* Posts by AndyLeslie

1 post • joined 8 Feb 2011

DEC founder Ken Olsen is dead


KO was a brilliant, if flawed, genius

When I joined DEC in 1983, I was amazed to find a company culture like no other. Based on real family values, trust and such mottos as "do the right thing" and "it's easier to do and apologise than ask permission first". The engineers and innovators ran DEC at it's most successful and KO was indeed the "Ultimate Entrepeneur".

I was recruited to support the Rainbow because it ran CP/M and Wordstar and no-one at DEC knew anything about them. Of course it ran MS-DOS as well, but that was just the start of the confusion.

One of my customers was Douglas Adams, pre-Apple-obsession!

Even when the DEC "family" was over 100,000 strong, many people all over the world loved working for his company, which was innovation-led and often took the customer by the nose and prodded them into using a technique or process or machine that they'd never have thought they wanted and proving that they needed it all along.

Sadly, it all fell apart in the late 1980's. I remember being in the Littleton, Mass. facility and hearing that the stock price, which had touched on 180, was plunging as the fiscal reality of UNIX becoming the panacea of the industry and DECnet (a truly advanced networking stack in it's time) gave way to TCP/IP. KO had indeed led the company from birth into a decline from which there was no recovery.

He backed DEC technologies against the world, preferring VAX/VMS to UNIX abd even refusing the opportunity to buy the rights to UNIX when Bell Labs wanted to sell it. What a different world THAT would have been.

The innovations I saw at DEC still reverberate today: WAN, ethernet LAN, email, social networking (VAX Notes), clustering (VMS clusters were and are the best in class) Volume Shadowing (mirroring), database technologies such as two-phase commit, matrix management and so much more. Even the dreaded "Phase Review process" for development of hardware and software products foreshadowed Six Sigma in many ways.

I met KO, didn't know him well, liked him immensely.

RIP, another giant is gone.

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