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Bob Rockwell

Chief Scientist

Like lots of people in our racket, I arrived at my present work by a somewhat roundabout route. Starting out in comparative literature and semi-professional theater, my career careened through half a dozen eras in its first 10 years: teaching high school and preaching educational revolution, doing graduate research in social and genetic evolution, doing consulting for the New Jersey state government , discovering computers, getting a doctorate in the nature of culture conflict, and founding and folding an (overly?) innovative CASE company, then moving to Germany and settling in (more or less) to an abiding interest in this strange business of software: distilling dreams into machinery.

As the foregoing clearly demonstrates, 15 years among the Teutons have done nothing to simplify my prose. But two years as technical director of a massive multinational R&D effort (the Eureka Software Factory Project) certainly sharpened my sensitivity to the difficulties of doing transcontinental work on a continent where the local languages - not to mention the business and technical cultures -- change every few miles down the road.

What still has me in its grip is the conviction that a computer is not just a calculator on steroids, but a means of achieving and sustaining a working community: a team machine. It is nearly 30 years since that vision was first born in Doug Engelbart's lab, and over 20 since it first bowled me over in a bureaucrat's back-office in New Jersey, but now, at last, a market has finally begun to grow to meet that vision.

What I do. Over the years, whether my colleagues have been actors or teachers or parents or planners or sociologists or sex researchers or software engineers, my own work has always had a continuing theme: the need to see what we do in a broader context, and to uncover the undetected misunderstandings that get in the way of getting our shared work done. So I write stuff, and draw doodles, and talk to whoever will listen, until I think we both understand what I've been trying to say, hoping that what comes out will make it worth keeping me around. To the outside world, I am basically an evangelist, preaching the gospel of possibility, choice and negotiated commitments: these days, mostly to managers who would rather believe that the next big sale (or corporate re-organization or product release) will somehow free them from the need to think hard about what they, their customers, their suppliers and other not-always-so-innocent bystanders really want and need.

Books. For me, books are one of the main places I meet people: fictional folk, and also the authors who hover behind them. Two kinds of writing attract me most:

Music, Theater, Film. I was a choirboy for 15 years, and have been a Paul Simon fan twice that long - with about equal impact on my record collection, where between the renaissance polyphony and rhythms of the saints there are places of honor for Joan Baez, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, CSN&Y and BS&T, the Commodores and the Dead, Manhattan Transfer and Take 6. My latest love is Mary Chapin Carpenter. Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods fascinated me more than anything I'd seen/heard in ages - with the exception of almost anything by Shakespeare or Shaw or Mozart or Bach. I love artists who wrestle with the classics to find out who they (and we) really are: from Hot Mikado moving Gilbert & Sullivan into Harlem to Peter Sellars putting Cosi fan Tutte in a Long Island diner, from Ariane Mnouchkine doing Richard II as kabuki, to Kenneth Branagh and Ingmar Bergman showing how Hamlet and The Magic Flute have the power to transform quite unremarkable players into something neither they nor we entirely understand, but are unlikely to forget.

Food. What matters most is who else is at the table - although I've had tex-mex that burned away what should have been a garden of good conversation, and a table full of really first-rate sushi or szegadiner gulasch is (almost) reason enough to dine alone.

Family life ... is thoroughly transnational. My wife Claudi is German, our daughter Angie just married an Italian, one brother's wife is Brazilian, another organizes annual gatherings of international harpists in San Francisco. But somehow I don't think it makes our family life any more cacophonous or conflict-prone than anyone else's - we just have more languages to quarrel in, is all - and a hug doesn't need much translating anyway.