Re: Where Are They Now?
Thanks, Technocrati. Any suggestions for people that we missed?
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
7/26/2014 | 11:03:48 PM
Re: Where Are They Now?
@James     I thought I was missing something so I reviewed the list a number of times and I still don't see Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google .  

Surely debatable if they are Tech Greats at all but I would think (they are ) worthy of a mention.
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
7/10/2014 | 9:01:05 AM
Re: No patent issued, and that's a good thing
@Charlie. Applying today's standards for software patents, particularly the business process decision that the Supremes handed down a couple years ago, Visicalc probably wouldn't have qualified for a patent. However, Bricklin writes on his site that there were several reasons for not applying, the biggest one being cost and lawerly advice along the lines of it not being worth it.
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