Friday, January 28, 2005

Observations about Two Software Giants

I had the chance to hear Bill Gates speak this week at a conference for Public CIO's held at Microsoft. I was already impressed with him, but even more so after seeing him in person and hearing him speak. He was very real, and warm, and casual about the work he is doing in the world. That wasn't the subject of his talk, but it came out in some of the answers he gave to our questions.

I've had the same reaction to another tech giant I've been lucky enough to be around - Jack Dangermond from ESRI, the company who's software powers most of the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in the world. Inside of the GIS community, "Jack" is understood to mean Jack Dangermond in the way "Bill" means Bill Gates at Microsoft. Jack is also passionate about changing the world. He has aligned ESRI closely and openly with his passion for using software to help guide good decisions about the world around us. ESRI gives significnat grants (money, software, hardware) for targeted solutions, particularly in environment, government,education, and emergency response (but certainly not limited to those areas). At the annual ESRI Users Group meetings in San Diego, Jack addresses us specifically and passionately about using GIS to change the world - and his passion has carried to many people in the GIS community.

Bill certainly does not do less. The directions he has taken his software in have enabled much of our current electronic world, and through his foundation, he is a regular and signifianct contributor to health and education issues around the world.

So for the moment, lets set aside any issues about business practices, wishes that either software platform was less expensive, and other gripes. Lets assume those are valid discussions, but that they belong in another forum.

I believe we are lucky to have these two people. Both are truly brilliant, and they have amassed significant wealth and power (there is power in software - the software available to us enables and/or limits our choices in many ways). We are lucky they choose to use this intellect, wealth, and power in large part to address problems and opportunities that are too big for governments, that by thier nature need to cut across government lines (are global). Both men focus on positive images of the future which include, and in fact empower, humanity. They are global thinkers.

I see some other rich people focus more on toys, on external trappings of power, on yacht races...and then I see these two focus on a better world. It's a good thing. Especially since they both have the power (the software) to make the world a better place. That's leadership.


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