Our Digital Stories
about what it was like to work at Digital - unique or typical moments,
funny stories, lessons from Ken. Send yours to
David Mark, Maynard historian
David gave a lecture on Digital on
June 14, 2021 at the Maynard Public Library and on Zoom.
Almost 200 ex-DECcies listened in,
and several shared DEC stories in this CHAT file.
Here is a
link to David's lecture on YouTube.
Click on link below to see Jackie's fascinating
history with Admiral Grace Hopper
Grace Hopper, Digital Equipment Corporation, and Me
By Jackie Kahle
October 21, 2018
I visited Australia a number
of times during my DEC career. On one visit, after an 18
month visit to them before, I was on a 48 hour trip
there. I left Singapore and arrived in Sydney and did my
assignment to visit some customers and the local office.
On arrival at the airport to
go back to the US, I was in line to board my flight when
two somber policemen pulled me out of line and took me
to a long corridor to a darkened room. It was like a
typical B-Movie investigation room with a stool I was
put on, a small desk, and several chairs (all that was
missing was the spotlight in my face).
Then, without telling me
why, they started to ask me a bunch of questions:
What is your
Did you ever
have another name?
Why are you in
Where do you
What was your
Where were you
Who were your
parents? What were their names?
What was your
mother’s maiden name?
Where did you
go to school?
you lived in any other place? Where and When?
Who do you
Who else did
you work for and when?
Meanwhile, during these
questions, one of these two left the room (I suspect
they were checking on my answers?).
Finally, when I was about to
miss the last flight out of the day, I asked why they
were asking me all these questions?
The answer came with another
question? “What were you doing in Australia for the past
I told them I was in
Australia for less than 48 hours.
They then re-checked my
passport and discovered that they misread it in the
They apologized, and thank
God, I was able to catch my flight back to the US!
And that was before 9/11.
Otherwise, I might be in prison in Australia today!
late ‘80s I had a trip to Australia to go to a DECUS
meeting. One of the things that they had was a field
trip to a deep space tracking center in the Outback
where they had all VAX computers. There were two buses
on this trip and the corridors of the center could only
hold so many people (approx. 20 or so). So the rest of
us were outside waiting our turn. Meanwhile, I saw a
kangaroo jump from a ditch. I never saw a live kangaroo
before. I couldn’t see over the ditch and I had my
camera ready. So I stood on a mound about three feet in
height to see if I could see into the ditch. I was on
that mound for a long period of time. I colleague of
mine told me that I was on top of a giant ant hill. My
entire body was covered in ants. I never in my entire
life saw an anthill that high! I had no idea if they
were poisonous or not? I remember a movie that I once
saw as a kid of the attack of the giant ants. Since
there were no women around, I took off all my clothes
and tried to shake out all the ants. When I got to my
hotel, I couldn’t sleep all night. Whenever there was
some semblance of an inch, I jumped out of bed to look
for ants. I do hope you don’t ever experience this at
Silly story but last gig
before hanging it up was with HP Enterprise
Services; first day got checked in, sent for badge
photo and walked out with a number that looked so
familiar; my DEC badge number from 18 years before.
Also gave me hundreds of hrs vacation time; realized
their mistake and next check said 2 weeks, oh well,
"Thanks for the Memories".
When I joined DEC in 1974 all the
bathrooms had wood stalls on which there was a lot of graffiti
(virtually all of it is no repeatable in public). However the
one that struck me was:
I’m going to own this place. (signed) Ken Olsen
Yarmouth Port, MA
1996 I traveled to Warsaw, Poland to address a meeting of
the Polish chapter of DECUS, which by then encompassed users
of both legitimately purchased and smuggled / knock-off DEC
After my talk, I
chatted with one enthusiastic customer who told me that he
had "thousands of WAX systems". Figuring that the "W" I
heard in "WAX" was just an artifact of differing phonetics
in Polish vs. English, I asked "Do you mean VAX?".
replied. "I mean WAX - W-A-X. That is the name of the VAX
clones that were used everywhere in Russia, Poland, and the
other countries where DEC was not allowed to sell during the
Cold War! They run VMS perfectly right out of the box."
P.S. - A
shout-out to Jack Mileski, my first boss at DEC, who hired
me fresh out of business school to product manage and bring
to market an ease-of-use software package for the ill-fated
PDT-11 desktop line. The PDTs didn't survive DEC politics,
but the Forms Management System (FMS) that we built for them
did quite well!
The Story behind this Russian DEC manual
What was an enemy a few weeks
before became a very friendly visit!
Very shortly after the Berlin wall fell, about 12 Product line
members (including myself) visited Leipzig
Germany in East Germany to visit with the foremost Soviet Bloc Computer
Engineering Center there. This center was the epicenter of virtually all
Soviet bloc hardware and software. Most of the equipment there was DEC
equipment (many were smuggled - which, at the time, caused a great deal
of difficulty to DEC with the US Govt. on how this stuff was smuggled
behind the Iron Curtain). The Soviet Union extensively used DEC designed
equipment throughout the Cold War - including their nuclear facilities
(they may still be using it today) Given that the Soviet Union was now
dissolving, the hundreds of these HW/SW engineers were very anxious to
display their knowledge of DEC equipment in order to get jobs with DEC.
Therefore they were very accommodating to us. They showed us the
smuggled equipment, the many, many reversed engineered PDPs, VAXs, even
copies of the DEC100 and other peripheral equipment (they smuggled some
but reversed engineered them all). When they manufactured the resulting
HW/SW products, the East Germans re-wrote the manuals in Russian. Hence, this is one
copy they handed to me. Since it was only a very short time when the
Wall came down there was basically no infrastructure. The phone didn't
work and those that had to make calls had to drive about 40 miles to
Dresden (where there was still heaps of debris and blackened buildings
from the fire storm that the late WWII bombing did to Dresden). No way
do I ever want to go to a Communist country!
John A. Spadafore
working at Digital in 1980 at the Hudson Mass Facility,HL01.
Security was my way in and spent a couple of years in this
position. One of the notable highlights of this job was meeting
Ken Olson at the front desk and asking him for his badge. I
thought my manager was going to come un-glued at my request.
Course, Ken being the gentleman he was, gladly showed his badge
and complemented me a job well done!
who this gentleman was, I was impressed that he could be a such
a down to earth guy and treating one of his employees as a
person who had dealt with many times in the past. I found out
how quick one could move through the company with a little drive
and help from fellow employees. Moving from security to data com
was a great move for me and it didn’t stop there. I eventually
found my place working for the CAD group under the supervision
of Mike Brophy and manager Victoria Suchocki. What a wonderful
group of people and I truly can say I LOVED going to work!!
when Digital finally came to an end, I moved on with the
Alpha Development Group for Compaq then HD and right
back to Hudson HLO2 for Intel. After just under thirty
years, Intel offered many of us the retirement package
and I left. Thank you Ken Olsen for a career and the
honor of being part of the Digital Family. No other
company can ever compare to Digital Equipment
Corporation and all that it offered. I miss the people,
the challenges, and the compassion in those people I
worked with who put their heart into a work place that
meant so much to them personally. I look back to those
years and cherish all the memories and the friends who I
still have today and realize my life changed because of
Ken Olsen and his company.
ago, before we had answering machines or voicemail, I came into work on
a Tuesday to hear my phone ringing. I answered the call from a co-worker
in Geneva who said he’d tried to reach me the day before. I didn’t
answer so he phoned my boss’s number. When he didn’t answer my friend
called the dept head, and getting worried he phoned Ann (Jenkins) and
the Ken. Thinking some disaster might have happened he called the
international operator to see why his calls weren’t be answered. She
told him “I’m sorry sir, today is Memorial Day – the United States is
This is a link to "Old DEC jokes"
circulated by the Colorado Springs group based on submission by DEC
Connection member Dale Rutschow.
Newbold Noyes, Maine
This is a follow-up to Newbold's email appearing on our
just received this video link from a DEC producer yesterday, by
This was produced by one of our group, Joe Tyburczy, who lives in
Lexington MA. I'm trying to reach him to find out where he got
this transferred, and if I can get some of the other work together, I'll
have this transferred & put onto YouTube. I'll also contact the camera
man I worked with, who may have more material, including some Olsen
While at DEC I interviewed a few dozen upper management folk, CEOs etc.
from other corporations as well as top DEC management. Ken Olsen was the
only one who was genuinely puzzled as to why we would want to interview
him. His humility was part shyness I think, part worry that he was not
as articulate as some of his contemporaries. He was always sitting at
his desk, coat and tie on, looking uncomfortable, but I assumed that was
because he didn't like being interviewed.
In one of our first interviews the sound man kept hearing a ticking
sound which we couldn't track down. At one point Ken got a call which he
took in another office, and the sound man approached his chair and found
a piece of the material on the chair arm had come loose. He flicked the
little flap of material and it made the ticking sound, so he put a small
piece of tape over it. Ken came back & we continued. After a few seconds
the sound man heard a scrabbling sound as Ken's fingers found the
taped-down bit of material wouldn't flick... he looked down at the chair
arm and said "what did you guys do here? fixed my chair?" It was a
big old Naugahyde affair, not the leather that most other CEO's & other
DEC VPs had, but an old comfortable thing, big enough for a big
confident man who did not need fine furniture impress others. When we
had to do another interview, we found the flap of material had been
worked loose, we taped it down again.
After my last interview with him, I realized we had left a piece of
camera gear in his office, so returned and found him pacing around his
office, coat off, tie loosened, with our piece of gear in his hands,
talking with Win Hindle. He was dynamic, vigorous, confident,
articulate - I realized I had completely blown every interview I had
ever done with him - we should have interviewed him standing, anywhere
but behind his desk, with no suitcoat on and with some piece of Digital
equipment in hand... I mentioned this to his secretary as I left, and
she said that she always insisted that he wear his coat and sit at his
desk, looking like a CEO should look - "proper & neat" she said. Well he
never really looked "proper & neat," he was always a bit rumpled, his
mind far beyond well-tailored suits and new leather arm chairs. A
genuine is the word that comes to mind - an honest man - a strange
combination of other worldly and down-to-earth.
email@example.com, 4 June 2014
Upon learning of the death of Dave Knoll, Marcia wrote: Dave Knoll and
Ed Savage where my first bosses. They gave me sooo many opportunities
..sigh I could not have been as successful w/o their undying support.
They allowed me to be the intelligent but also goofy person I was...
while doing a whole lot of creative it never happened before work I had
lotsa fun too. I remember launching a manufacturing Request and Commit
tutorial complete with a chick in a bikini that was named Ophelia
Forecast. The physical document/manual got lots of attention and well it
should because it was the first launch of the beginning of online
electronic data processing directly into a computer.
One day in the early 80s I watched the evening news on TV and saw a
report of a meeting between H. Ross Perot and the board of General
Motors. I believe it was about the time when GM bought Perot's company,
Electronic Data Systems. One piece of video showed Perot in a limousine
being driven into the underground parking garage at GM headquarters.
Later that same evening, I accompanied my wife on a shopping trip to the
Burlington Mall. While waiting for her to come out of a store, I took a
seat on a bench in the mall. I looked around and saw - there, among all
the other ordinary guys sitting and waiting for (I assume) their mates -
Ken Olsen. Such a difference between H. Ross Perot and Ken Olsen!
DEC/Compaq (1974-2002) Maynard, Marlboro, Spit Brook, Merrimack
HOW MY 36 YEAR DEC CAREER STARTED: I
started at DEC in the Mill in 1974, badge #39667. I was hired as a Data
Comm. Tech. but my Manager only had a req. for a Logistics
administrator, but he said he’d get it changed after I started. I
suspect this was so he wouldn’t run afoul of any Field Service job
I was in a operations group providing computer access to many
Engineering and support functions mainly in Maynard ML, PK’s and
Marlboro. Our computers, DEC 10’s and 11’s were located in ML5B (below
the pond water level). Our clients connected through a myriad of mainly
hard wired lines that ran throughout the Mill, and a “high speed” 9600
BPS line to PK and MRO. Originally, if someone needed a line to one of
the systems, a work order would be filled out to plant engineering.
Weeks later it got installed, (sometimes days if side deals were made at
the Pub on Main St.), usually by running another 4 wire phone line from
their desk to ML5B, or the nearest phone room for remote users. Repairs
usually meant field service would be requested to get involved,
Corporate telecomm primarily supported voice. The process and delays
were unacceptable for most users and management, which is why I was
hired, to facilitate new data comm. orders, installs and maintenance for
My first project was to decipher and map all of the non-telco cabling 25
pair and larger, and punch down blocks in the Mill. You heard right,
every building starting with ML 3-5 where our group and our public
terminal room was located, down to ML5B. I started with a clip board,
voltmeter and map of the mill. Every day I would trace the overhead
cable to it’s cut down block, check for voltage or current, count the
connections, label it and move to the next one. My neck hurt from always
looking up. After 2 months I convinced my boss that the job was bigger
than was scoped, (I was still working in building 3) and he allowed me
to hire a temp to help out. That project took almost a year to complete,
but in the process I learned every nook and cranny of the Mill, and we
could then connect a new user in 1 day.
Like computers, network technology quickly became more sophisticated (e.g.DECnet,
SNA,IP, Web and wireless) as did my training and skills. By 1979 my team
grew to 6 people, I was promoted and we became part of Corporate
Telecomm’s new data support function. I went on to work for Compaq, and
HP in many Network Consulting and Management roles in services, and in
the last 15 years as a Global Service Delivery Manager in HP’s
Enterprise Services organization.
In 2010, like many, I was WFR’d , but I am very grateful and proud, to
have spent 36 rewarding and memorable years working for DEC, Compaq and
HP and the many great people I met, and worked with including my wife.
And it all began at ML3-5 in September of 1974. Lyle
Ken and I flew in one of the DEC jets to Toronto, Canada, to an industry
convention. He was the key note speaker and I was dutifully along to
play interference with members of the press. They were never Ken’s
favorite people. All the way up, he smiled through his gritted teeth and
would always change the subject when it was suggested that he should –
at least – look at the script. God forbid! We had a few DEC security
folks with us and when we arrived at the hotel, we were whisked away to
a private suite. Security thought it best that Ken relax in the suite,
but I decided to go and get the lay of the land. I wandered to the press
room and then downstairs to an attached shopping plaza. One of the shops
was a fine leather store featuring Canadian leather, and since I needed
a new brief case, I went in. and as I was selecting a nice black case, I
heard, “ I like the brown one better.” I turned around and it was Ken
smiling. I said “What are you doing here.”
He replied, What are YOU doing here?” I bought the brief case and we
both went up stairs to find the security guys didn’t know he was gone.
Joe Nahil, firstname.lastname@example.org
During the blizzard of '78 Gov Dukakis banned the travel of roads in
Eastern MA. This went on for a week.
I got cabin fever so I drove to the Mill. The place was totally empty
when I was roaming my office in Bldg 5-5.
Who do I run into? It was Ken Olsen! Did he defy the Gov. ban
(like me) or was he there all the time? I never asked him.
In the late 80's I went to DECUS-Australia in Canberra (the Capital).
During a mid-week break, some people went skiing and some of us got on a
12 hour round trip to the deep space tracking center in no-man's land
where they had a bunch of VAXes controlling the center. About half way
out to the center we stopped the buses for a steak cookout in a very
small park. I was sitting next to a customer during the trip. When we
got to the park there were not enough picnic tables for people to sit.
The customer I was with sat down on the ground. Unfortunately, he sat in
a pile of kangaroo dung. He tried to wash it off in a river nearby but
it didn't stop the stink! I was afraid that he would now sit back near
me for the entire remaining 9 hours of the trip. However, when I got
back on my bus, he was in the next one in the back with all the other
people massing up front (even without a seat). When I got back to
Maynard I told a bunch of people that story. One commented: "Was that a
customer? Why didn't you give him your pants?" I was a very loyal
employee of DEC for over 25 years - BUT NOT THAT LOYAL!!!
In the days that the Mill was not air
conditioned, people left the windows open on the weekend.
Bill Heffner's office was in Bldg 5-5 and he had a very early and
important appointment with Ken Olsen and the Executive Committee on
Monday morning at 8:00 am. Bill did his homework, prepared his slides
and his executive assistant converted them to transparencies (the only
technology that existed at the time) and put them on his desk.
During the weekend, pigeons flew into Bldg 5-5 and defecated all over
Bill's transparencies. Since office hours were at 8:15 there was no one
to help Bill recover! I'm not sure what the outcome of this was
but I'm sure it wasn't pleasant !!!
joined DEC from Xerox in 1982 after spending some wonderful interviews
with Ken, Ed Schwartz, Win Hindle, John Sims, Al Bertocchi, etc.
Shortly afterwards I recommended to Ken that we needed photo
identification (ID) badges. He responded that he "knew everyone in
Digital" and that, indeed, he had hired many folks, their parents and,
in some cases, their grandparents. "there would be no photo badges
within Digital Equipment Corporation"
Several weeks later at about 5:30 a.m., on a Monday morning I received a
telephone call that went something like the following: Ray, I wandered
through The Mill right after midnight. Do you know how many strange
faces I saw!"
We instituted "flying squads" throughout DEC to implement photo ID
badges shortly thereafter!
I am new to this DEC Connection site but not
new to the "low badge number syndrome."
It was a status symbol due to the sequencing of corporate worldwide new
hires badges. Employees returning with a gap in service could apply for
"their" old number back. Your badge number became yours and was retired
when you left the company. My badge in 1962 was #307 and I wore it
proudly until 1992. We would track the number of employees with badges
lower than ours .. to Ken's #1. In the 90's there were an amazing number
of two and three digit badge numbers in the company. When visiting
facilities we would pay courtesy calls on lower badge numbers merely to
congratulate them on their longevity. DEC always remembered it's
veteran's anniversaries with awards and dinners. The recognition was
transparent to pay grade or position in the company. My badge was always
the introduction to a story of "DEC in the early days."
Notes from webmaster:
Mike Schopeke, loyal customer
As a longtime customer I’m enjoying all
memories that pop into my head as I read what others have written.
In the newspaper industry since the 70s, I have been involved with
PDP-8, 11/70’s with 13 RP06’s, 11/750’s, 8550’s, and an ES-450. I can’t
even remember the others we have used.
A possible good DEC Employee story…
Back in 1979 we purchased two corporate cabinet 11/70’s serial numbers
56657 and 56658.
The DEC tech that came to do the install was John Alfrinko. His badge
number was 56657. He felt that Ken Olsen had presented him his own
machine. In all the years that we ran those servers he would never let
another tech work on those two boxes.
If you ever worked in the Mill, you may be aware that in the summer
time, tar could leak from the roof to the top floor of one of the Mill
buildings. One day, a salesman from France showed up with one of his
best customers from France. In those days, everyone wore suits to work.
This French executive had a lily white sports jacket. As he was walking
in Bldg. 5-5 a bit of tar fell on his white jacket. The salesperson
tried to wipe it off only to leave a giant tar smudge on his jacket.
Apparently it was the only jacket he brought with him. For the next two
days, he could be seen walking around the Mill with this giant tar
smudge on his jacket!
When I came to DEC in 1978 I was working on 5-5 and would often wander
down through the board shop on the way to Terminal Engineering. There
was a lady with a single digit badge number who was attaching the
handles to the board using a riveting machine. At that time she had been
there 20 years I suppose. I remember someone remarking that her stock
options were worth several times her annual income. Grin
My best Ken story was when I was working in the Mill and we were trying
to find the light control for one of the crackerbox conference rooms on
5-5 before the renovation. My software development gang worked very
strange hours and it was around 9:00 pm. We were climbing all over the
place trying to trace the wiring for the flourescent fixture when Ken
walked up and asked what we were doing. When we told him, he pointed out
the breaker box about 15 feet away behind a panel. When I asked him how
he knew it was there, he said because he put it there when they put up
the jury rigged partitions.
Mill Hazards or "Look out below!"
I was working in the Mill on 4-4 at the time as a "data control clerk"
aka. tape library type. Anyway, to "set the scene", it was later winter,
the room I worked in had a "service window" out to the hallway, across
from and diagonally about 20 feet from the elevator that served Bldg 4
and Bldg 3 along with the ground floor of Bldg 6. Well, one day I'm
sitting in front of my trusty VT100 logging in tapes, and I hear this "Kerrrack"
followed in most rapid succession with "BOOM!!!!!!!!", and dust coming
in the window. "What th' [ ] was that?" I thought, then I had an
immediate thought that it would be prudent to investigate as from the
volume of the noise, I considered the possibility that something really
bad happened to the elevator, and Billy, the operator, especially with
all the dust coming from that direction.
Well, I got to the elevator just as Billy was coming up, and he stopped
and raised the gates for me to get on. "What happened?" I asked. "I
dunno" he said, "but there's a lot of people wandering around down there
yakking". "Billy, can you drop me off down there?". Well, I arrived on
3-1/6-1 to see a first class commotion. It turned out that the "Kerrrack"
was a large chunk of ice that no longer desired keeping company with the
roof of bldg 4, and in obeyance of the law of gravity took the express
route to the ground. The roof of Bldg 6 attempted to intervene in this
(source of the BOOM!!!!) but only succeeded in reducing the ice's
velocity slightly, and the chunk of ice landed a couple of feet away
from a very surprised facilities Carpentry Supervisor who had been
working at his desk right below. Suffice it to say he was rather
unnerved by the incident.
remember when they had the first Board Of Director's meeting in Concord
VRO5, some time in the mid-80s. The buildings at VRO were built to DEC
spec and the first one had this really neat Boardroom on the second
floor. The building was designed with an entrance on each level at
ground level. Obviously the ground had to have been seriously rearranged
to make this happen.
Anyway as I recall, the meeting was to take place at a time of year when
tulips were not in bloom. However when we all came to work that day the
upper and lower walkways were surrounded with at least half-jillion RED
AND YELLOW TULIPS IN FULL BLOOM Wow Mother Nature had to be really
amazed at what had happened in her back yard overnight.
The rest of the story is that after the last Limo had departed and the
Board has all gone back wherever they came from, an announcement was
made, "anyone who wished to take home a tulip, may do so after work."
And we all did because it was so easy. None of the tulips had been
actually planted in the soil but they came in a pot and the pot simply
was placed in its entirety in the ground. I'm sure this whole operation
had been out-sourced as it happened so quick.
In the late '70s a young DEC engineer, Brian Hessler, was asked to visit
some customers in Europe and some DEC sites. Brian was never out of the
US in his life. His first stop was to visit a PDP-11 customer outside of
Amsterdam (a parts manufacturer). After a red eye flight to
Schipol airport in Amsterdam, Brian exited customs and was greeted by a
limousine driver who held up a sign saying "Mr. Hessler". There was a
drive for about 45 minutes outside of Amsterdam. But the limousine
driver did not speak English and Brian didn't speak Dutch, so there was
no conversation between them. After his arrival, the plant executive
offered some coffee and a pastry and started a small talk conversation:
"How was the trip?". "Have you ever been to Europe?" Blah, blah, blah
for about 10-15 minutes. Then the executive said: "How are things going
for Kraft Foods?". Brian answered" "Kraft Foods?" After a bit of
confusing bantering, it became obvious that Brian was in the wrong
place! This wasn't a parts manufacturer. It was a cookie factory. His
customer was totally on the opposite side of Amsterdam! They called
Brian a cab and he finally arrived at the parts manufacturer 3-4 hours
late. God knows what happened to the Kraft Foods Mr. Hessler left
abandoned at the Schipol Airport?
had graduated from M.I.T. in June 1969 and had taken a job as a newbie
at a major manufacturing company. Several months later I was being
assigned to work in Pittsburgh PA which for some reason didn't seem
right for me. So I sent my resume out to a few headhunters and, lo and
behold, I was granted an interview in the mill in late winter. Not many
of us (I had a four digit badge number) may still remember those days.
So I arrive early and am kept cooling my heels for over an hour.
Finally, I met with the hiring manager (anyone remember Maury F.) who
invited me to the Mill's cafeteria. I settled on one of now famous
hamburgers, which tasted like compressed computer chad from the paper
tapes being produced in those days. Afterwards, I was offered one of two
jobs, one for small computers (PDP-8) and the other for a big computer
(PDP-6). So in my infinite wisdom, I figured big was better than small
and chose the latter.
So what was my reasoning in joining DEC in 1969? This is true. I figured
than any company that could mess up the interview process so bad and
have such lousy cafeteria food had to have something going for it.
Little did I know.
P.S. The bar and the deli across the street from the mill entrance had
nothing to do with it.
P.S.S. My first "office" was next to Bob Lane's and across from Stan
Olsen's. The stories I could tell. And I still miss Ethel Lane to this
Back in the late '60's when I was
working at the Mill, Ken always seem to catch me throwing things.
First it was a circuit board I through out the window into the Mill
pond, then he wasn't too pleased when I broke a window pane of his
office with a softball a while later. But on my 5th anniversary
luncheon at PK-2 when Ken saw me coming up to the podium to receive
my Cross pen set, he tossed the box to me before I even got close to
him. After I caught it and was shaking his hand, he said "Glad to
see you can catch better than you can throw".
Or how about the time just after I bought my '68 Corvette, I had
parked it next to building 21 and got a call from security saying
the high winds had blown tar paper off the roof and it landed on my
car. When I rushed out to see how bad the damage was, I found Ken
cleaning off the paper from my car. Since there was no real damage
to my car, we went over and cleaned the stuff that had fallen on his
Hank Vezina: DEC Employee from 1967 to 1983, DEC Contractor from
1987 to 1997
mighty DEC in the 70's and early 80's.
There were many, times when Ken & Stan Olsen and members of the
Executive Team attended events.
Always interesting to engage with this group of unique individuals.
Started with DEC in the field and then migrated to a role in the
Product Line (then became a Business Unit and eventually an Industry
While in the field - our branch office was near Bridgeport - where
Ken Olsen's daughter attended school.
Ken would make a point to drop-in at our office - hardly
recognizable, as the Founder & CEO of one of the Industry's glamour
Computer Makers and braintrust behind DDP and Minicomputers. He was
open - sincere - the genuine article. And, he made the trip in his
joining DEC - a recruiter approached me and asked, if I wanted to
join a "do your own thing" company (DEC was doing $200 million
annually at the time), plus, he indicated that the Founder Ken
Olsen's mantra was "in the final analysis, people will do the right
This became an element of the DEC Creed, which was actually put to
About a year ago, our firm published an article titled,
"Entrepreneurs Met Along The Way - Are They A Reproducible Breed?"
Ken Olsen was the headliner in the article, however many of the
other Entrepreneurs profiled actually were ex-DEC employees.
Another testimonial to the impact DEC and Ken Olsen had on the
Industry. Clear that there are multitudes of people that were
directly impacted, by the DEC experience.
Here's a link to the article and a tribute to the man.
Ken Olsen's impact - will not be forgotten - it is enduring.
Ken was a many-faceted person who could
determine the essence of problems and opportunities in many aspects
of Digital's complicated business. The first time I met him was in
the early 1980's. The ESG Product Line was running a CAD/CAM Expo on
the west coast. It was our first show of that type and I was very
surprised to see him there.
Engineering Systems was the first group to develop joint marketing
relationships with third party application vendors as a fundamental
strategy to leverage the sales of the new VAX computer. Ken dived
into the displays with a tremendous amount of energy. He talked to
our demo people about their backgrounds and even tried out some of
the software. He asked the customers what they thought of the event
and how important the software was to their business and asked our
management about the partnership strategies and deals. I was even
more surprised at the length of time he spent in long conversations
at the event.
We returned to the office pleased with the customer results. A
while, later Ken's office announced DEC Town the pre-cursor for the
highly successful DEC Worlds that extended this model in a networked
fashion to all the applications and industries that Digital served.
What a vision he had!
Bruce Lynn Lexington, MA USA
In 1980, early in my tenure at DEC, my
father passed away. Shortly after I received a beautiful houseplant
with a card signed by Ken to express his sympathy. How many
companies of this size would have a policy like this? My guess would
be close to zero! That was how I thought of Ken for the 18 years I
continued to work at DEC and how I remember his to this day.
Bruce Lynn (Lexington, MA), Global Healthcare Solutions Practice,
My name is Jim Raffa. I worked in the
Law and Contracts Department in Merrimack, NH from February 1978 -
My first day at
Digital in 1978 was a Monday in February. It was a dark day with
light snow and with a forecast of a severe Northeaster expected over
the next 24 hours. I signed in, signed all my papers, was briefed on
my position, met my new boss, sat at my desk for less than 1 hour.
As the day finished, I said good bye to my new acquaintances. I knew
my drive back from the Merrimack, NH facility to Stow, MA was going
to be slow as there were 6 inches of snow on the ground when I left
the facility. I did not return to work for over a week. The snow
storm turned into the Blizzard of '78.
I knew that I was a new employee with
no sick or vacation time built up. Therefore, I expected that
February was going to be a tight month financially for me and my
wife with over a week of no pay. However, when I arrived at the
Merrimack, NH facility, the first thing my new boss said to me was
that Ken Olsen had approved payment for all employees, even me the
new employee, of salaries for the time missed because of the
blizzard. The time that I missed was not to be docked from my sick
or vacation time. This was one of the many wonderful experiences
that I had while working at Digital and my beginning admiration for
a man that remembered his employees as much as making great products
and being profitable.
I was fortunate. I had the opportunity
to interact with Ken on many occasions both at DEC and after we both
left. However, one of my first encounters always comes through when
I think of him. As you may recall, the blizzard of '78 caused all
the roads in the Commonwealth to be closed for a week. After getting
dug out and hanging around for a few days, I decided to go into my
office, then in the bowels of Building 4, and get a jump on things.
So, I quickly drove to the Mill - it was only 4 miles- and started
working. No one was around and the mill was strangely quiet. About
one-half hour after I got there Ken walked into my office and sat
down and proceeded with some small talk about the devastation of the
storm and then a technical discussion of the things we in the
Research Group were working on. This went on for at least an hour
and, as it was starting to get dark, I headed home. Needless to say,
I didn't get done what I planned but was happy to trade it for a far
ranging and interesting conversation with a very nice man.
Arlington, MA USA
I spent 12 years in the Mill in the
metals business on 5-1. During that time I was on the safety
committee for a few years. Ken used to come down to work on some of
his skunk work projects.
I would catch him in the machining or sheet metal area without
safety glasses. I would ask him to please leave the area until he
put safety glasses on. He would always apologize for his error –
march out and come back with his glasses and promise not to do it
again, until the next time he came down.
Stan Tomczak II, FL, USA
Please note that if you are offended by
strong language, do not continue to read this.
While working in the Washington DC Field Service Group (1970's) I
was told the story by a Maynard Product Support Engineer, while he
was helping me on my first "impossible to fix" PDP-8
("straight-eight") problem at a newspaper sight. DEC had not started
using microprocessor chips in the field at that time and, in fact,
we did not use the term "operating system". The story goes that the
earliest printed documentation was stopped before the press work by
the graphic designer of the front cover. The chain-of-command went
to Ken for a modification! Some of you will remember how
we used the first letter of words to form our own "DEC-speak". Well,
the story continues that the controlling software would be called a
monitor, it would be addressed through a keyboard (KSR "teletype"),
and it would be upgradeable. The legend states to name was to be:
First Upward Compatible Keyboard Monitor.
In the mid-70's in the bathroom in the Mill on Bldg 5-5, there was some
graffiti on the bathroom stall that said: "Someday I'm going to own this
place" - signed Ken Olsen. Of course, I doubt Ken wrote it.
Del Mar CA
A Digital Experience - by Faye Detsky-Weil: Monster.com asked people to write to
them about their best bosses.
The best boss I ever had was someone who cared
about me and my future. He took the time to talk to me about what I wanted
to do and where my interests were. He had me write objectives for my job and
for my career. At the time I dreaded it and thought of it as punishment,
only to look back and realize that he was doing me a favor. He was the first
boss I had who did this for me and I realized in the years that followed
that he was not typical of most managers. Many have to write up performance
reviews and objectives as a job requirement. He was my mentor. I was rather
young at the time, but I was not afraid to talk to him about my goals. He
encouraged my talking to him and knew that I was destined for a better and
more fulfilling career. He saw my potential and took an interest. After I
moved on, he contacted me about a position in his department. I turned it
down and have always wondered where I would be had I accepted it. We worked
together at Digital Equipment Corporation, the best company I ever worked
for. I am still in contact with some of my coworkers, but I regret not
having kept in touch with him. I thank him for making me feel respected and
empowered. That man is John Doherty.
Faye Detsky-Weil, Sept 1980–May 1986 (Tax
Department and Educational Services) - email Webmaster to contact Faye.
Links to old Discussion Threads
These stories and other postings
collected from 2006-2010: