Brad Feld

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MIT Reunion Presentation – Innovation in the Software Industry

Sep 29, 2008

In May I made a request for images for a presentation I was doing at my 20th MIT Sloan School reunion.  The presentation – titled Software Innovation — Do You Think the Last 20 Years Were Exciting? The Next 20 Years Will Blow Your Mind is now up on the web.  If you don’t want to watch it, read the summary below:

In a trip down memory lane, Brad Feld regales us with the pre- and recent history of electronic innovation, with a rapid-fire delivery that achieves vaudevillian pitch.

Via a slide-laden PowerPoint presentation — and, by the way, Feld claims to hate PowerPoint, because as a venture capitalist “I’ve only received about 6,723,000 of them” — he narrates landmark moments in the evolution of the computer age. He touches on the room-size ENIAC computer, and pays tribute to the Jetsons cartoon as embodying his view of the future as a child. He cites his first programming language (APL, 1976), and first computer (Apple II, 1978). Feld speaks sentimentally of the familiar A> prompt as a quaint relic of the DOS operating system era.

Jump to the late ’80s, when Hypercard on the Macintosh was a pre-web foreshadowing of distributing data through multiple applications…“a major breakthrough.” Windows 3.0 heralded the ’90s and subsequent leapfrogging of Microsoft and Apple on the personal computer frontier. He cites the renegade Linux operating system (1991), then the ignoble Michelangelo virus (1992)…“the first time the mainstream media got crazy about computer security.”

Feld detours from history to recount naming his software consulting firm Feld Technologies; whenever anything went wrong “people called up and asked for Mr. Feld.” Therefore, he warns “lesson #1 of entrepreneurship is don’t name your company after yourself.”

In the mid-’90s, the emergence of the Internet in mass culture made ubiquitous such terms as Mosaic, Yahoo!, Java, Explorer, and other iterations of web browser, search engine, and email protocol. In 1999, E-commerce and the Y2K scare entered common parlance. Around 2000, OS X and iTunes burst on the scene, in spite of post-Internet bubble depression. Feld credits Apple with changing “the way we think about digital content.” Catching up to recent times, he invokes social networking, the astronomical Google IPO, and the notion of Web 2.0.

As a venture capitalist, Feld seeks new paradigms in software development as investing prospects for 10 to 20 years – “the next big thing.” He is interested in “immersive experience” that alters human interaction with the computer. His attention is also drawn to decoupling mouse and keyboard from control of the computer toward methods requiring no tactile input. Lastly, he speaks of “cloud computing” where “everything is disconnected from what is on your desktop” and “you don’t have to worry about…data storage and equipment.” Then, elliptically, he reprises a slide of a 1960s room-size computer, suggesting it resembles a latter-day incarnation of a server farm. Full circle.

As a special bonus, the speaker who preceded me – Professor Roberto Rigobon – did an incredible job on his lecture The U.S. and the World’s Recession which feels particularly relevant and prescient today.