It’s funny how things turn out.
Back when I had first entered technology publishing, in the 80s, I was hired for a job for a very specific reason: the editor-in-chief hated talking to vendors. Unfortunately, talking to vendors is part of the landscape of technology publishing, because the publisher always wants vendors to turn into advertisers.
This editor, whose name was Dave Flack (left), had a brainstorm: why not hire an editor whose job it was to talk to vendors? Voila, the products editor, and not long afterwards, voila, me. Products became my raison d’etre. I contributed monthly on a new single product; a round-up of traditional products; and listings of new products. I also wrote the occasional product feature.
For the round-ups, I covered the incredibly prosaic: uninterruptible power supplies, disk drives, Ethernet boards (yes, there used to be something called Ethernet boards). And in the new products section, because I was making the publisher so happy, Dave pretty much let me do almost anything I liked. That was how the new products listings ended up with descriptors like this:
Forget Your Troubles, C’mon Get HLLAPI [an IBM terminal emulation protocol]
Send in the Clones [PCs running Unix]
Driving Miss ESDI [a Maxtor disk-drive interface]
Acceleraiders of the Lost Ark [technology to speed up processors]
Yes, Sir, DAT’s My Baby [digital audio tape drives]
Hi-Ho, The Merry-O, The Unix in the Dell [Dell’s first PC running Unix]
It SIMMs We’ve Met Before [optional plug-in memory]
Dave probably thought he was banishing me to the third level of hell, but I thrived on that job. For someone who had only recently gotten into technology, it was like getting a master’s degree in every single component that not only went into a computer, but into a computer network. I wrote about stuff that most people never had a chance to delve into.
But our relationship was more than professional. Dave, as a recovering alcoholic, helped me in numerous ways as I was dealing with my own co-dependent recovery. I had a deep fear of speaking in public, and was horrified one day when he asked me to represent the publication on a conference panel. “What if they ask me a question I can’t answer?” I gasped. “Like what?” he said, in that calm, annoying Socratic voice of his. “I don’t know!” I fairly shrieked. “Well,” he replied, “there’s your answer.”
Ours was not a perfect relationship. When the executive editor resigned, I naturally and arrogantly assumed that I would be the logical person to take over the position. Neither Dave nor the publisher agreed with that assessment, and they hired someone with a background in newspaper publishing. When the newspaper guy left for a tech publishing start-up, I was once again passed over for the job – except the newspaper guy soon called me and asked if I wanted to bring all that product expertise I’d gained to his new publication.
In his desire to avoid vendors, Dave had inadvertently given me the foundation for an amazing career in technology publishing. At any subsequent job interview, when someone asked if I’d written about a particular product, I could say, hell, yes. I owe Dave Flack all that.
And so Dave and I remained friends. He and his wife even eventually joined my church, and we enjoyed a new phase of interaction. Last year we toasted their 50th wedding anniversary. By then, we had known each other almost thirty years.
But the problem with being this age is that sometimes the happily-ever-afters go awry. Dave died today after a bout with pneumonia. I sit here enjoying a fantastic retirement, its roots nurtured by far more people than just that ambitious, arrogant products editor of so many years ago. I sit here basking in the afternoon sunshine, in great part because Dave Flack needed someone to talk to vendors. And I was lucky enough for me to be that someone, and for me to be his friend forever after.