Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Articulate Genius

I worked with Paul Reiner in the 1990s at Novell. At the time Novell was still the world's leading networking software company. Novell's software linked together PCs allowing them to share resources. When we were at Novell we were part of an elite group: Novell Consulting. There were a lot of outstanding minds there, but Reiner stood out even in that crowd.

Last night I spent the night with Paul, his wife Darcy, and their kids. He lives about 20 miles north of Redmond, Washington--the center of the Microsoft universe.

Paul is always ready to offer a brain dump. This man is a bona fide genius, and he's articulate. After leaving Novell--reluctantly--Reiner went to work for the world's fiercest software company. The writing was on the wall at Novell, and had been for some time. The company's glory days were over and the opportunities were limited. When you can beat 'em . . . .

Paul joined Microsoft in 1999 and was an employee for four years. Initially he helped run the executive briefing center where MS schmoozes clients and world leaders. Among others he gave then Vice President Al Gore a briefing on technology.

His ability to cut to the chase and analyze problems was quickly recognized at the software behemoth. Within 90 days of starting Reiner was beckoned by Steve Balmer to brainstorm some big picture issues affecting the company. His immediate bosses had never seen such a thing--being called in to consult with such a senior executive. Balmer replaced Bill Gates as CEO in 2000. Paul met with Balmer who reassigned him to a more important role helping to define architecture of key software being developed in Redmond.

I am a user of technology and because of my six years working in the software industry I have a basic grasp of some technology issues that goes a little deeper than many people. But I am not a technologist. Paul is. He's a man with a deep and profound understanding of computer science. He's also someone who can easily explain the most difficult concepts. His deep understanding and quick mind allows him to see through complex issues and problems to find solutions.

Our conversations last night and this morning ran the gamut. Paul did the vast majority of the talking and I did my best to absorb all that he emitted--it was a lot.

In 1997 I ran Novell Consulting's truck tour--we built a mobile classroom in a semi that we took to 38 cities in the U.S. and Canada. I enlisted Paul's assistance. His task was to rig up a mobile Internet connection for our truck that would allow us to show off one of Novell's latest products. We would have the first, or at least one of the very first, completely mobile Internet connections on the planet. There were no commercial solutions for this available at that time--ours was a custom job. Paul took this on and had it working in no time. It was one of the coolest things about our very slick mobile classroom, a setup we spent close to a million dollars creating.

I loved seeing Paul and Darcy and their family. Today Paul is a high level consultant hired by Microsoft and leading a team of others in Redmond. Such arrangements have become increasingly common at Microsoft. He gets to be part of the world's most powerful software company, a company whose ability to commercialize software amazes even Paul, yet he's no longer an employee. He says this is the best possibility. He was going to tour me around the MS campus, but it worked out better for my schedule to visit him at his home. I am glad it did--it was fun to spend time with him and his fertile mind.

This is one of the greatest advantages of being an Airstreamer--connecting with so many friends and family throughout the continent. As I drove past Lake Washington today, beginning my way south, I thought of Lake Champlain between Vermont, New York, and Canada--a body of water I'd most recently crossed only six week ago. From Lake Champlain to Lake Washington I've covered the northern part of the country. With winter's quick approach I am headed south.

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