Al Gore may have invented the Internet,† but I built it.
Before the Internet became a thing, I was working at IBM in the interoperability test lab with a team of engineers who were troubleshooting malfunctions between equipments. At the time, IBM was trying to extend its proprietary technologies by adapting SNA, with its high overhead and queer architecture, to the new, high-speed paradigm. Louis Gerstner came along and shut all that down. Instead we turned to embrace the evolving industry standards and built the best network of the day and IBM came back from its near death experience.
My role was designing the racks, metallic and optical cabling systems, power arrangements and interfaces with the carriers for the new hardware. But I am getting ahead of myself. My first love was a different three letter abbreviation. My first love was GDS.
Computers were a Thing back then; no one had one in their pocket. We dialed telephones, we left messages on microcassette answering machines, we screened calls, we waited for letters to arrive. The summer before I graduated, I was working in the wood shop at the School of Architecture when IBM donated a dozen RiSC machines and we built a lab for the graduate students. I designed furniture using the software.
A couple of years later, I answered a classified ad in the New York Times and I took the second shift as a CAD technician so I could learn GDS. In eight months, with the boss' approval, I transitioned to CAD/east. It was a wild time, the roaring 80’s. We cranked out so many design and contract documents for so many buildings: Library Square, Los Angeles; Unter den Linden, Berlin, Germany; 17 State Street, Manhattan and many more.
Our main office was inside Emery Roth & Sons and we had satellite offices in the rehearsal building of Carnegie Hall and the lipstick building on Third Avenue. GDS ran on Prime and MicroVAX computers using Tektronix graphic workstations. It was frightfully expensive. And then, just like that, it was over. The economy turned and everything came to a screeching halt.
And then everything changed. PC hardware became ever more ubiquitous and cheep. GDS’ clients were hit hard by the downturn; some went under. GDS persisted but the tide was inexorable. Within a few years, AutoDesk managed to dominate the CAD market with its clumsy, inelegant, dreadful PC-based product. I moved on; I was hired temp to perm at IBM White Plains. And then I built the Internet.‡
As soon as I finished building the Internet, the New IBM decided it didn’t want to own its network. I transitioned traffic to AT&T, I groomed circuits, I decommissioned equipment, I went home.
I started drawing and painting again. I designed and created websites, I tried my hand at Flash and went along with all the others trying to figure out just how to code presentation in the new world of devices, from HTML 1.3 to XHTML to HTML 5, CSS, Flash, PHP, MySQL and god knows what else. Windows evolved, Apple created the best OS ever. And a small group of coders in Colorado took another stab at the whole CAD idea using the new software tools.
I found SketchUp when I was looking for software to use on a project. Mac OS, inference engine, red, blue, green, magenta, push/pull and follow me; I was hooked. All the features and ease of use I remember from my years as a GDS CAD technician and model maker are there with an interface that is more intuitive and responsive than GDS ever was. SketchUp is fast, it doesn’t get in the way and as awesome as it already is, it just keeps getting better.
† Al Gore did not invent the Internet.