I was out in the garden recently, shovel in hand, turning some soil as I said goodbye to summer and prepared my little vegetable plot for the winter. I’m one of those people who enjoy a little manual labor after a week of dashing from appointment to appointment or sitting in front of a computer screen all day.
But I got to thinking: What was it like to be a ditch digger at the dawn of the industrial age when a backhoe came lumbering down the road?
Was there some great relief, or did the sight bring a sense of dread at seeing the end of gainful employment? Or maybe our hero just stood back and marveled at the wonder of it all.
It feels like that right now in the digital age. All around us, the world is being turned upside down by bits and bytes. Businesses are being created and smashed in the blink of an eye.
We hail forward-thinking people like Apple’s Steve Jobs, deservedly so. And yet, so many more had a hand in this revolution, many from this area.
Take the panel I recently moderated on entrepreneurship and small business for the Northern Virginia Technology Council.
To my right, Linda Abraham, one of the co-founders of ComScore, the Reston company that taught us how to quantify what was happening on the Internet. Next to her, Alan Dabbiere, chairman of AirWatch, a company that helps other organizations manage their iPhones, tablets and what-not. He was building a software company specializing in improving the efficiency of supply chains back in 1990. Up next, Pete Snyder, a pollster who founded a company called New Media Strategies that focused on social media way before the world ever friended someone on Facebook. Last, there was Peter Stevenson, chief executive of a cloud services and data center company called Latisys, and before that a 24-year veteran of the telecommunications industry.
As I sat and listened to the group dispense startup advice, I felt like my friend the ditch digger, leaning on my shovel as the backhoe passed on its way to change the world.