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How They Did It: An Interview with Software Developer and Entrepreneur Al Vanderpool
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I partnered with Al Vanderpool at the beginning of the personal computer revolution and had a hand in the development and marketing of what was then one of the first commercial applications for personal computers, a critical path project management system named PMS-II the name reflecting the popularity of the Radio Shack Model II computer, which was the stateof-the-art machine at that time. Although he is no longer developing and marketing software, Vanderpool s depth of experience in the software industry creating profitable products and businesses makes his a voice worth listening to. Pay particular attention to the advice he has at the end of the interview for the wannabe software entrepreneur. Smolin: You re a software developer. Vanderpool: That s correct. Smolin: And, how did you become a software developer Vanderpool: Well, I ve been in computers since the early 60s with General Electric and I was doing a lot of technical support, and then I had the opportunity to go on my own, and lo and behold I wound up writing software. So it was not a conscious decision, it was an afterthought. Smolin: So, the first commercial program you did was . . . Vanderpool: PMS-II. Smolin: And that was in, if I recall, around 1980 Vanderpool: Yes, late 70s, early 80s. Smolin: And that was a critical path project management system. Vanderpool: Right. Smolin: Why did you want to create a critical path project management system Where d the idea come from Vanderpool: Interestingly enough, I had bought a Radio Shack Model II computer when they first came out, and I was looking for something to play with on it, just something to do, and we decided to track our fertility cycle in the hopes of creating a girl. Smolin: You and your wife. Vanderpool: Yeah. So I wrote some date functions and some methods of calculating forward and backwards from dates and coming up with the right things. And then I thought, Gee, this is the heart and soul of a critical path project management system, which I d had a lot of experience
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with at General Electric and Honeywell in the past. Using, not creating. That was the nub of the idea, and from that I started using it in my consulting business for very simple scheduling. And then it started to grow and started to get embellished. I created reports from it, and I was using it myself in my consulting practice. So that s how it all came about. And then I met Rocky Smolin, and he published an article about it in one of the computer rags at the time called Information Age, and the phone started ringing, and we decided to go ahead and make it a full-fledged product. Smolin: So you wrote this in which language originally Vanderpool: Originally it was written in Microsoft Basic, and then it was converted to a Digital Research language so it could be compiled to protect the source code. Smolin: C-Basic. Vanderpool: C-Basic or CB86, a 16-bit BASIC. And then to make it all happen, because languages and supporting software and utilities were pretty crude and pretty user-unfriendly at the time, I added a library of functions to it, replacing the original stuff. That library was from a company called Minnow Bear, or something like that. It had all kinds of expanded capabilities to it which really made the program capable of doing what it needed to be done, which was managing construction projects for larger construction firms, RCA being the first user. Smolin: So this was the first product you commercialized Vanderpool: This was the first commercial product that I ever created. Smolin: Who was the target user Before you started to sell it, who did you have in mind to sell it to Vanderpool: The original idea immediately went to the construction industry because the need was there and they didn t have any tools, or all the tools they did have were extremely expensive and very hard to use, and so they didn t do what they should be doing with them. So the thought was to give them a lower priced, easy to use desktop computer capability so that they d be able to do a much better job. That was the target market at the time. Smolin: And the Radio Shack Model II was the state of the art at that point. Vanderpool: That was the Ferrari of the day. Smolin: So you sent the product out on 8-inch floppy disks Vanderpool: 8-inch floppies, yeah. Smolin: How long did that product run, how many years did you flog that jewel Vanderpool: Probably, easily ten to twelve years of product life on it. Mostly because of the add-on capabilities and additional products that it gave birth to that were supporting it resource management, graphics,
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