My first position was in a startup I founded with two friends in 1985, I was a 25 years old fresh Math graduate. Two of us were coding, the third was in charge of sales and marketing. I was the product inventor (an Extensible 3D CAD-CAM system) so I became the project leader and CEO. We were self-funded, money was scarse and time was limited; so we were under a heavy pressure to be as productive as possible.
With a team of two, knowledge was build almost continuously, just by chatting while working. My friend had some basic experience with Software but since we were dealing with Object Oriented Programming, Pascal computer language and 3D geometry, everything was new to us, and know-how had to be built from day one.
As the company grew, the development team grew as well. Soon enough I was no longer able to be fully available for the R&D effort, I could just take a leadership role. I had to delegate the supervising responsibility and optimize my time. Most of the new hires had no experience. We had to tell them how to produce robust software but also to get our work done. That’s where for the first time, I felt the need to turn hoard Knowledge as it was uncovered and to make it available at once. We were competing with very large companies like Autodesk and Dassault Systems. Our only competitive advantages were our agility, our youth, our technology and no legacy to care about.
We were blessed to have acquired Apollo Workstations. Inspired by the research done at Palo Alto, they featured native hyperlinks (a precursor of a web browser, html and links). Links could span from one computer to the other. We took advantage of it at once. Soon we were continuously writing our documentation and hyperlinking one document to the other. We had about 800 documents. Switching from ‘readonly’ mode to ‘edit’ mode, was just a key stroke and everyone could see the changes instantly. It was a dream.
I promoted several practices to keep us on top and catch up the knowledge we didn’t have. We subscribed to magazines in the IT world, as well as in Mechanical Engineering. Whenever we found interesting pieces we would write a short note and stick inside the magazine so that others could read it also or just be aware of the resource. When we moved to a new building we setup a large library to store the books but also encourage studious breaks. It was not only a software factory but also a knowledge factory.
I was a total ignorant in Knowledge Management. Let me state things as I would have expressed them at that time.
What I’ve learned:
– Knowledge is critical for fast growth.
– Knowledge needs to be chunked and well connected to be easy to digest and modify.
– Knowledge updating should be at the fingertip, frictionless to keep it current.
– Knowledge must be hoarded at the time of use and shared the same way.
– Knowledge needs some structure, some formalism to stay consistent.
Apollo was bought by Dec, Windows became dominant. Next chapter will be my encounter with the ancestor of SharePoint, Exchange.