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Back to the Future -- My Life in Tech From the Wang Word Processor to the iPad and Beyond

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I began my working career at Kelly Services, "The Kelly Girl People" as the company was known then. William Russell Kelly (whom I have had the honor of meeting) began the firm in the late 1940s. He "invented" the temporary help industry by assigning clerks, typists and other office staff to do work at customer locations. Previously, his company had been more of a "back-office" service bureau firm that produced typed documents for customers. When I started at Kelly Services, it was sometime in the mid-1980s, when assigning temporary clerical help was still as easy as words-per-minute.

Then, one day, everything changed. Enter Wang, IBM DisplayWriter, Xerox, Lanier, DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) and many others who began manufacturing single use computers (dedicated word processors) to automate typing. Kelly's largest revenue-producing division, office/clerical, was at stake and decisions needed to be made quickly and without much information as to how the market might ferret out and who the "leaders" would be. This was a seminal time in my working career.

I was fortunate to work, have access and carry gravitas with senior level executives who were at this critical intersection for Kelly. We innovated by using technology to measure the word processing skills of temps before assigning. This innovation catapulted Kelly to the forefront of workforce technology and skill measurement -- human resources collided with technology. Kelly became known outside of HR departments as our innovations created a "buzz" within IT departments and firms. I was corporate media spokesperson, and I traveled extensively to represent the firm to press and larger corporations and to discuss best practices for training/testing for word processing skills and other software skills. For the first time, "serious" trade publications were intensely interested in what Kelly Services was doing and how.

I managed the development of training programs, a unique call center hotline (which supported three dedicated word processing systems and 10 word processing software packages even in Spanish) so that temps could be more productive on the job. We even designed a compact and useful set of reference guides that slipped easily into a temp's bag for assignments!

For Kelly branches, we developed a demo diskette to use on the branch's own Compaq portable (luggable) computer. For the first time, Kelly salespeople had a technology demo that was used on a sales call and in the customer's office. Twenty-five years before iPads, tablets and apps.

Beyond that, we were determined that each of the systems that we supported would be part of our global marketing efforts as well. I made a mission for myself to gain the endorsement of all of these firms. Our training, testing and support was unique! This was before the Internet, so I just began calling all of these companies. This led to many high-level meetings with senior executives who did endorse Kelly temps. We had joint PR/marketing programs which elevated Kelly above its competitors.

I even met Bill Gates several times in the 1980s -- he was my Mark Zuckerberg. When I met Bill Gates, he was not the household name that he is today. For those Gen-Y'ers and Millenials who may be reading this blog, before Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, there was this guy named Bill Gates. Bill Gates also dropped out of college and began a tech company which developed operating system software -- Disk Operating System or "DOS." The name of his company was Microsoft. Microsoft's disk operating system, MS-DOS as it was known, powered corporate America's desktop, computing on IBM PCs and clones. There were a few Apple Macs located in graphic design departments -- no one would have guessed how Apple would surge ahead.

If all of this sounds familiar to you, imagine how I feel, as I go back to the future with a myriad of social media platforms, lots of "hardware" choices and the lack of a solid method for measuring social media skills in regulated industries like financial services.

I began thinking recently, "So where are the Wang Word Processors and IBM PCs now?" Well, the same place that the iPod, iPhone and iPad will be shortly. We should be planning for change instead of resisting opportunities for advancement that new technology platforms offer. Soon, I believe there will just be an individual place on the Internet like our own URL where we can post photos and videos without even using written words. Today, cellphones or mobile devices transmit more data than voice. As George Jetson used to say, "Help Jane! Stop this crazy thing." (Watch this clip until the very end!)

So the question is: Who will be the next person and company to change the way we think, interact and work? How will work and socialization intersect and what will the hardware and user interface look?

Fast forward and it's clear to me: Technology has made almost everything a fad. The word "fad" is defined by the Miriam-Webster Dictionary as "a practice or interest followed for a time with exaggerated interest." Could we have ever imagined a time that Apple would eclipse IBM in office computing? Right now, according to that definition, we are experiencing an Apple "fad." People are almost fanatical in their loyalty to the product and the man (Steve Jobs). But who and what will replace the Apple fad? It's only a matter of time before the iPhone is a relic and the iPad looks prehistoric, clunky and out-of-date.

Hardware manufactures used to use the term "planned obsolescence" to describe the new product cycle, which use to drive sales of new hardware at planned intervals, say, once a year. Today, we are "slaves" to the upgrades for our devices.

As I think about "Back To the Future" and the IBM Selectric typewriter which I had to pry from people's hands, it's obvious that technology has even shortened the lifespan of the most sophisticated technology. When my two teenage sons ask me if I am the "oldest woman in social media?" I just look at them praying that they will drop out of college and be the next Bill, Steve or Mark.

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