A lot of people in the technology industry have a story about an event early in their careers that helped set the course for the next several decades. For me, my “lucky break” happened when I was in between my sophomore and junior year in college.
In the summer of 1981, I was an intern at MPR, an engineering company in Washington, DC. M, P, an R were the first letters of the last names of the three founding members of the firm. I was lucky that my neighbor was Harry Mandil, the “M” of MPR. Mr. Mandil was kind enough to hire me (and also my older sister) as summer interns at his engineering firm.
I arrived at MPR about the same time that they purchased their first-ever computer. Up until that point, everything at MPR was done on slide rules, and because I was a computer science major, I got to program their computer. Right place, right time. One of the senior engineers, an old Navy vet named John Dyer, took a liking to me and challenged me to write programs that could read, write and edit data. It was challenging – new computer, new programming language, first real job – but I knew enough about programming to figure out how to get the computer to do what Mr. Dyer wanted it to do.
One day Mr. Dyer told me we were going to take a road trip to Pittsburgh and visit Westinghouse, one of the firm’s customers, to show them the software I wrote. Westinghouse was going to use this software to manage data that it was gathering from nuclear power plants.
I was nervous. I remember that day like it was yesterday: Mr. Dyer driving and me in the passenger seat, all the way from Washington, DC to Pittsburgh. I remember pulling into the parking lot at Westinghouse and then going into the building and meeting Al, the customer. We showed him the software that I built, and I remember Al asking a bunch of questions. But I also remember the big smile he had on his face after he saw the software running.
That was the first time that it occurred to me that the programs I wrote didn’t exist in a vacuum: they performed a function and – more importantly – they were used by real people. And those people had a reaction when they used the software. Al was moved by the software I wrote. That was when I knew that I could really could touch someone with 0s and 1s.
And that personal connection – surprising and delighting customers with software that matters – has guided my thinking ever since.
How our products make you feel is just as important as what our products do. And how our company makes you feel is just as important as what our products do. I was lucky enough to experience that first-hand, 34 years ago this summer.
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