IEEE Milestone for my dad, Gary Kildall

This plaque in Pacific Grove, California, is the IEEE Milestone honoring my dad’s computer work in the 1970s. He was a true inventor and laid the foundation for the personal computer architecture that we now take for granted.

Gary Kildall’s is the 139th IEEE Milestone. These awards honor the key historical achievements in electrical and electronic engineering that have changed the world, and include the invention of the battery by Volta, Marconi’s work with the telegraph, and the invention of the transistor.

More pictures plus a short write-up of the ceremony can be found here: http://bit.ly/1io2wFH

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The dedication event was emotional and powerful, with several of my father’s close colleagues from decades ago gathered to recount his contributions. I knew most of the stories and his work, but there were several aspects of his methodology that I had never heard before.

For example, I learned that my dad was not only a software programmer, but a systems architect, and would spend days diagramming data structures and logic trees on sheets of paper, using a door blank on sawhorses as his work table.

After fastidious corrections, and days poring over the designs, he would embark on programming binges to code what he had designed. And the final program would often work flawlessly on the first run.

With a PhD from the University of Washington, lots of hard work, incredible focus on long-term solutions, plus extraordinary talent, Gary created a vision of how to bring the personal computer to the desks of millions of users, and shared his enthusiasm with just about everyone he met.

My dad turned his passion into two key products: CP/M (the operating system), and BIOS (the firmware interface that lets different hardware devices talk to the same operating system). From this combination, people could, for the first time, load the same operating system onto any home computer.

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The IEEE and David Laws from the Computer History Museum did a tremendous job of pulling in an amazing contingent of computer industry pioneers from the early days of personal computing to commemorate this occasion.

At the dedication, my sister Kristin and I had a chance to reconnect with many former Digital Research employees, and I think everyone felt a sense of happiness, relief, catharsis, and dare I say, closure for my dad’s work, which has often been overlooked by the popular press since his premature death in 1994, right in the middle of his career.

My mother, Dorothy McEwen, ran Digital Research as its business manager, to complement my dad the inventor. Together they changed computer history. It was here in Pacific Grove, 1974 that Gary Kildall loaded CP/M from a tape drive onto a floppy disk and booted it up for the first time: the birth of the personal computer.

If you find yourself in Pacific Grove, take a visit to 801 Lighthouse Avenue, Digital Research headquarters in the 1970s, and you can see this milestone for yourself.

3 comments

  1. Ray Holt says:

    Hi Scott, Thanks for the summary of a great day. I worked with you dad around 1974-75 teaching programming on the early Intel microprocessors. Manny Lemas and I would teach the microcoding and assembly language and then your dad would come in for two days and teach PL/M. Most major corporations began using Intel microprocessors from these seminars … for sure I know RCA was one of them. EDN Magazine (Mr Bob Cushman) used to cover these seminars and in some of the past issues there are pictures of all of us teaching. Many blessings to your family and you remember the great work he did. He was a blessing and friend to many. As I speak around the country on my early work I always make it a point to mention Gary and his contribution. Ray Holt

  2. I am a proud user of an Amstrad PCW computer.
    It was my first computer, and for me, it is the best computer I have used in my life.
    The reason?
    Well, mainly because it is a very useful machine, and I learned a lot of programming with it.
    There is another “little” reason for that: its operating system is CP/M Plus from Digital Research.
    What a wonderful operating system, I love it.
    I am very, very, very pleased that your dad, a pioneer, my OS hero, had this commemoration.

  3. Steve Hauk says:

    I don’t know who said it Friday, but I thought it was wonderful and should always be remembered, that Gary is “the father of the interconnected universe.”

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