I leant the old classic "Soul of a new Machine" to a workmate. And when he returned it, I thought I might re-read it. The last time I read it must have been 26 years ago, when it was published. It was groundbreaking then, and we budding software managers all sort-of modelled ourselves on Tom West.
This is what I found on Page 40.
"Data General had built a new research facility in a place called Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, a state that had made itself comely to industry, partly by keeping taxes low. While lauding the government of North Carolina, Data General’s spokesmen rather bitterly denounced Massachusetts, where taxes of all sorts run high. One company spokesman went so far as to lament the fact that Data General had chosen to grow up in the Bay State.
The opening of the facility in Research Triangle Park, and the political campaign, however, had some unfortunate side-effects on some of the company’s engineers. For one thing, word had come down that the FHP project was being transferred to North Carolina. Some of the engineers who had ben working on that grand machine refused to pack up their families and go south. At least some of them felt robbed.
Then there was the newspaper story. One morning, after FHP’s departure had been announced, a number of the engineers at Westborough, who felt of course that they were good, productive, ‘can do’ engineers, picked up the Boston Globe and saw in it an article about themselves. It read in part:
Speaking to the Boston Security Analysts Society, de Castro said his company, the second largest minicomputer producer in the world, was finding it ‘a great deal easier to staff [its research and development facility] in North Carolina. people are more willing to move into that area than Boston.’
…in addition to the 20 percent cost-of-living difference, which is a combination of taxes, insurance, housing, food and other costs, de Castro said the Research Triangle Park area has ‘a different feel’ than the research facility the company maintains in Westborough. ‘The ambition level is different… There is a can-do attitude and that environment is contagious.’
West remembered the aftermath, laughing low and shaking his head: ‘De Castro called us all together and in his inimitable fashion totally confused everyone. he said that the press distorts things and I hope that you know that even if I believed that quote I wouldn’t say it. Then he gave us the march to victory speech and left.’ West added, ‘Morale hit an all-time low at Westborough.’
26 years later and those people in that Research Triangle Park in North Carolina are still causing trouble. Projects are still being migrated there. Engineers still feel robbed. And anyone who has had to sit through those going-on-until-midnight Come-to-Jesus meetings (like me), will have had a similar sense of confusion and dismay. My fellow ex-Integrians will find it all stunningly serendipitous.
At the end of this book, North Carolina had failed to come up with a machine, and the company was in trouble financially.
They had some rather pretty Crepe Myrtle trees there though. That will be perhaps my fondest memory.