Perhaps the good guys are still crazy?

Many years ago (in the early 90's when the internet was just getting started,) while browsing some of the first web pages using Mosaic, one of the earliest browsers, I got the idea, very early one Sunday morning, that I could find Tante Fifi´╗┐'s email address. I had found some pages belonging to AT&T and thought, perhaps, they might have given Tante Fifi an email address that might appear in a contact page somewhere.

So I carefully rummaged through their entire site. They did not have a contact page with email addresses on it for the bulk of their staff, but, of course, they had a bunch of pages for Dennis Ritchie, one of the "fathers" of computer science. Ritchie was half of the famous team of Dennis Ritchie and Brian Kernighan. They wrote the first C compiler for AT&T and they also wrote "The C Programming Language," one of the best introductory books in the field of programming. It's somewhat dated now but is still given as a gift to computer science students because it is so well written and easy to understand.

While thinking of all this I decided to write an email to Mr. Ritchie. Remember: This was early one Sunday morning in the early to mid 90's. I wrote to him saying that I was searching for my Aunt Fifi's email address but couldn't find it. I did, however, stumble on his email address. I explained that I wanted to take the opportunity to thank him for his service to the community and let him know that I had been programming in C for years and loving it.

A few minutes later... I got a reply.

It turned out that one of the greatest men in the history of computing was in his office early on Sunday morning, got my email, looked up Tante Fifi's email address in the AT&T company directory and replied with the info.

In fact this would have been quite normal in the 70's and 80's. In those days everybody understood that computer systems and software development must be collaborative work. Everybody always did little things for everybody else in those days. In fact, even in other fields of endeavor, it was quite common for people to call the top business leaders on the phone and chat with them.

One time I felt bad because I called one of the early pioneers in computer science - a man who had written one of the first ACM papers on B+Tree Indexing - without realizing that he was in a different time zone. I woke him up in bed and I don't think his wife was very happy about it. Still, he sat with me on the phone for a few minutes to help me with the issue I was facing at the time.

In those days it was commonly taught that we all need to spend time with those people who represent the best and the brightest. They help us to improve. It was taught that the best people are always very giving, always ready to help (within reason.) It was also commonly taught that inviting them out to breakfast is a good way to get a few minutes of their precious time. You can ask them serious questions during breakfast and let them take the time to give you a good answer.

(Note that most men never charge for breakfast meetings. You may see articles these days about the millions of dollars charged by Warren Buffet for a breakfast meeting but that's only because he simply can't handle all the requests that he gets. Note also that he gives all the breakfast money that he earns to charity.)

Of course things seemed to change quite a bit in the 90's. In fact many people really changed noticeably towards the end of the 80's.

Anyway, I was amazed at the wonderful email response from Mr. Ritchie.

Later that night I was at my mom's house for dinner and told her about Mr. Ritchie and his early morning email. My mom was in the kitchen at the time and paused for a moment.

Then she said, "I think you're all crazy."

Quite possibly.

Anyway, so, lately I've been stuck on so many issues with JD Edwards - it's a huge system and all the documentation is written in a circular fashion and I've only had a few weeks to absorb what little I can. I felt fortunate to stumble on the writings of Mr. Deepesh M Divakaran.

While looking for more of his writings I stumbled on his Linked-In page and sent him a note thanking him for his posts.

He lives in India so I was expecting that he'd be sleeping - but I got an immediate reply!

Perhaps the good guys are still crazy. Thank God.