The Real Inventors

The Orphans of Invention is the title of a piece by Ellen Ullman in the New York Times, remembering a talk gien by Doug Engelbart five years ago:

Back then, Silicon Valley companies were hiring people in great numbers, and a tide of youthful energy entered the field. And for the few years of the boom, the industry was large enough to employ several generations of programmers, from 22-year-old Web-page coders to 50-year-old experts in C++. There was, in that moment, a passing on of generational memory. The audience became aware that computers, though innovative, were not exactly new.

With the bust came the scattering of those generations. The 25-year-olds were fired first, then came the ones in their 30’s; soon came the layoffs of even more senior people. No one was immune. In 2001 and 2002, America lost 560,000 technology jobs. In Silicon Valley alone, 27,000 software positions disappeared between the spring of 2001 and the spring of 2002.

But more than jobs have been lost. To listen to Mr. Engelbart that day almost five years ago was to realize that the computer industry, when it started, was not simply about becoming a chief executive or retiring on stock options at 35. It was to remember that real innovation the stuff that made computers so much more than “crummy factors of production” comes from mysterious places, wild people, dreamers and tinkerers, and to remember all the skepticism they had to endure.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.