The Smallest Innovation Counts!
Welcome, and greetings to all. This is my first edition of my newsletter on Substack! For those who are unfamiliar with my newsletter, each week I present a story about innovation. I tell a tale from my professional experience with the hopes of inspiring a new generation of innovators.
My newsletter is also published at the same on LinkedIn. You can find my professional profile and prior newsletters here.
No Matter How Small, Innovation Matters
Many years ago, very early on in my career, I worked at a company that made major enterprise software. Their software was hugely expensive, and required a manual as thick as an old Nynex Yellow Pages. (About six inches thick!)
The software had an entire technical writing department assigned to the upkeep of the user manual. The manual included not just the operating instructions but how to install, and uninstall prior versions. The software had a complexity that only an engineer could love.
Installing and uninstalling the different versions of the software required very precise instructions. One small mistake made by an operator might invalidate the entire process. In fact, more often than not, the person tasked with the software maintenance had to start the process over again at least once.
Adding more complexity to the situation was how the installer/uninstaller software worked. In short: It didn’t. Why? Because their was ZERO user interface. There were no progress bars or any indication of how far the process was along, or if it had stalled. The software was written in Unix shell scripts, and had no graphics — just text.
I remember as a junior developer being tasked with maintaining this convoluted install and uninstall system. Fortunately, many years before I had been a hacker on 8 bit computers. I remembered how file transfers used to work. In the days before windows, dots would fill the screen to show progress. The dots would appear one by one as data transfered.
For the heck of it, as key parts of the install and uninstall software executed, I printed dots to the screen. This allowed whoever was using the software to see progress. It also allowed whoever was running the software to count the dots to find out where in the process the install had occurred. Based on the number of dots the operator knew where the process was, and at what point it may have failed.
When the update to the software was released, and my “dots” made it into the software, it was like the shot heard around the world. Our customers were thrilled! Nobody thought of this before.
Such a simple thing made a huge difference. As it goes to show — no innovation is too small if it solves a known problem.
About Mark Ross
Mark holds multiple industry patents. He is currently the technical director at an iGaming company based out of Las Vegas. He is the author of books, technical whitepapers, and an accomplished film director as well. Linked In.