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Bringing high tech to Marshall County

April 22, 2014

04/22/14 I have been following the developments of the Metronet and its importance for Marshall County to compete to bring big companies to the area. Certainly this is an important item on the checklist. But any high tech jobs that come out of this will be operator positions not development or new products.

I have been active in high technology since 1990 (though locally in Marshall county from 1985-90 as a programmer), when I did a stint at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, followed by positions involving systems architecture at Hyatt Hotels Corporation and Walgreens Drug Stores. I have been involved in Open Systems (Linux/Unix) at a time when it wasn’t popular in fact I got laughed at for promoting this in 1989 in Plymouth.

All of the companies I have worked for since — without exception based their enterprise on Unix/Linux. In fact you can’t visit anything on the web without using a system running this. Google, OpenDNS, Yahoo and Facebook all run Linux as their platform.

I built my first start-up company specializing in server load balancing in 1996 as a garage company [it means something done on the side until enough business comes to make a regular job of it. Apple started that way as did many others at that time.(
). One of my papers appeared in the IBM Redbook of software solutions for Linux. Later we sold it’s assets to a high-tech company on the east coast, which was a innovator in many things we all take for granted today in server technology they even supplied IBM with their first 1U server offering [Netfinity 4000R], which they innovated. I went with that technology as the first software engineer in that company.

Following that I moved on to Germany where I was an internal consultant to two companies before founding my own consultancy in 2006. My customers included the German Telecom and indirectly the German Navy.

I have been asked why did I leave in the first place. The answer was simple. I had more opportunity to work with a high standard of technology than what was possible at home. It’s funny how many people I met in my comings and goings in tech conferences that were originally from Indiana that left the way I did for the same reasons.

Recently I have had the possibility to comment to one of the candidates on the radio. He imparted the importance of Metronet — which I agree is very important. However when I quizzed him on how start-ups can be promoted and grown at home I don’t think he understood it at all. In fact I think at the end the facetious comments confirmed my thoughts. It was the same attitude I ran into in 1990.

We can all hope that big companies would come to the area lured by the availability of the Metronet, but until an infrastructure is built up to support local talent, we can keep watching talented people leave as I did 24 years ago along with many others. It’s one thing to be employed doing high tech [which many do] but another to create and innovate — and I maintain it is difficult under the current constructs. In fact it was easier in Germany as a foreigner to do this as it has been so far in my most recent attempts at home.

What one has to go up against today is the big brands. Society doesn’t seem to tolerate new faces because we all want ”winners” and to be a ”winner” means you have to go up against the likes of Apple, Adobe, Microsoft, Google, and so on. This was already a problem in the 1990’s when I founded BSCsoft — and the reason we decided to position ourselves for an asset sale. In the 1970’s and 1980’s there were no leaders except IBM — and they didn’t initially build a PC. Then it was only a matter of having to have something work and there was hundreds of computer brands each with their own architecture — now there is only one and it’s Intel based (Try to find a computer today that isn’t powered by Intel or AMD [a clone]).

What would make sense (and it has in fact been done) is to create a business incubator. The functions of such a thing would include a marketing department that would prepare product information and insure that the right parties see it and train people how to work on their own. This would be a shared resource to the entities in the incubator. Once the company grows to a point to be self-sufficient it would set up these things on their own. Given the competition in the market and the required savvy to be present, many good products never come into existence.

I know this was discussed in the T-squared Initiative but later died after the Tech Farm came to be. Certainly some of the downtown space could be utilized in this mode. The tech farm is also a great idea — provided you have the quarter million dollars to buy the land, build a building, etc. Then on top of that you still have the other costs.

What is needed in addition to the incubator is a new way of thinking about this. The old way just doesn’t fit. Going to a once a month business consulting meeting isn’t enough either. It does if you are building homes, repairing tractors or creating a brick and mortar company– but not for high tech software. Good software engineers are traditionally lousy in business operations (Look at the pairing of Wozniak [the forgotten founder of Apple] and Steve Jobs).

One cannot say that the midwest is poor on ideas or people behind them. The Auto industry was born here. This could happen again in software if the right support structures were to exist. In this case if you build it — they WILL come.

I would hope that the eyes of the commissioners and politicians would be open to this, or the wave of smart people leaving the state will continue.

Andrew Sporner