InsightaaS: At Across the Net, we are always convinced that the posts we highlight are worthy of attention – else we wouldn’t select them! – but even in this group, some pieces stand out. “50 for 50 — The Most Important IT Disruptors of the Last Half Century” is one such post. Written by David Moschella of CSC’s Leading Edge Forum – whose work we have featured several times in the past – this post reflects both a deep understanding of the forces that shape IT as an industry, and the people who are responsible for these movements. Moschella, who has long been recognized as a leader within the industry (his book “Customer-Driven IT, How Users Are Shaping Technology Industry Growth” was published by Harvard Business School Press in 2003) has compiled an intriguing list that accomplishes a seemingly-impossible task: it outlines a 50 year history of inflection points and key personalities that have shaped an incredibly complex industry in a post that can be read in minutes – and that will likely be re-read immediately afterwards.
American sports fans are probably familiar with the ESPN TV show, 30 for 30, which profiled 30 individuals, teams and issues that transformed the sporting landscape during the network’s first 30 years of broadcasting.
I was reminded of this concept back in April, when the 50th anniversary of the IBM 360 mainframe was being widely and rightly acknowledged. As an amateur IT historian, it struck me that developing a 50 for 50 list might be worthwhile. Who are the 50 people who have most transformed the IT industry landscape over the last half century, and how might examining the role of these specific individuals help us in our ongoing research into both disruptive technologies and digital leadership?
The key to any such exercise is selecting criteria that are both credible and practical. This proved surprisingly straightforward. The big shifts in the IT industry have been mostly initiated by two types of people: inventors/technologists who created something new and important, and entrepreneurs who drove significant marketplace change. (Often, important IT entrepreneurs were also important inventors/technologists, but not always.) By excluding CIOs, VCs and non-founder CEOs from this analysis, we can make broad apples-to-apples individual comparisons.
Thus, the 50 for 50 challenge can be stated as follows. Over the last half century — across each of the major generations of mainframes, minicomputers, PCs, internet, mobility, software, services and networking (not including telephony/cable) — which technologists and entrepreneurs have had the greatest global impact? My current list is below, presented in roughly chronological order…