I am a 70 years old male and I believe that I have had a fairly successful career. When I think on it I am reminded of many occasions when a little extra effort worked wonders for me. Since I was no flash in high school the majority of these situations have happened since then.
The Marine Corps
The first occasion happened soon after I joined the Marine Reserve in 1955. In July of 1956, I volunteered for the Marine's new six-month enlistment program that required that I do six months of active duty and return to my reserve unit for another 7 years. Off I went to Parris Island, South Carolina.
Throughout my school years I was fairly used to disappearing into the background and not volunteering for anything - skills that I believed would stand me in good stead while going through Marine boot camp. Soon after arriving, we were formed up by height with the tallest individual made the recruit platoon leader and everybody else was spaced out and aligned accordingly. Every eighth recruit was made a squad leader. I wound up in the rear rank of the second squad - just where I wanted to be. I resolved to just say "yes, sir" and "no, sir" and not to make eye contact with anybody, especially my drill instructors.
This strategy worked great up until the second week. We had been given a manual on the Marine Corps and were told to study and memorize the 11 general orders all Marines are called on to know and recite when they are asked to do so. OK, I took them at their word and I spent the effort and memorized all 11 of the general orders.
A few days later we were formed up as a platoon and had been doing close order drill. All three drill instructors were spaced out around our formation when they immediately started infiltrating our ranks, focusing on individuals, and yelling for the boots to recite a given general order. They were screaming at and busting the heads of the guys who failed to deliver, including the boot that was the second squad leader.
When I responded correctly they grabbed the second squad leader, threw him out of ranks, and pushed me into his position. All of a sudden I'm thrust out in front and I immediately lost my obscurity. They used this technique to pick all of the other squad leaders, so I spent the remainder of my time at Parris Island as the leader of a squad of Marines. In this position I had many opportunities to learn and exhibit my leadership skills.
I believe I did a good job as a squad leader as I was promoted to PFC at the end of boot camp. While at PI, I scored high on the GCT (General Classification Test), essentially an IQ test, and was screened for flight school at Pensacola, Florida.
I was one of only five recruits on PI selected for flight training and the only one that passed the flight physical. To accept this training I would have had to reenlist for four years (I was then a Marine reservist on 6-month active duty). Having a deep fear of flying and after having watched films showing marine pilots landing on WWII era aircraft carriers, I turned the offer down. However, my extra effort got me the chance to be a Marine pilot and officer.
The Air Force
After finishing my six-month stint of Marine Corps active duty I returned to my hometown, Montgomery, Alabama, got married, and tried to find gainful employment. At this point, all I had going for me was that I knew how to hurt people and blow things up.
There was a major recession in 1957 (now called the Eisenhower recession) and nobody was hiring anybody, especially somebody like me. Joan (my new wife) and I decided to reenlist into the Air Force where we thought we could get some kind of job training.
Again, I had great scores on the AFQT (Armed Forces Qualification Tests) and this qualified me for an electronics tech school (Airborne Radar) at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi. We felt indeed fortunate to get an electronics tech school when everybody we knew were going into aircraft maintenance, fire fighting, mess hall duty, security or some other low tech jobs.
We had our 33-foot house trailer pulled to Biloxi and there we set up housekeeping. The house trailer was a big deal for us. We had bought it before we were married, had spent our last dime moving it to Biloxi, and hoped we couldn't be moving it again for a long while. The Radar school was about 30-40 weeks long, divided about equally between electronic fundamentals and Radar sets. I knew I had to do well in the tech school to keep the technical opportunity alive and to protect our livelihood.
Well, I must not have been taking things too seriously because, on the first test, I got a score of 70. Joan and I evaluated that and the possibility that I could easily fail out of school. I obviously needed to expend some "extra effort." I buckled down, worked hard, and finished as the Airborne Radar School's Honor Graduate for my class.
Following tech school I was assigned to Homestead AFB in Homestead, Florida. I was one of two airmen with the AFSC (Air Force Specialty Code) 301x1, Aircraft Electronic Navigation Equipment Repairman. The x stood for the skill level, 3 for apprentice, 5 for intermediate level, and 7 for journeyman. I was initially a 30131 and the tech sergeant I worked for, Sgt Hendricks, was a 30171. All the other electronic types in my squadron were 301x0 (Aircraft Radio Repairman) or 321x0 (Bomb Navigation Repairman)
Like all new Radar repairmen I was initially assigned to the flight line where I would have to handle work orders pulling failed radar navigation units (Radars, Radar beacons, Identification Friend or Foe transponders, etc.) from B47s and taking them to the field shop for repair. Sgt Hendricks was in charge of the 301x0 and 301x1 airmen assigned to both the field shop and the flight line. BombNav had its own flight line and field shop operations.
I immediately saw that the flight line was a dumbed down place to work and that the field shop, which actually did the electronic system repair, was the place to be. At that time, the field shop didn't have a 301x1-type assigned so I petitioned Sgt Hendricks for that assignment. Since he had to do all such radar repair work himself, he relented and I was assigned to the field shop.
Now, the field shop had workbenches, test equipment, and test harnesses (mock-ups) for all the different kinds of radio equipment on the B47, but it didn't have any mock-ups for the various kinds of radar navigation equipment. I saw the opportunity to fill this void and, in my spare time, I built radar mock-ups for all the systems we supported. Needless to say, Sgt Hendricks was impressed with this extra effort and he got me Airman of the Month several times and subsequently promoted to Airman First Class.
Formally, I was assigned to the 379th Armament and Electronics Maintenance Squadron on Homestead AFB. We had two wings of B47s, the 379th bomb wing and the other being the 19th bomb wing. There were Philco TechReps assigned to each of the two A&E squadrons who were civilian employees responsible to the Air Force for radio and radar systems. I forget the name of the TechRep assigned to our wing - I'll just call him George.
Well, George soon discovered that I was a pretty good Radar technician, but he wasn't. He played the game pretty well and stayed out of everybody's way. When we had a problem come up, he would find me and get me to explain the issue or fix the problem. George came to like me a lot and was always asking me how much time I had left in the Air Force, what I was going to do when I got out, etc. He told me that Philco would be interested in hiring me when I got out and that he would give me his recommendation.
This went on for several years until my wing of B47s was changed out to B52s. There could only be one B52 bomb wing on each base, so my wing was moved to Minot, North Dakota. I was in my last year of enlistment so the only way I could stay in the Air Force was to reenlist to fill my vacancy at Minot Air Force Base. Joan and I discussed it, but we didn't want to go to Minot. Also, there was no family housing either on or off the base, and we would have had to be separated. We decided I would take an early discharge from the Air Force.
I talked to George and he told me he was sending a recommendation to Philco about hiring me. A week or so later, I saw an ad in the Miami paper where Philco was interviewing radar technicians. I thought George was responsible for this and that Philco had showed up just to interview me. Joan and I, with our newborn baby, Lynn, drove to Miami.
When I got to the hotel where the Philco interviewer was staying I was overwhelmed at all the people looking for radar jobs. The situation was pretty impersonal. The Philco guy asked me what my specialty was and I answered Airborne Radar. He immediately responded, "We don't need any Airborne Radar people. We're only looking for Ground Radar types."
I was shocked, of course, thinking that there must be some mistake. To myself I thought, "hadn't George recommended me? What was I going to do?" I guess I explained some of this to the interviewer, so he decided to give me the standard Radar test. I scored 98. When he got back to me, he looked at my score and asked me again what my specialty was. When I again told him Airborne Radar, he asked me if I was any good at Radio. I told him I was OK at it. So, to get rid of me, he gave me the standard Radio test. I scored 100.
At this point, I don't believe he knew what to do with me. He asked me to hang around until he could finish up with the other hundred or so applicants. Well, Joan and Lynn were waiting for me down on the street in the car. I went down and explained what was going on and she agreed I should go back and wait.
Later in the day, with everybody else gone, the interviewer turned his attention back to me. He had a short-wave radio in his room with the antenna hanging out the window. He talked to his people in Philadelphia and apparently got some direction about what to do with me. He finally offered me an open-ended job at $429 a month, which seemed pretty spectacular to me. This was sometime in May 1961 and he gave me a report date in July. Joan, Lynn and I finished up with the Air Force, sold our house trailer, and went home to Montgomery, Alabama.
I thought I should interview for a job in Montgomery since that was our home. Since I had a First Class Radiotelephone license, I interviewed with WCOV TV. They had a new system that taped shows off the network during the day to be played back over the airwaves later. It was a fairly complicated system and the talent they had was pretty weak.
I was offered a salary of $70 a week, but I was warned I would become the sworn enemy of the regular staff because of my high pay status. Apparently, they would cut my tires and lay wait for me in the parking lot. Needless to say I didn't take the job. I stayed at my Mother's house for the next few months where I got a few telegrams from Philco delaying my report date. I reported to Philco in Philadelphia in August 1961.
The Philadelphia Experience
When I arrived in Philadelphia I was Alice in Wonderland. I had never been out of town for a job before and I had to find a place to stay and how to do a lot of other things. Philco had a huge operation in Philadelphia manufacturing radios, televisions, air conditioners, refrigerators, washers and dryers, and various kinds of home entertainment products. They were also involved with aerospace tracking systems and built the worldwide tracking network for Project Mercury and subsequent Man-in-Space projects. I had come to the right place.
When I showed up at TechRep headquarters they didn't know whom I was or why I was there. When I explained that I was an Airborne Radar "expert" they laughed and explained that they had no need for Airborne Radar people and asked me how I got hired in the first place. Again, I explained my interview in Miami and showed my offer letter.
They really didn't know what to do with me either. They gave me the same two electronics tests I had taken before in Miami. This time I made 100 on both. Since there were no current job assignments (that I was qualified for), they put me in classes and just let me hang out. I was feeling pretty low and figured I would be let go pretty soon.
After a week or so I was called into a manager's office where I expected the ax to fall. Instead, the manager praised my test scores and told me about a great opportunity that was just opening up. It seemed that the Air Force had contracted with Lockheed and Philco to staff a worldwide, top-secret network of spy satellite tracking sites. Of course, at the time they couldn't explain much about it to me, but I was told I would be trained in Palo Alto, California and sent to a site in Alaska.
I wasn't real anxious to go to Alaska but I didn't know what else to do. I needed a job and I wanted to stay involved in the electronics business, especially something like this spy satellite business. I called Joan and talked it over with her. Just like the trooper she has been all our married life, she told me to take the job. I did and Joan and Lynn stayed in Montgomery and lived with my parents.
Just prior to this, in May 1960, a U-2 pilot named Gary Powers was shot down over Russia. The U-2 spy aircraft was our only way to get intelligence on the Soviet Union, so new ways to spy on them were needed quickly. I went to California for training on the MIDAS (Missile Detection and Alarm System) used to detect the heat signatures of missiles when launched from the Soviet Union. From California I shipped out to Delta Junction, Alaska.
Arriving in Alaska I found out the site was not operational and there was not much to do. The Air Force provided us with a nice facility on Fort Greeley, the Army's Arctic Training Center. We also had some of the best food in our mess hall I have ever eaten anywhere. The MIDAS program was so secret we couldn't even say the word "Midas." However, we had a huge sign on the Richardson highway next to our site turnoff that boldly stated, "U. S. Air Force Midas Tracking site." Go figure.
The most significant thing that happened to me at our site was my introduction to computers. Prior to Philco I had never heard the word "computer" as applied to an electronic device. On our site we had one building just for the computer. It had the first false floor (raised floor for computer cables) that I had ever seen. While the rest of us wore boots, wool pants, lumberjack shirts, and parkas; the computer guys wore dress shoes, black or dark blue suits, dress shirts and ties. They were the high priests of our site (and the entire electronics industry as far as I could tell), and I wanted to be a part of it.
I asked everybody about "computers." What was a computer? How did they work? What role did electronics play in computers? How did you get a job working with computers? Nobody knew anything - at least the group I had access to. Computers became my dream, but it would still be years before I found out how to break into the computer industry.
Finally, the Air Force decided the Midas satellite wasn't working so they cancelled the Fort Greeley site. Since there were other satellites that were working, I was sent back to Palo Alto to be reassigned, probably to Hawaii. Hawaii was considered to be an expensive place to live so Joan and I nixed that.
Since Philco had the policy of paying transportation costs back to an employee's hire point, I quit Philco and got tickets to Miami. Since my flight went through Atlanta, I didn't go all the way back to Miami. I caught a different flight and went home to Montgomery where Joan and Lynn were still staying.
Eglin Air Force Base
The job situation in Montgomery in the spring of 1962 was not good. Since I wanted to stay in electronics, I went down to Fort Walton Beach, Florida and interviewed for jobs on Eglin Air Force Base. With my earlier Radar experience and my satellite tracking experience, I soon found a job at a company, Vitro, which had a contract for operating and maintaining Eglin's AN/FPS-16 ground-based instrumentation radar systems.
In 1962, Eglin's site A-20 had five C-band FPS-16 radar pedestals and one SCR-584 radar. The crews for these systems operated them during tests and maintained them between tests. The majority of the Vitro personnel were OK at operating the radars but not especially sharp at maintaining them. I convinced Vitro to staff one purely maintenance crew which would take down each of the radars for a week of overhaul and repair. This worked out well and I was made the crew chief of this new maintenance crew.
In going to work for Vitro I had taken a pay cut leaving Philco. From $429 a month I was hired at $400 a month. The rationale for this was that the South had a lower standard of living so salaries were lower. I bought into this and I worked almost exactly one year for Vitro; that is, until they gave me my first annual review and a raise of $10 a month. This was an insult for a crew chief and (in my humble opinion) the brightest jewel in their crown, so I went looking for a new job.
White Sands Missile Range
As it turned out, the contract for the FPS-16 radar systems at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico was coming due and a competing vendor, Land-Air, was trying to win this contract. Land-Air already had a few employees at White Sands but was trying to staff up with FPS-16 technicians to better meet the range's total instrumentation requirements.
A friend of mine, Bob Nelson, also an Eglin A-20 FPS-16 technician, was also looking for a new job so we interviewed and hired on with Land-Air at the same time. Since Land-Air hadn't yet won the contract, we found ourselves sitting around in the basement of an Engineering building drinking coffee and bull shitting. It didn't take much of this before I decided I had to find something else to do. Sound like "extra effort" coming up?
Next door to our building was three vans of electronic equipment being taken apart. There were 3 or 4 guys in each van and they had equipment lying about and were busy modifying the van's 19-inch rack enclosures. I walked in and monitored their work for a while before I approached what I assumed was the person in charge. I asked him if he needed any help.
He looked up momentarily then he asked if I knew anything about fixing printed circuit boards. I allowed that I did and he asked if I wanted to repair some for him. Again, I said yes, but I would need a toolbox and a supply card that would allow me to draw parts from base supply. He said he could arrange that, so then he took me back to the Engineering building where there was a room with a 19-inch rack enclosure (like the ones in the vans) in the center, and the entire periphery of the room was lined with storage bins filled with cardboard boxes containing printed circuit boards pulled from the vans. There had to be hundreds of bad circuit boards in the room.
The 19-inch rack was a part of an interferometer instrumentation system called the ITS (Integrated Trajectory System). The ITS was used to measure signal wavelengths to determine the position of transmitting sources such as missiles or satellites. The ITS vans were being overhauled for a new mission. My room was filled with the electronic cards that had been removed from the 3 vans. I had my mission, so I set to work.
I had no real reason to return to the vans so I spent the next six-to-eight weeks fixing printed circuit boards. When I finished up I went back out to the ITS vans. I found the same guy that had asked me to fix his cards so I told him I was finished. He seemed surprised to see me again, but was more surprised to hear me say I was finished. He said, "Did you fix all of them?" I assured him I had and that I had checked them out in the 19-inch mock-up rack. Well, he wanted to see what I had done so we went back to the room in the Engineering building.
When he saw what I had done and spot-checked a dozen or so of the cards, his jaw almost dropped open. He asked me who I was and who I worked for. I told him my name and my boss's name at Land-Air. He said, "Land-Air? Who the hell is that?" When I explained what I was doing there, he told me that his organization, ERDA (the Army's Electronic Research and Development Activity) didn't have any contractual relationship with Land-Air. In fact, he wasn't even aware of the company's existence.
Since he recognized that by this time that I was just as knowledgeable of the ITS, it's servo system and it's component electronics as any of his engineers, he set out on a course to get me (and Land-Air) a contract with ERDA. He did so and I took over finishing the overhaul of one of the ITS vans. I took the finished van out on the missile range for live tests.
The RCA Interview
Well, my buddy Bob Nelson and I went down to Juarez, Mexico on a fairly regular basis to make booze runs and to visit its "attractions." One day he saw an employment ad in the El Paso newspaper where RCA (Radio Corporation of America) was looking for FPS-16 technicians. Since I was doing well with ERDA, I wasn't interested in interviewing for another job. However, I did want to go to Juarez with him, so away we went.
When we got to the RCA appointment I waited while Bob talked with the recruiter and got started filling out paperwork. When the recruiter noticed me, he asked what I did and where I worked. I told him I was also an FPS-16 tech but I wasn't interested in a job. He asked me what my current job assignment was and I answered that I was working on an interferometer system at White Sands.
Well, apparently "interferometer" was the magic word for this recruiter's trip. It should be pointed out that recruiters seldom were technical people and rarely knew much about the jobs they were recruiting for. They went by keywords like "FPS-16" and "interferometer." FPS-16 radar technicians were rare, but few people had interferometer experience. See what that "extra effort" fixing the ITS circuit boards had caused?
He asked me, "How would you like Eleuthera?" I told him I had never heard of the Eleuthera system. He told me Eleuthera was not an instrumentation system; rather, it was an island in the Bahamas. I then told him, for family reasons that I didn't want to leave the country. He explained that it was possible to take families downrange on the Air Force's Eastern Test Range, and he built up the image of the place as a great place to work.
He explained that on the Bahamian island of Eleuthera the Air Force had installed an interferometer system, called MISTRAM (Missile Trajectory Measurement), and that RCA sorely needed experienced people. He went on to explain that I would get 4 weeks vacation, 3 weeks down range leave, a tax free salary (if I stayed 18 months), and he offered me a whopping starting salary.
We had had our second child, Patricia Anne I was sorely tempted by the RCA offer, but I explained to him that I needed to discuss it with my wife. Joan and I decided that I would take the RCA job and go on ahead while she and the two kids would stay in Alabama. Unfortunately, Joan's dad passed away just as we were planning to leave New Mexico and we had to get movers on short notice and get on the road to Alabama quickly.
The Eleuthera Experience
After we got to Montgomery we traded our old Buick for a new Volvo 122S and that, except for our personal effects, was the only possession we had. Joan kept the car and I went to Patrick Air Force Base in Florida to catch the range liner to Eleuthera.
Eleuthera was the site of the MISTRAM (Missile Trajectory Measurement) system. Mistram was made up of 3 major subsystems - ATSS (Acquisition and Track Subsystem), PMSS (Precision Measurement Subsystem), and CSS (Computer Subsystem). There it was again - the word "computer."
RCA was the technical contractor for the Air Force's Eastern Test Range and was led by a technical site manager and 3 subsystem engineer/managers. Bob Giles was the RCA site manager and Dale Mowry was engineer/manager of CSS. Dale was a degreed engineer and had been with RCA Service Company for a long time. He had previously been assigned to BMEWS (Ballistic Missile Early Warning System) in Alaska.
Since PMSS was the interferometer part of Mistram, when I arrived onsite that's where I was assigned. After finding out there was also a computer onsite, I have to admit that I wasn't much interested in PMSS. I wanted to be in the computer group. However, I wasn't the only one interested in working in the Computer subsystem. In fact, there was a long line of volunteers awaiting the next computer vacancy. It looked like I would have a long wait.
Dale and his wife Charlene lived in the town of Governor's Harbour in an old antebellum home build when Eleuthera was the premier source of pineapples for the United States and England. He had an older Scottish couple that was his housekeeper, majordomo and bartender. He had a bar in his house that had high ceilings and was infiltrated with huge spiders. He and I used to get drunk and shoot at the spiders with his bb pistol. I spent many hours in this bar talking and learning what Dale could teach me about computers.
I had a lot of questions about computers and I cultivated Dale to clue me in. I sought out the technical manuals, system diagrams, schematics, and software documentation to learn what I could. Even though I worked in PMSS it wasn't long before I became the go-to guy for computer problems. Does this sound like "extra effort?"
After about a year or so Dale decided he had had enough of downrange life and he wanted to go back up range to a computer engineering job at Patrick AFB's TechLab. Dale was a valuable Mistram resource and he would be hard to replace. He told the Air Force and RCA management that there was only one person trained and prepared to take over his job and that was Joe Richburg. It was a tough call, but I was given the job. I cannot say to you that there was no general resentment to my elevation in position, but I got along fine with my group.
I led the CSS group for several more years, managing its employees, troubleshooting its problems, configuring it for missions and special tests, and writing its software. I learned to program by studying the Mistram operational program, and spent my last year onsite rewriting it.
Towards the end of my time on Eleuthera, Joan and I started having problems. I was working two jobs - my job at Mistram and on nights and weekends I was President of the Beachcomber Club, the base's employee club. I was rarely home and I kept the car with me so Joan had little chance to get away from the house and kids.
Joan started getting sick with female problems and we went to the hospital in Nassau where she had a DNC. An incompetent doctor damn near killed her, and when we got home she wanted to go back to the states to a "normal" hospital. Joan and the girls did go back to Montgomery where she got good medical care, but she wanted to get rid of me. I have to admit I had not been a good husband while we were on Eleuthera, but I was at a point where I didn't disagree about separation or divorce. We did get a long distance divorce with me in the Bahamas and Joan in Alabama.
RCA Tech Lab Experience
In the early 60's there was little computer programming needed or being done by anyone. To my knowledge at the time nobody had the job title of "Programmer." When the time came for me to consider going up range, I had to find a job somewhere. While RCA had given me the job title "engineer", I was not under the illusion that I would qualify for such a position in the states.
Dale Mowry was helpful in getting me an interview with Tom Rutherford, manager of RCA's Data Translation Engineering group, the engineering group where he was working. Also, when other RCA organizations found out I was looking for a job up range, I got a call from the DownRange Programming and Analysis Group (DRAP) - the first programming organization I had ever heard of. DRAP was a newly formed group that did all the programming for the Air Force's Eastern Test Range computers.
I was offered both jobs, but at that time I didn't know what a programming job would do to my resume. I fell back on what was familiar to me and took the hardware job. This was a computer job where I did design and implementation of modifications to the range computers. I even had to make a few trips to Eleuthera to work on the Mistram computer. Thomas Wolfe wrote a book titled, "You Can't Go Home Again," and he was right. But, that's another story.
Later, I was assigned as the responsible engineer for the Data Reduction and Computer Analysis Group at the Tech Lab, the group responsible for data collection and reduction of radar, telemetry, camera, and other instrumentation data. One of the systems I was involved with was MILS (Missile Impact Location System).
MILS was an instrument designed to provide the place of impact of missiles fired from Cape Canaveral and ships at sea. The system used a pentagon array of bottom-mounted hydrophones to detect when and where a missile's impact occurred. MILS Target arrays for intermediate missile tests were just offshore near Antigua in the Caribbean. The arrays for longer-range missile tests were off Ascension Island in the South Atlantic.
When an arrival event occurred near the MILS target array the hydrophones would detect it, and through triangularization the impact point could be determined. Now the MILS data (sound energy, similar to sound studio data) was detected in real-time on strip-chart recorders and had to be analyzed quickly to determine if the missile impacted inside or outside the array. On a more leisurely basis the sound signatures had to be examined for other pertinent characteristics; such as, was the incoming body the weapon itself, the nose cone, or some other piece of the missile. This kind of analysis was performed on site by PHD physicist-types who had to travel downrange for each test.
It would take several days to fly down to Ascension Island, and if the test were scrubbed the analyst would have to fly back and try again on the next scheduled shot. Needless to say, the analysts were not happy with this circumstance. I was called to a meeting where this problem was discussed. Since I was the engineer responsible for MILS (and other systems) I was asked to come up with a solution.
Again, I was Alice in Wonderland! I had no idea of how to solve the problem. The basic idea was to get the MILS data back to the Patrick TechLab in real-time, but this was before satellite communications or any other real-time data transmission techniques existed. We did have SSB (single sideband) radio communication with Ascension but the bandwidth of this medium was used only for voice and it wasn't sufficient for 6 channels of hydrophone data and 1 channel of time.
As I analyzed this problem it occurred to me that the raw hydrophone data was NOT what the physicists were analyzing. They were looking at needle scribbles on a Sanborn chart recorder. The data being analyzed was logarithmically detected in the Sanborn recorder before being displayed on the charts.
The data frequencies of the raw hydrophone signals were far to high for SSB, but the logarithmically detected signal wasn't. All I would have to do was invent a device to logarithmically detect the 7 hydrophone data channels and transmit them via SSB back to Patrick, then invent a device to do the reverse; i.e., receive the transmitted data and couple it back to a linear Sanborn recorder.
To solve the problem I modified the on-site Sanborne recorder by adding operational amplifiers to each chart channel to isolate the detected signals and allow outside connection. I then designed a rack-mounted chassis that would hold 7 voltage-controlled oscillators (VCOs) that would generate frequencies in the first 7 IRIG channels. These frequencies when mixed would fit in the available 3kc bandwidth of the SSB radio. Thus, the visual signals produced on site could be transmitted up range.
The box and its reciprocal device at Patrick's TechLab actually worked. The physicist could then stay home and analyze the same data they would have had if they were on Ascension. The result must have been pretty significant as it was recognized as the "Most Significant Engineering Accomplishment" on the Eastern Test Range for 1968. Why do I tell you this? Maybe it's because I was still a greenhorn and didn't know all that I knew. I believe the results were just another example of a little "extra effort" working for me.
Florida Institute of Technology Experience
You have to understand that where I worked in the TechLab everyone with the title "engineer" was a degreed engineer except me. My title was engineer and I was paid as an engineer, but I didn't have a college degree.
Tom Rutherford, my boss, told me that he couldn't bid me into any more of RCA's range contracts if I didn't have a degree or, at least, be working on one. I took him at his word and started taking night and weekend courses at Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) aimed at getting a college degree.
At the time I started, FIT was called Brevard Engineering College. It had been started in 1958 by Dr. Jerome Keuper, RCA's Chief Scientist, as a place where scientists, engineers and technicians could receive continuing education. Because of my job, I figured I had better enroll in the Electrical Engineering curriculum. Soon after I started I found out that they offered a Computer Science degree, so I changed majors. I didn't tell Tom.
I did pretty well in my computer classes and found that my professors were calling on me to explain things to the class. In fact, I was one of the few people in 1967 that new much about computers. This was at a time when companies and the aerospace businesses used mainframe computers that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Up to this time my programming experience had been in machine language; that is, the bit patterns understood directly by the computer. The computer industry was changing and new programming languages like Cobol, Algol and Fortran were coming into use.
Their came a time at FIT when I took a Fortran programming class, and the whole thing blew me away. I had never programmed in a higher-level language, like Fortran, and I was impressed with its ease of use.
At FIT there was an older gentleman, Bob Brown, a RCA physicist that Dr. Keuper had recruited to run the college computer room. Bob had a tough time running the computer room since he was not very computer savvy. He used work-study students to get things done, but just when he needed them most the surf would be up and he would lose his staff. I met Bob when I had to use the school computer for the first time.
As I said earlier, I took a Fortran course and I had to write programs for the course. One day while I was in the computer room (and Bob had lost his student staff), I asked him if he needed any help. We talked about me doing some programming for him, but when he found out I was an RCA engineer working in the TechLab, he told me he couldn't afford me. I told him I wasn't looking for money - I just wanted some real programming experience using Fortran. Well, I knocked out several small programs for Bob while sitting at the keypunch machine. I compiled the programs and they worked. Bob was favorably impressed. Over time, Bob and I became good friends and I helped him when I could.
One day at work in the TechLab I got a phone call from Bob and he wanted to know what I knew about PERT and CPM, two project management systems that had just come into vogue. I told him I didn't know much if anything but I wanted to know why he asked. He explained that he had had a visit from a couple of electro-optics guys who needed such a program for a government contract they had. It was fairly common at that time for government contractors to engage colleges to get technical assistance.
The electro-optics guys were with a Tampa company that had to supply the government PERT or CPM project reports on the work they were doing building a 240-foot focal length, sun-tracking telescope in New Mexico. They had been using a computer service bureau but wasn't happy with their work. They wanted to know what FIT could do for them. Bob certainly didn't know but he thought I might.
In his phone call Bob asked me to read everything the TechLab library had on project management systems and to meet with the contractor guys the next Saturday at FIT. We met with them and (of all of us) I appeared to be the most knowledgeable about project management systems. They asked if we could create a computer program they could use to report to the government. I thought we could, so we set an appointment several weeks hence to report what FIT could do.
To shorten the story, I was able to write a CPM program that initially did what they wanted it to do. They were impressed with our effort, but saw the added opportunity to influence the future development of the software. They wanted to tailor it to meet their expanded requirements. They were willing to pay the additional development costs and to pay hourly rates to use FIT's computer to print their reports.
This was all good stuff to Bob who had been looking for ways to make the school's computer pay for itself. Since I was still a part-time student, he was a little afraid that I would lose interest in the project and he would be stuck with it without any technical support.
Unbeknownst to me Bob went to Dr. Keuper and explained the situation. He had billed the electro-optics company a one-time fee of about $30 thousand dollars and was charging them $600/hour for another 8-10 hours a month. He was anxious about losing these two sources of revenue. Dr. Keuper had the answer.
He called me in and lectured me about being behind my age group in my education. He explained that though I had a high grade point average (close to a 4.0) it would probably take me 6-8 years to finish my degree part time. He asked me how much money I would need each month to go to school full time. He explained that FIT was prepared to offer me a salary and a tax-free fellowship with books if I would come to the school and consult with Bob. I told him I would have to talk it over with my wife.
Initially Joan wasn't warm to the idea. She wanted to know how much salary was being offered. We were making about $12,000 a year with RCA and didn't expect the school to come even close to that. I went back and met again with Dr. Keuper and told him I would need at least $9,000 a year. We dickered a bit but that's what I got. I took a leave of absence from RCA and started attending college at FIT full time.
I didn't have a formal job with FIT because doing so would screw up my tax-free fellowship status. I would just asked to hang around with Bob when I wasn't in classes and help him with the software. I immediately recognized that I was also eligible for the GI Bill, which I signed up for and started receiving a little over $100 a month.
My teaching in my computer classes caught the Dean of Academic Affairs attention and he asked me if I would be interested in teaching at FIT. I said OK, thinking that this was payback for the salary and fellowship I was getting. The Dean went on to tell me I would have to be accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools before I could teach.
Suffice it to say, FIT got me accredited to teach computer classes based on my job experience. I taught and got paid for a full professorial load (12 hours) each quarter, which also added to our income. All of a sudden we were making more at FIT than we were at RCA.
Bob grew to hate the idea of having to deal with student labor. One day in the coffee shop he asked me how hard it was to learn to program. I explained the process to him, but he didn't want to make the investment himself. He began to pester me with the idea that "you should be able to program the computer in English." I told him you couldn't, but he persisted.
What this did was start me thinking about his idea. Could it be possible to program a computer in English? I knew about simple programs, like RPG (Report Program Generator), but they were still complex enough to require training in their use. Such programs were not for laymen like Bob. However, there was something in the concept of non-computer people being able to program that began to fascinate me. This was the beginning of what would later become my first company's product, Datascan.
Returning to my days at FIT, I continued to work with Bob, I continued to teach, and I took 20-24 hours of courses each quarter and finished my degree in just over three years (a year part time and a little over two full time). Now all of this was made possible by volunteering to help in FIT's computer room and the "extra effort" it exposed me to.
The Radiation/Harris Experience
After graduating from FIT I didn't return to RCA. I joined Radiation, a company in Melbourne, Florida, that was a leading aerospace company. I went to work in the System Division's computer department. Since I had extensive hardware and software experience I was assigned to outside projects in Radiation's operational groups. For example, I worked with the Radiation group doing "spook" work for Wright-Patterson AFB's Foreign Technologies Division.
Radiation also had a division, the Micro Electronics Division that had quickly became a premier developer of miniaturized electronic technologies for America's new space program. Radiation's microelectronics products, because they were radiation hardened, were used on America's first communication and weather satellites and by the military for the Minuteman, Atlas, and Polaris missile systems.
However, growth of the Micro Electronics Division was being limited by the complexity of its integrated circuits (ICs). Attempting to expand from its low and intermediate size ICs and participate in the broadening market for consumer electronic components, the division sought to fully realize the cost and small size potential of large-scale integration (LSI). One of the major problems it had to overcome was the time and cost involved in preparing the photo masks that were used for chip fabrication.
By way of background, most of us are familiar with the printed circuit boards used in our TVs, VCRs, and other consumer products. These circuit boards are composed of transistors, resistors, capacitors, wires and connectors that we can easily see. Integrated circuits (ICs), on the other hand, are composed of the same kinds of things except laid out on a tiny silicon chip. ICs have made possible the space program, our superior defense network, and the dramatic cost and size reduction of everyday consumer electronic products.
At the time Radiation asked me to get involved, the Industry's technique for manufacturing integrated circuits depended on its ability to produce the photo masks (glass plates) used in the IC manufacturing process. A photo mask is (typically) a 4 to 5 inch glass plate that has a pattern of rectangles that are slated to be one layer of the transistors, resistors, etc. that make up the integrated circuit. These clear and opaque areas are repeated over the masks surface. Between 15 and 20 masks are commonly used today to describe an entire circuit.
Mask making, at the time, involved a process of drawing the multi-layered devices at 400x (400 times actual size), separating the layers by making them different colors, placing the colored drawings on a light table covered by a red masking film (typically Rubylith film), carefully cutting the film for each mask layer, photographing the film and reducing it to a 10x glass film, then the use of a photo-repeater to step and repeat the 1x (actual size) image onto a final mask, and finally to use the 1x layer images to control the manufacturing process.
As the circuits increased in complexity the production of the photo masks grew so error prone that the process became too expensive. The operators just couldn't cut the film with enough accuracy to preserve the integrity of the drawing. Something had to be done that was less error prone.
The answer was the use of computer-aided design techniques and computers to eliminate the film cutting and photographic processes. This called for someone experienced with electrical engineering, computer hardware and computer programming. I was Radiation's answer to the Microelectronics Division's problem, and I was given the assignment. Again, this appears to me to be "preparation meeting opportunity."
My solution to the problem involved a technique where the design engineers/draftsmen could name and describe a component (transistors, resistors, etc.) onto a punch card once, no matter how often it was used. Then the IC structure could be developed by naming and describing encompassing components in terms of lower level components until a complete IC was coded. Provision was made for replicating arrays of components as are typically found in memory chips and other types of digital circuits.
I set it up where the punch cards were read into a time-sharing terminal communicating with a large, mainframe computer in Dallas where the named items were cataloged and databased. The design engineers could then use and reuse these components and assemblies to describe a desired IC.
The software I wrote would pull all these components together, automatically produce the numerical-control language to control a pattern generator, and produce its output on a local paper tape punch. The paper tape was used as input to a Mann Pattern Generator, which directly made the 1x glass film.
This process was so successful that in 1971 Harris Semiconductor (the new name for Radiation's Microelectronics Division) was the first company to make a 1k-bit memory chip. It was about this time that Harris Corporation acquired Radiation, and its Microelectronics Division was spun off to a separate company, Harris Semiconductor.
Harris Semiconductor, in a spirit of separation from its old parent company, wanted its own mainframe computer system. Having just won a major battle for the new company, I was hired as its new manager of Data Processing. I acquired and installed the company's first IBM System 370 computer system and hired a staff of 17 people - system analysts, programmers, computer operators and keypunch operators.
Since I had a clean slate to work with, I developed the company's first general business applications (General Ledger, Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, Fixed Assets Accounting, and Payroll) around a new IBM network database technology known as Chain File Management System (CFMS).
Data processing, circa 1970, was dominated by computer systems driven by magnetic tape storage devices. Similar in operation to today's cassette tape systems (but larger), magnetic tapes had to be accessed from front to back, end to end, with no capability to directly find anything of interest. This limitation forced itself on application design and computer programs had to be written to handle data accordingly. Suffice it to say, there were few random access disks in popular use.
With the advent of disk technology there was a revolution in data processing. Database technology bloomed and companies like IBM, Cincom, and Ingress, to name a few, introduced stand-alone database products.
Like all new computer technologies, database caught my attention and I became preoccupied with it. I studied IBM's various offerings, Cincom's Total, and other database systems, and with my implementation of Harris Semiconductor's data processing systems I became Harris's "database expert."
I don't believe I ever had a job prior to or since which was more boring than managing Harris Semiconductor's computer group. Once I had the database working and the basic applications developed, I had very little to do but manage people. There can't be many jobs as trying on the soul as managing people - especially women. I had to find something else to do.
Harris Corporate had promoted a guy, Dick DeCaire, who had solved some tax-angled problem for the company (which permitted Harris to screw the government) and assigned him to manage computer operations at a new Harris acquisition, Polytechnic Research and Development Company (PRD) in Brooklyn, New York. This guy was a computer idiot and I was recommended to him as a consultant who could help solve his problems. I visited him on Long Island and did my best, but he was hopeless.
Not long after this I get a phone call from Dick saying, "Hey Joe, guess where I am now?" He was calling from Falls Church, Virginia where he was the new Chief Financial Officer for Computer Science Corporation. He wanted me to join him at CSC and if I did I could have any job they had that I wanted. Well, I was bored with Harris Semiconductor and I respected CSC as an industry leader, so I took the job. I was then CSC's "database expert."
I did some projects for the U.S. Department of Labor, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and some other federal agencies, while Dick took care of CSC's contracts, investment banking, and other financial services. The problem was Dick was going crazy.
He had switched CSC's bank accounts to a different bank that had worked it out where Dick received 3 highly valuable home sites in Great Falls. He assigned CSC's architect full time to develop him a personal home and two other homes he could sell. He did other criminal acts that scared me to death. All this time he and I got drunk every night and he cried like a baby because he was so afraid of what he was doing.
When I hired on CSC had required me to sign a statement that if I quit with the year I would pay back all my relocation expenses. Well, I hadn't moved Joan and the kids to Virginia so my expenses consisted of my travel and the restaurant and bar checks I had picked up for Dick's and mine entertainment. I knew I had to get away from Dick and CSC so I went into the personnel department files, pulled my employment agreement, tore it up, and left town. I drove non-stop back to Florida.
Harris was gracious enough to welcome me back and I took a job as Chief Computer Scientist for Harris Systems. My first assignment was to analyze why Harris Systems' first database effort was so slow. I did the analysis, pointed out their problems, concluded that it would take computer evolution another decade or so before their database systems would be effective, and had them ignore my work. They had too much invested politically to acknowledge the problem. They put the database systems on the shelf and went back to "business as usual."
When Harris bought Radiation they made Harold O'Kelley the General Manager of the Electronics Group, the group of companies (including Radiation and Harris Semiconductor) that Harris had acquired. I had several requests that came down through channels to me to look into several products from other companies. I did my analysis and forwarded my results.
What I didn't realize at the time was that I was doing this work for O'Kelley who was considering Harris for a start-up Texas company, DataPoint. Harold was hired as DataPoint's Chairman of the Board and started hiring away Harris people. I, too, in 1974 was offered a job at DataPoint.
I had a good job at Harris Systems and was still on the adjunct faculty at FIT, so I wasn't interested in DataPoint unless they gave me a job in marketing. By that time I had been in technical jobs my entire career and I knew I wanted to start my own company. I figured that I needed to know something about business, especially sales and marketing, if I was to be successful at that. DataPoint offered me a hardware/software product-marketing job.
I did the product marketing job for several years but I wasn't successful at it. The products failed and I was promoted to vice president in Research and Development. I certainly didn't want to go back to a technical job, so I looked around in the company and found another marketing job.
DataPoint had recently got into the telephone products business and had a very successful Long Distance Control System (InfoSwitch), which automatically routed a company's outgoing telephone calls onto the cheapest available line. I was offered a marketing job in this group.
The InfoSwitch group was busy designing three new products. My job was marketing communications; i.e., the job of managing advertising, producing sales brochures, and handling trade shows. I had to get the three new products ready for a Telecommunications Trade Show in San Diego that year.
Now, my idea and consuming interest was to start my own company. To this end, I had been working on the English-like programming idea since leaving FIT. When my first marketing job at DataPoint failed, I resurrected this project and started looking for a way to develop it. I contacted a friend in San Antonio, Fred Wood, who had a software development company focused on NCR computers. Fred was busy developing a Hotel Management System for La Mansion hotels and he couldn't help me directly.
Fred did introduce me to a computer manager at an aircraft instrument manufacturing company at San Antonio's airport. He had an NCR 8250 computer and we made a deal where I would get free computer time and he would get royalty-free rights to the finished software. I developed my first product, ASK, working nights and weekends while keeping my day job with DataPoint. I sold 3-4 copies of the software for $2700 apiece.
I knew I was close to being able to start my own company, but I knew for conflict of interest reasons that I couldn't do it in San Antonio. I made a deal with InfoSwitch management that if I could successfully pull off the San Diego trade show they would give me a sales territory in Atlanta. I figured that the InfoSwitch sales job would give me cover while I got my own company started up.
That fall the InfoSwitch trade show was a big success, so following it I asked for my sales job. They told me NO! They told me, "You're too valuable in your marketing job. You are not a salesman. You'll fail. etc" I had to pull a lot of strings, including pulling back favors from DataPoint management, but I got the Atlanta territory.
My First Company
In preparation for my first company I sent demo tapes of the ASK software to all the NCR sales offices. The NCR salesmen loved the product because it answered a major need their customers had, namely to be able to produce reports, graphs, and all kinds of business analyses in English. This was a powerful message in 1978 when the average number of programmers in a NCR shop was zero. This was so because NCR sold them the computer and a "canned" program that couldn't be modified or added to.
When I arrived in Atlanta I had two purposes. The first was to do as good a job for DataPoint as I was capable, and the second was to establish my own business. I did DataPoint's job during the day as efficiently as possible where I could spend my nights and weekends getting my business going.
When I was in DataPoint's home office I had sent leads to the salesmen that I received from mailings, phone calls, and trade show leads. When I got to the Atlanta office I found the envelopes containing this material unopened. The previous salesman hadn't even looked at them. I did, and I only considered the most promising ones. I cultivated these prospects and for the most promising I made sales calls and eventually written proposals. In my first eight months in Atlanta (the remainder of DataPoint's physical year) I submitted 11 proposals and closed 10 deals. I lost one of my prospects because the customer's home office was in another state and the customer wanted to do the deal from there.
My biggest deal was a contract for an Automated Call Distribution system for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama. The customer was in Birmingham and bought the DataPoint system sight unseen. In fact, DataPoint had not made one yet. The system cost $500,000 on which I was paid an 8 percent commission. I made a lot of money as a DataPoint salesman; in fact, for the year 1978 I was DataPoint's top salesman. Another example of "extra effort."
To get my own business going I contacted a friend of mine in Atlanta, Ron Goldsmith, who was also a DataPoint salesman. Ron handled Value-Added Resellers (VARs) for DataPoint in Atlanta. I asked Ron the following, "Give me the name of a VAR who previously was a Burroughs, NCR or IBM marketing executive." He gave me the name Cal McGraw.
Cal McGraw and Datascan America
What I wanted from Cal (or someone like him) was a "front"; an office location where I could receive mail and telephone calls. Cal and I met and discussed the parameters of a relationship. In the end Cal and I joined up and he received 25 percent of my company's revenue. Cal provided the services of Linda, his secretary, who then began to handle my business communications.
By the end of DataPoint's physical year I was making about four times what I made DataPoint's home office, and my NCR ASK business was booming. The second part of this success was not lost on Cal. He could see my revenue numbers and he wanted a bigger part. He began to tell me that I needed to come into the business full-time. I didn't do this right away; I continued to develop the product for DataPoint computers and named it Datascan.
One day, on a trip to North Carolina to see one of Cal's customers, he brought up the subject of the two of us forming a business. It was an attractive idea to me because I didn't have any business experience and I believed at that time that Cal did. We talked about how the equity in the new company would be split. I said twenty-five - seventy-five. Cal agreed, but he was thinking twenty-five percent for me and seventy-five percent for him. We haggled until we got to fifty-fifty.
At that point, we had arrived at the office of Cal's customer. He went inside and I stayed in the car. The more I thought about the proposed split the less I liked it. When Cal returned I told him that I wasn't happy with the split, and I told him we had left out an important third party. He asked "Who?" and I told him "Joe Schmuck." He asked me who Joe Schmuck was, and I told him, "Joe Schmuck owns the product our company wants to sell." I told him I was Joe Schmuck and I didn't believe our fifty-fifty deal entertained my interest.
I believe both Cal and I wanted a deal so we attempted to work out this detail. Cal asked how much Schmuck wanted for his product and I scrambled for the biggest number I could think of - $250,000 dollars. Cal surprised me by saying, "OK, but do you realize that you will have to pay Schmuck $125,000 and I will pay Schmuck $125,000." He was a better businessman than I was, so he had me. We named the new business Datascan America.
We finally agreed to a fifty-fifty equity split and in addition we would pay me a 10 percent royalty until the $250,000 was paid off. Later, when we went for our first private placement investment, we agreed that a 10 percent royalty right off the top would not be attractive to our investors. We converted the royalty payment to a loan payable to me. We got a $2 million dollar investment and Cal and I were allowed to take out $500,000 each from the proceeds.
I continued to work for DataPoint for a few more months, but my heart was not in it. I took office space with Cal, but to my consternation Cal spent the majority of his time running his own business. I had misread about how useful he would be to me, which, it turns out, wasn't very much. Everybody in the family missed Texas, so in 1979 I moved me, Joan, the kids and Datascan America back to San Antonio.
Over the next several years the company kept its marketing and sales operations in Atlanta. Cal hired two vice presidents and several salesmen. Cal's principal effort during this time (unknown to me) was trying to find a buyer for the company. I ran Datascan America's technical development operations in San Antonio and was responsible for putting the Datascan product on Lanier and IBM computers. Our IBM mainframe development brought Datascan America into contact with Jack Berdy at On-Line Software International (OSI).
Prior to 1983, Wall Street had never focused on computer software companies. In fact, the first initial public offering (IPO) for a software company was issued to Cullinet Software, the developer of Ingres database management system. In September 1982, OSI went public and was one of the first software vendors listed on the New York Stock Exchange. At about this time there started a feeding frenzy for successful software companies.
In November 1983 we sold 29 percent of Datascan America to the Massey-Burch Group, an early investor in OSI. Jack Berdy, CEO and Chairman of OSI, was swimming in cash from his recent IPO and was looking for software companies in which to invest. It was fatalistic that Cal (seeking to sell), Massey-Burch eager to get a quick return on their Datascan investment, and Jack Berdy (in his feeding frenzy) get together.
I had just developed the Content Access Method (CAM) technology and had built it into our IBM System 34 product. Jack saw this and he had to have it. For that reason, and that reason alone, Massey-Burch was able to broker a deal whereby Datascan America was pooled with OSI in exchange for 400,000 shares of OSI stock valued at $29 a share; i.e., a $11,600,000 deal. In addition, Cal and I were to receive a percentage of Datascan America sales worth an additional $2M each.
However, not all bird nests found on the ground contain fresh eggs. From the time we started the agreement process to the time of closing, OSI stock went from $29 a share to $4 a share. The $11.6M deal was suddenly worth only $1.6M. I really didn't want to close on the deal, but I had two partners wanting to go through with it. One partner (Cal) had 35.5 percent and the other partner (Massey-Burch) had 29 percent, so I didn't control the deal. If I had been very vocal expressing my objection, I would only have made matters worse. We closed the deal.
As a consequence of doing a "pooling", Cal and I had to hold onto our shares and not sell any of them for at least two years. During that time the stock went back up to $8 a share. I told Cal and Jack Berdy that I was going to sell my shares as soon as I was able. The both begged me not to do so, thinking that putting on the market that much of a thinly traded stock would dilute the price. I did anyway and their concerns didn't materialize. I had Merrill Lynch manage selling my shares as fast as they could and I averaged about $12 a share. More importantly, I was free of Cal.
Some would say that Cal was good for me. I liked Cal but he and I are not much alike. What he wants I generally don't, and vice versa. Would I have made as much money without Cal? Maybe not, but maybe so. You cannot know how history would be changed with a different set of players.
If this sounds like too much history in a blog about "extra effort", I guess its because I would want to communicate that things are not always a consequence of your actions alone but you have to depend on others as well. I have always been the most successful when I (and I alone) was responsible for my results.
FileLocator and WordStar
As I said just above, I had recently developed a text technology I called Content Access Method (CAM). Using it you could find any text pattern (a partial word, a word, or a phrase) within any unit of text (a disk sector, a document, a database record, whatever) storage. I had just implemented it within Datascan, a database query product. I considered what else to do with CAM and decided that the emerging word processing marketplace was the way to go.
I spent the next couple of years developing a Document Search and Retrieval System called FileLocator. My company was called Richburg Associates and I had one employee, Jerry McMillan, who had been with me at Datascan America. At that time I didn't want to do another company like I had done with Cal.
I reached the conclusion that the computer software marketplace was too crowded, especially the personal computer marketplace. My experience showed that a cheap and inexpensive way to get a product into the marketplace was to team up with a company (or companies) that already had achieved success.
I had a good friend, Bill Davis, who I respected a lot, who had a company, XPO, Inc., located in Dallas. Bill was working with a group of guys that had left Digital Research and had developed Ventura, the industry's first desktop publishing system. Bill was instrumental in getting the Ventura guys hooked up with Xerox who distributed the Ventura software. This was the kind of deal I was looking for.
In September 1985 I formed a marketing agreement with Bill and XPO. Bill and I started to work on MicroPro, the publisher and distributor of WordStar, the PC world's leading (and virtually only) word processing program.
By January 1987, an agreement with MicroPro was finalized and Richburg Associates received an advance royalty of $5,000. Richburg Associates received a steady stream of royalty revenue, averaging about $25,000 each quarter, into the 1990s. I was like Elvis - I had a hit software program and I could sit back and draw my royalties.
In April of 1987 IBM announced the PS/2 and OS/2. At a seminar in Atlanta, IBM told the world what they planned to do with the new PC line and their new OS/2 operating system. What caught my attention was their statement that they, in partnership with Microsoft, were going to build a Windows-like graphical user interface in OS/2.
Several years earlier, in January of 1983, Apple had introduced the graphical user interface on its Lisa computer. Since, at the time, I had been actively looking for computer platforms where we could implement Datascan, I looked into the Lisa and decided it was impossible for programmers to adapt to its new programming paradigm.
What one needs to understand is, prior to Lisa and Microsoft Windows; personal computers were character-based. Like in the photo above the screen was black and white and presented a DOS command interface. There was no graphical screens, windows, or mice. By today's standards, computers were very difficult for lay people to use.
The computer industry was trying to come to grips with this fact, and one company, Xerox, out a research effort in place at its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) to study the problem and its solution. This group was to invent the graphical user interface (GUI) used in today's windows-based applications and the mouse pointing device.
After a visit to PARC by Steve Jobs, Apple stole their research work and implemented it in the Lisa. After Bill Gates saw the Apple Lisa he set out on a course to steal the GUI/mouse from Apple. Windows release 1 occurred in November 1985, but it was full of bugs and was a piece of s*** until 1987. IBM then helped Microsoft with Windows with its PS/2 and OS/2 announcement.
Our family had a reunion holiday in Florida the summer of 1987. Following this vacation I went to Atlanta for the IBM announcement. I felt the announcement of a Windows-like OS/2 was significant because of IBM's presence in the computer marketplace. I immediately saw the opportunity to meet the GUI programming challenge with a software development tool.
Windows was no easier to program than Apple's Lisa, and this presented a tremendous problem for the computer industry. Windows was going nowhere and IBM's new PC venture was threatened. I thought about this and how knowledge could be quickly shared between programmers that knew how to program a GUI and those that did not. Some of my previous experience with computer aided design and software engineering came to the fore.
After the IBM seminar, I visited with my daughter Lynn and her husband Mike in Atlanta. I told Mike about the IBM announcement and what I thought it meant and that I thought it a great opportunity. Mike didn't have a job at the time, so I hired him to investigate Windows programming.
An early industry expert on Windows programming was a guy named Charles Petzold who wrote the book Programming Windows in late 1987. I purchased this book and was flummoxed by what programmers would have to know before even starting a Windows program. At the time of its introduction Windows had a programming interface made up of over 400 function calls. And, each of these functions had a host of input and output parameters needed to customize its use.
I visualized where this could lead to the need for a new programming tool that could help programmers overcome this burden. That they needed this help was manifested in the fact that Windows and Windows-like programming was a fundamental and irreversible shift in the programming paradigm. Virtually all programmers would have to learn windows.
My instructions to Mike were pretty simple. Study Petzold's book, study all the Windows programming examples, and experiment with all the function calls and their parameters. I returned to San Antonio leaving Mike in Atlanta to do his work.
After a month or so I returned to Atlanta and debriefed Mike on what he had learned. Following this review I was even more convinced that the personal computing world needed a software development system aimed at simplifying Windows.
In the time I was in San Antonio, Cal had started a consulting company whose mission was to assist distressed and failing businesses. I worked with him on two such companies until I was convinced he only wanted to use me and cut me out with no compensation. At one of these distressed companies I met Eva Savage who later joined me as my executive assistant - Eva stayed with me to the end.
What Cal did have that I was interested in at this time was office space. From his venture with a graphics software company, Cal had a very large office area with time remaining on the lease. Since I was still loosely associated with him in his consulting business, he offered me free office space.
Mike and I started working together in this building. As it turned out, our new business, which we named SofTools, Inc, was to lease this space for the first several years of its operations. Due to phallic connotations, the name SofTools didn't last very long and the company was subsequently renamed CaseWorks, Inc.
Caseworks started with a bang! That autumn (of 1988) we took our business concept and release 1.0 of Case:W to Comdex in Chicago. We didn't have a booth, but we did have a hospitality suite to which we invited Microsoft, IBM and other companies. We were received well!
In the remaining months of 1988 we had revenues of $30 thousand dollars. The next year we did $1,008,000. The following year, 1990, we did $3.2M dollars. We were on our way! By this time Cathy Mayo, John Stark, Emory Ketchersid and Ed Roberts were all on board.
One of my best business decisions was to bring in a public relations firm to handle our interface with the magazines and trade press. I had never used PR before this but my experience with DataPoint marketing convinced me this was a smart thing to do. We had some excellent PR firms in Atlanta and I set out to get an appointment.
One of the top PR firms was Alexander Communications founded by Pam Alexander. Initially Pam wouldn't give me the time of day. However, I had a number of business friends in Atlanta (one being Bill Goodhue, President of Peachtree Software) and he told Pam that she should be talking to me because my company was soon to be the next "hit" in Atlanta. She did grant me an appointment and assigned Beverly McDonald to the Caseworks account. The rest is history. Caseworks was the biggest name in PC software for the next several years.
As Caseworks grew more and more successful the major companies with an interest in Windows (namely Microsoft, IBM, Intel, etc.) sought us out and wanted a business relationship with Caseworks. Microsoft and Intel bundled our product with theirs and we developed a healthy revenue stream from that. In 1993 IBM Marketing saw that a similar relationship would be strategic to their efforts. This started a multi-year contract relationship culminating in IBM buying a 22.6 percent interest in Caseworks and electing Caseworks to be an International Alliance Member (IAM).
It would have been great if it worked, but IBM was in a top-down process of changing its business. For the first time ever IBM laid off thousands of its employees. Corporate management decided that the IAM relationships were not working to its advantage, so they cancelled them.
Unfortunately for Caseworks, IBM marketing had used its influence to prompt Caseworks to open 6 regional sales offices corresponding to IBM's regional offices to facilitate and support Caseworks' products. Out of a sense of greed, Caseworks also increased its products pricing. For a company doing telemarketing from one small office in Atlanta, this was an expensive step. Caseworks started hemorrhaging cash.
It has been said that Caseworks President, Joe Trino, and Chief Financial Officer, Mark Simcoe, were keeping two sets of books and hiding the company's problems from me. That may be, but I was the Chief Executive Officer and ultimately I was responsible. One day, late in the process, Mark Simcoe called me on my cell phone and told me what was going on. I fired Trino and Simcoe and took over the company.
By that time Caseworks was doomed. The company had zero revenue and was over $600,000 in trade debt. It also had a $1M dollar bank line (guaranteed by IBM) that it had consumed. Trino and Simcoe had been trying to find an investment for Caseworks, but several attempts with savvy investors fell through. I was personally exposed to great loss, so I had to do something.
Since Cal had a company specializing in distressed businesses, I called him and explained my situation. Cal saw an opportunity to salvage the company and maybe make a buck in the process, so he brought in 3 of his associates and they went to work. The major effort was spent in collecting receivables and paying off creditors. It was unfortunate, but creditors were only paid a small fraction on their debt. One thing Cal did do was to find a buyer for the company.
In the mid 90's Leland Strange was a successful entrepreneur with his previous companies, such as Peachtree Software, Quadram, and others. Leland looked for opportunities in the computer software world and Cal brought Caseworks to his attention. Leland bought Caseworks from IBM by assuming Caseworks' $1M bank note, but paid me nothing for my interest. He continued to collect Caseworks' receivables and apply that to its creditors.
After selling Caseworks, Joan and I moved from Atlanta to our lake house on Lake Oconee. While there, Leland contracted to pay me $10K a month to help him manage Caseworks. I went into Atlanta 1 day a week, but it was hopeless. Without supervision from an experienced software person the retained employees provided poor advice to Tom Newbill, Leland's manager, and the company went to hell quickly. When I saw that neither Tom nor Leland were interested in my counsel, I resigned.
As I write this it has been 13 years since Joan and I moved to Lake Oconee. I was in rough shape mentally, having just spent 7 years building Caseworks. I joined the church for the first time since my teens, joined the Eatonton Kiwanis Club, and mused about what I was going to do next.
Since I had been primarily a business manager for the previous 10 years or so and I had not directly done any technical development work, I decided to renew my software skills. And, even though Caseworks had developed the premiere Windows development tool, I had no real personal experience writing Windows programs. I purchased Microsoft's Visual Studio software development tools and set out to overcome this.
In order to learn I have always needed a real problem to solve, so I created one - The Programmer's Assistant. I have to admit to some confusion because I didn't always know when I was trying to learn or build a product. In any event, I learned to program Windows, but I gave up on The Programmer's Assistant project.
It was about this time that Patti divorced Sid and she and her three kids came to the lake house to live with us. Patti finished school at Georgia College in Milledgeville and Joan and I took care of the kids. This was one of the happiest periods of my life.
Our life on the lake started to get boring so Joan and I had to figure out where we wanted to live for the rest of our lives. I still had in my head the sprit of adventure I had felt when we lived and worked on the Space Coast of Florida. I wanted to go back there. We moved back to a condo on the ocean in Indian Harbour Beach, just a few blocks from Marion Street where we lived when our kids started school. The beach was too windy so we moved to a duplex on Anchor Drive that was still in Indian Harbour Beach.
The Anchor Dr house holds a lot of memories for our family. It was here that Rachel came to live with us. It was also here that Bob, Emily and Tom got their Microsoft Certified Solution Developer credentials. Patti and her family also moved to Florida and it was here that she met and married Joe Woodward.I haven't accomplished much since Caseworks. As I said when I opened this particular blog, I am 70 years old. One thing I am sure of is that we don't ask or expect much of older people. That's a shame since, in my own case, I have accumulated a great deal of valuable experience and nowhere to put it to use.
When I look back at this epistle I am struck by the kinds of extra effort opportunities available to me at various stages in my life. When I was in the military it seems that I could call on my basic intelligence and youthful energy to find avenues to explore. In my early job experience it was my sense of adventure, curiosity and desire to learn that opened opportunities. In my formative job experience it was my fear of failure and my ability to generate new ideas that saw me through. Later, it was my ability to associate prior experience with new ideas and concepts that gave my seniors and peers the illusion I was capable of creative thinking.
Regardless, I was very lucky; i.e. it seemed I was prepared when opportunity showed up. I sincerely hope some of this "luck" has rubbed off on my kids, their spouses, my grandkids and my great grandkids.
I am trying to finish this blog by Christmas. I sincerely hope it contains a message of value to my kids of all subsequent generations. We aren't going to share presents this year, just cash and not a lot of that. I have something for all of you - your mother and grandmother.
I am particularly thankful for my mother. She was a saint on this earth! She was the best woman I've ever met with a close second being my wife, Joan. My best gift to you is my choice of her to be your mother. She has been the reason for any success I've had by being supportive, encouraging, and a great partner.