Bill Gates will be departing Microsoft this week, and everyone is speculating about how this will impact the future of the firm (Newsweek Article). That is going to be anyone’s guess, but there’s no doubt that Bill has made a major impact in how we compute today.
My first encounter with Bill Gates’ product was 27 years ago, when I sat in the room of a bank called CalFed. I was doing data entry on a Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet (remember that?) on a CRT screen with green lit characters. This was MS-DOS at its earliest stage.
The company I had worked for, Peat Marwick, made an early bet on Apple, buying up hundreds of Apple Computers, probably because it was a client. All audit programs were being migrated to the Apple. The consulting department ignored all of that, and went with PC technology. I had just transferred from audit to consulting, so I had the chance to see both.
I was told by my manager that this was the newest thing (Lotus, that is). He even told me, “The spreadsheet’s got 1012 rows by 258 columns (remember column number “IV”?),” even though if you placed a number on row 1012 and column 258, you were guaranteed to get a “Error-Memory Full” message.
All I remember was that I was inputting data. The next memorable thing that my senior told me was, “Back up often.”
I thought, “yeah, like I’m going to lose data while doing data entry. Give me a break. I’ve got an MBA from the University of Chicago.”
It was a humid afternoon in Los Angeles 27 years ago when I was entering subsidiary financial information that was supposed to be rolled-up to be consolidated. I was pounding away at the key-board, getting the knack of the IBM PC keyboard lay-out. The clicking of the keys were rhythmic, when I saw a flash outside the third floor window where I was working. The next second, the room went dark, and along with that, the screen, and my heart.
As if he rehearsed this, my senior ran through the door and yelled, “You did back up, didn’t you!?”
My disappointed eyes said it all, and he asked no more.
Every time the names Bill Gates and Microsoft come out, I flash back to the episode of the lightning that deleted an afternoon of hard work. Those were truly the good old days, when an error wouldn’t be magnified a million-fold like it is today, when a single keystroke error could cost banks millions or even billions of dollars.
Bill Gates, have you really made the world better, or did you just find a way to let us make bigger mistakes faster?