Have you seen that video of what the world would be like if the Internet hadn't been invented? That's an interesting way to reflect on tech. You'd have [AOL founder] Steve Case as the man running around the office delivering mail and saying "You've got mail. You've got mail" and Arianna Huffington would be a delivery girl throwing newspapers at people's doorsteps.
What impresses me the most about the evolution of tech is that I came to Silicon Valley in 1982, and it was such a bright, golden place. Part of that could be arriving from the dim of Boston. But the idea that we were doing things that nobody had done before was crazy. Just crazy.
Then fast forward from 1982 to now. How many times have we been able to repeat that? It's amazing.
We went from our idea of automating things to now, tackling the world's problems with technology -- whether it's self driving cars, water, transportation or energy.
If you had asked us in the '80s and '90s if we were trying to tackle those really big problems, we might say our products were. But it wouldn't be us doing it directly -- it would be companies like General Motors using our hardware and software.
Did I see that coming? I knew the world had changed when people didn't constantly speak about the speed of their processors anymore because frankly, it was fast enough and it was going to get faster and you knew it, thanks to Moore's Law.
Back then, it was critical to get more speed and more capacity. In my world, it was about moving on to packaged software instead of specialized software. It was about making things work before there was any commonality of platforms or anything called an open system.
One of the things we excelled at at Autodesk before anyone thought about it was add-ons. We had a huge third-party software catalog. Who calls it third-party software anymore?
We would watch which ones got big or essential. For instance, a third-party app for AutoCad was a spellchecker. Think about it: Engineers can't spell. But a spell checker for AutoCad got important enough that we bought it. But then spellcheckers became so important they became part of the operating system so we didn't have to worry about it anymore.
So when you think about old-time software and new-time apps -- they're both a way for the leaders in the industry to watch what's really important and give us a big hug and bring it in. That's what apps have allowed. That's why that's great for consumers.
When I think back over my time in this industry, I realize it's a sine curve -- you just don't know the magnitude or the length -- how deep it is or how wide it is. But you know it will end and you know it will be followed by the opposite. And you don't know how bad the opposite will be or when it will end.
I remember in the '90s, running Autodesk, and waking up in the middle of the night thinking about the Internet, and it occurred to me you could slide to irrelevancy. I didn't know you fell off a cliff. All of the sudden, if you were software, you weren't the Internet.
I thought somehow I have to get the company thinking about the Internet because we're just on the wrong side of the ledger. Packaged software had been on the right side of the ledger compared with the low-margin hardware business. But then all of the sudden you're not the "it girl."
But some of my management in Europe said German engineers will never use the Internet because they need precision. I remember big battles around these things.
It's just fun to see how many times we can pivot in the Valley because that's what's keeping us strong and vibrant. We pivot old to new, young to old. We pivot from control to BYOD, from hardware to software to Internet to cloud. It just goes on.
I'd love to be one of the young ones in the middle of it again. It's not that I deserve youth but I'd just like to be back in the action (well shit, I desire youth too). What you have when you live out here is an idea is that there is no ending. That we're just at the beginning of figuring everything out. So it's not such a shock when something that seems impossible becomes possible. That's what keeps smart, vibrant people around.
*As told to CNET News Editor-in-Chief Connie Guglielmo
Photo courtesy of Carol Bartz