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Goodbye Ken Olsen


from my personal collection

Ken Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment died yesterday at the age of 84.  He was a special and I would say even extraordinary person who had a great impact on the computer industry and on me personally. I would not be the same person I am if it was not for Ken.  I was a 35 year old engineering manager when I meet him for the first time and began to work with him closely for a number of years. Ken was just 54 just a year younger than Steve Jobs is now. It was not always an easy relationship but it as always intense, often exciting and often scary.  My small part of the Ken Olsen story is describe in this book.   When I meet Ken, in 1980, he was no longer really able to manage the company he had created.  There was a lot of in fighting amongst his various senior managers of the company. But more importantly,  the computer world was about the change and change for good and in ways that Ken could not conceive.   Digital was the 2nd largest computer company in the world and the leader in mini computers.  I remember in 1980, Mike Scott who was present of Apple came to visit with us.  A year later, we had a visit from Bill Gates.  That was the same year that IBM introduced the PC.   Who would have imagined that Compaq Computer which was founded in 1982 would end up acquiring Digital in 1998. I and a number of other, like Barry Folsom, tried to help Digital move into the next phase of computing but we failed partly because we go it wrong and partly because the company could not make the transition.  Ken was forced out of Digital in 1992.  He was 66 years old.  Just my age now.  I can’t imagine how he must have felt.   Most likely (and also sadly), Jobs will be probably not be at Apple when he is 66.
I want to pay my respect to Ken.  He was a sweet man in many ways.  I am grateful for the things he taught me and the opportunities he gave me.   I imagine the years after he left Digital were difficult for him.  I had no contact with him personally after I left Digital in March of 1983.

One thought on “Goodbye Ken Olsen

  1. Pingback: I, Cringely » Blog Archive » Ken Olsen and post-industrial computing - Cringely on technology

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