On false starts and long hours-Will


I hope you aren’t counting on another computer science blog this week; because this won’t be one. I’m here to talk about totally unrelated things and AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire. I promise you, at least I hope, it will makes sense.

This is my second semester of independent seminar. Early last year I undertook Harvard’s CS50 course, that was, for all accounts, a well paved road. There was a discrete beginning, and discrete end, and road along the way to get me there.


I’m not sure if this is common knowledge yet, but the personal computing revolution was predicated not on the back of Stanford dropouts in the the Valley, but instead a bunch of nobodies north of Dallas. The iPhone in your pocket ultimately owes it life not to Steve Jobs but instead to IBM. Now I don’t prescribe this is some grave miscarrying of cosmic injustice, the opposite actually, but I just hope in some history book someday the Silicon Prairie makes an appearance.

For the men and woman of IBM, they had a similar roadmap. Stick this many transistors on this size board, reach this clock speed without causing a halting fault (where the show gets its name).  They were for all accounts not creative types, well, at least inside the office. They were nose to the grindstone electrical engineers that were there to fulfill orders and along the way they laid the groundwork for the greatest revolution man has ever known.

However, I dare you to find their names in one history book. They do not have a Wikipedia page, nor are many of their names known at all. They worked tirelessly to solve some of Computing’s greatest problems, they made the Turing’s dream a reality, and yet they have been lost to history.

You do know Steve Jobs, who for all accounts, did not know how to write code let alone design the modern computer. A different Steve, also too relatively lost to history, did however, but that’s a story for a different day.

Jobs did not have a roadmap, nor a spec sheet to build too. He was not concerned nor even aware of the advances in transistor density that were fought tirelessly for in that Prairie; but you know his name. Why?

Because IBM didn’t make the smartphone in your pocket, their logo isn’t on the back of your laptop. They did, and and still do, produce some of the most successful processors that drive the vast majority of the world. My Mentor for this semester worked on IBM Watson, which if you aren’t aware or don’t watch Jeopardy, is possibly one of the most breathtaking computing projects ever undertaken and it too bears the companies name.

However you can’t name IBM’s CEO, and the designers that made it all possible are effectively lost to time.  IBM for all of its history has followed a roadmap, often one not marked by innovation. They did great work, consistently, but they never really did enough to piss anyone off. Which, as Auerswald so likes to remind us, is a mark that you aren’t innovating enough.

Job’s didn’t follow the roadmap, and while I hate the idolization of the deeply flawed man he was, there’s something to learn from this. If you’re just following the road, you will never reach a new destination.

This semester I tried to pave my own road. I learned to stop caring.

It would be really easy to take follow the signs: go to a good school, get a good job, and climb the ladder for thirty five years. This would be good work, however, like in the Prairie, you, and your work, would be lost to time.

I just don’t feel like doing that. To be fair, I will do a lot of these things. I will go to College (although hopefully not a traditional one) and probably hate a cooperate desk job at some point. However, there is another route, and I implore every single one of you consider it.

The road is easy but is often not the best course. On the whole, education is really great at driving people to the median. Find people that excite you and work you are passionate about. Find people that teach and live those things and surround yourself with them. Read often and seek out prospectives that challenge your own. It won’t always be easy but you’ll figure it out.

I’m sure hoping I do. Thank you for undertaking this with me.

2 thoughts on “On false starts and long hours-Will

  1. tkbarnet

    This was an interesting post, and we don’t often think of the many minds that have brought computers to their current form, only the big names like Jobs and Gates.


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