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Time To Say Farewell
After almost 50-years in the networking business, I have decided it’s time to move on. I have had a phenomenal ride, starting when my dad got me an interview with ITT World Communications in 1974, a year after I graduated from college with a BA in English. That’s how I landed my first telecom job selling international telex service.
Telex was the email of its day, allowing teletype machines worldwide to exchange messages at a blistering 50 bits per second for $2.50 to $3.00 per minute. Western Union was the domestic telex provider, and four different carriers (ITT being one) offered the service internationally. Telex used 1930s-vintage technology, but it flourished in the post-WW2 era as businesses expanded overseas. I arrived just in time to see telex enter its decline as high speed (“Group 3”) fax delivered a cheaper solution to the market. That was my first lesson in why you don’t focus on the old stuff.
Fortunately, I arrived at ITT just as the company was expanding into data networking, primarily using “conditioned” analog private lines and 4800 bps modems. When I discovered we could push more data over our ridiculously expensive private lines with the new Codex statistical multiplexers, I was hooked on technology. From that point on, my goal was to get involved in every new technology that would impact our industry for the next 50 years.
On the Track
After another couple of short stints at AT&T Long Lines and MDS Systems, I decided to go out on my own. While I was still working a full-time job, I had begun writing about the field and contributing articles to Business Communications Review (BCR), the print predecessor to No Jitter. My first piece, “Managing the Purchasing Function in Telecommunications,” ran in the November 1980 issue.
I was drawn to BCR because the founder, Jerry Goldstone, was a true industry visionary with the goal of improving the level of professionalism in the fledgling discipline of telecom management. Jerry modeled his publication on the Harvard Business Review, and BCR attracted some of the sharpest minds and quickest wits in the field (I was the exception). BCR became the most respected industry publication of its day, and eventually expanded into training (where I taught seminars on data networking and emerging technologies for 20+ years), and trade shows. Those trade shows eventually coalesced into Enterprise Connect.
To my good fortune, operating as an independent consultant, industry analyst, and writer gave me the perfect entre to study, analyze and comment on every important development that impacted our field. Over the years that included refereeing battles like Ethernet vs. Token Ring LANs (or even ARCnet), the viability of digital PBX systems as a local data networking alternative, ISDN (I talked a major manufacturer out of investing in ISDN terminal equipment), ATM vs. IP networking, IBM’s migration from proprietary networking technology (i.e., Systems Network Architecture or “SNA”) to TCP/IP, the role of optical wave division multiplexing, qualifying the performance issues in packetized voice (i.e., VoIP), along with dozens of other wild hares that never got off the drawing board.
My first stab at “industry analysis” came while I was still at AT&T where I wrote a paper that argued that IBM’s feared entry into the long-distance telephone business with Satellite Business Systems would be a total failure, because business users wouldn’t stand for the delay in geosynchronous satellite transmissions. I got that one dead right, but I seem to have been the only one at AT&T who ever actually talked over a satellite channel. Two big lessons there: fear makes you stupid, and there’s no better source than first-hand experience.
My only conscious career decision came sometime in the 1990s when I decided that wireless was where I wanted to focus. I had been fascinated by radio from the first time I saw Dick Tracey’s two-way wrist radio. When watching WW2 movies, I was the one kid looking at the walkie-talkies rather than the bazookas. I had gotten to work with early satellite and private point-to-point microwave systems during my time at ITT, and as cellular technology became indispensable in business and Wi-Fi broke onto the scene, I knew that was where I wanted to be.
I Have Lived a Charmed Life
Born to Irish immigrants and raised with five siblings in a two-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor of a five-story walk-up in the Bronx, I didn’t have a lot in the way of prospects coming out of the gate. But thank God, I was born in America, and what I did have was a supportive family that stressed honesty, respect for others, discipline, and, most importantly, education.
I was born into the Cold War, and came of age during Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement, and my generation totally reshaped the business environment we were hired into. Yeah, we Boomers did that. But now it’s time to let the next generation take over, and I do wish some of our moribund politicians would follow my lead.
In my career I have travelled the world, worked on more leading-edge projects than I can count, marveled at phenomenal technical innovations, and worked with an amazing assortment of intelligent, dedicated people of different nationalities and all sorts of business and educational backgrounds. Most importantly, I have gotten to play a small role in the most important advance in our society since the Industrial Revolution. That’s enough for me!
Fortunately, I have managed to maintain my health along with a 46-year (and counting) marriage, raised a son, who has given us two wonderful grandchildren, and I will now have more time to dedicate to my growing list of hobbies that include birding, playing guitar, cooking, astronomy, serious swimming, and striving to be the world’s most accomplished home handyman.
As I step back, it’s not so much the technical projects that I remember, as all of the wonderful people from all over the world that I have met, admired, worked with, argued with, compromised with, and who have added so much richness to my life.
Building networks is about making big, complex, expensive things that serve people’s needs and ensure their safety. The one phrase that has stuck with me from my AT&T orientation was a comment about reliability from an engineer who said, “Remember, this is the network people use to call the cops and the fire department.” Never forget that what we do is critically important, so do it well.
My last thanks go out to Eric Krapf (along with Fred Knight and Jerry Goldstone before him) and the team at No Jitter/Enterprise Connect, who have helped me so much over the years and gave me friendship, guidance, and a place to air my views. I would be remiss if I did not also thank my good friend Jim Burton and the inspiring community at BCStrategies, who have adopted me and helped me immeasurably through the years.
So, to use one last radio term, “Over and out.”