The ‘Penn State Automatic Computer’ →

Some local history on one of the first large-scale university computers.

They secured $25,000 in University funds and $17,000 from the National Science Foundation for constructing PENNSTAC — Penn State Automatic Computer. The machine they envisioned would cost $300,000 on the commercial market. Yet building it from scratch, Tarpley said, would provide his team of faculty and graduate students invaluable hands-on experience.

And this:

According to a 1957 account in the Daily Collegian student newspaper, PENNSTAC could “perform 1,400 additions of 10-digit numbers in one second, and its magnetic drum can store 2.5 thousand 10-digit figures.”

Overheard in the office: “You can’t make a baby in one month by putting 9 women on the job”

In the absence of information, people make shit up. Worse, if they at all feel threatened they make shit up that amplifies their worst fears. This is where those absolutely crazy rumors come from.


Alex King and Leadership →

This memory of Alex King contains some very inspiring words, where he describes how he ran things at Crowd Favorite before he sold the company.

His words come from the type of person most of us dream about working for, and one that we would want to be when in a leadership position.

Early on, when it was just a few people, it was very much a team, a collaborative atmosphere. I tried to keep that as we grew. I told them that they had autonomy. I told them that I wanted to hear from them if they thought that things could be improved. I hammered that.

In every meeting, every monthly meeting, I would ask for feedback. I would ask for suggestions of things we could do better. Very rarely did I’d actually get any. The process of asking for it consistently, I think, was important. It let people know that their voice is valued.

When people did come to me, I tried to make sure that even if we weren’t going to do what they asked, that they saw some sort of visible change based on what they’d asked for. Even if it was just me following up in another week or two weeks after that to talk to them about some aspect of it, just to let them know that their voice was heard and what they’d risen wasn’t forgotten.

Another aspect of this manifests itself in the Intranet as a note on process. It says, “If you ever find yourself doing something you don’t understand or think it’s stupid, it is your job to stop and ask somebody why.”

Two things come from this. One, sometimes processes get out-of-date and we end up just doing things because we’ve always done it that way. That’s no reason to do things.

The second, more likely, is that there is a good reason and that this person may not know it. When they ask, somebody can tell them and they could understand the value of what they’re doing.

All of these things come together to create an environment where people feel empowered, people feel like the work they’re doing is interesting and important. Of course, that’s dependent somewhat on client projects as well. The way that we go about doing things is efficient, it’s not a waste of time, and they have input into the process and that their input has value.

Rest in peace, Alex King

I am very saddened to read about the loss of Alex King tonight.

Alex was my introduction to WordPress, Twitter, Apple, internet security, and many other things that are (or were) new technology. But beyond that, through his writings about the things he created — of which bits and pieces were embedded into his website — he emanated a sense of leadership, and a sense of building something “the right way”.

His website was a part of my morning routine. After checking my email, his website was one of the few tabs I would open almost daily. I would always either learn something, or be motivated to work harder by one of his accomplishments. I enjoyed watching him grow from a WordPress applications developer to a business founder, and also a father. Often, his statuses would be posts about golf, humor, or a new gadget he was tinkering with, reminding me that leaders and technology builders have real lives, too.

When you are an engineer, you build something making the best decisions that you know how to make. Often your methods stem from something you learned from the best people you know who are also engineers or leaders. While I have had the privilege to work in the same office as some of these people, I can say with certainty that Alex also had an impact on the engineer I am today.

I know I am a stranger to you, but thanks for everything Alex.