After 500,000 words

June 01, 2010

Jack Ganssle-June 01, 2010

Twelve years of Catholic education taught me to hate writing. The nuns and Jesuits were very demanding and tolerated neither spelling errors nor grammatical mistakes. Getting a five page paper done seemed to require Herculean longhand efforts. My poor mother--an English major--typed a lot of these papers for her five kids on an ancient manual Olivetti.

As an engineer I found that it was happily easy to get buried in a project and respond to non-techies with grunts and scribbled schematics. They'd go away pretty quickly. But over time I took more and more pleasure in getting the comments right, with enough narrative to ensure one could completely understand the software without referencing the code itself. Annotating schematics was even more interesting as space limitations meant one had to adopt an astonishingly concise style while conveying lots of information. Then I learned that one very effective way to elicit a project's requirements was to write the user's manual first… and that a truly well-written manual was a joy the customer and a source of pride to the author. So it was a natural progression to learning to love the art of writing in other forms as well.

I cranked out some technical articles for a few publications, including two for Embedded Systems Programming, this magazine's original name, working with the magazine's most colorful editor, Tyler Sperry. Then he called and asked for a monthly column. The first installation of Breakpoints appeared June, 1990, 20 years ago this month.

Those two decades have passed at a frightening rate. Then: mid thirties, a baby and one on the way, building a business, new house, and always a crisis at hand. Now I find myself with a very different perspective: genetically irrelevant, watching a new generation of parents starting out, enjoying friendships forged over many decades, and less preoccupied with the exigencies that always turn out to be so unimportant once a little time passes. Those babies are grown, the business sold long ago, and crises rare.

Everything changes.

And so much has changed in this industry. I don't have a copy of the June, 1990 issue of this magazine, but the very first ESP issued about a year earlier had, by rough count, ads from 60 different companies. Only a dozen or so of those outfits are still around, or selling the same sorts of products. Do you old-timers remember Ready Systems? Huntsville Microsystems? Softaid, AD 2500, Whitesmiths? All gone, sold, their products largely forgotten. Strangely, Wind River didn't advertise in that issue. But they sure bought a lot of others who did during the stock bubble of the early 2000s. In one acquisition spree ISI, after buying Diab and SDS, was in turn purchased by Wind River, all in a matter of weeks. One friend worked for all of those companies without ever changing jobs. Intel, which now owns Wind River, had a full page ad for an 8051 in-circuit emulator.

Other companies have been born in the intervening decades. Some with the biggest ads in recent ESDs didn't exist in 1990, like Express Logic and plugcomputer (Marvell).

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