Gone But Not Forgotten

by George Szakach, Founder and President of Treehouse Software

It is interesting to watch the changes life brings over the years.  Sad when some people leave us.  I wanted to wait until the word on John Maguire slowed down to express my/our sympathies, and to relate a story about John.  In 1976-7, I was not only in total control of the development of ADAMINT, but I personally provided what we now call technical support, and another radical concept in those early days called documentation.  I was instrumental in getting that started within Software AG (or I badgered my bosses until they listened and did something about it).  I could not continue to do development AND these other tasks.  My reasoning was that SAG had other people developing other ancillary software (ADABOMP, ADASCRIPT, ADAWRITER, “the Dictionary”, etc.), all related to the SAG base products … and why should we all be doing support and documentation, and all differently?  (The ADAMINT manual was done on punched cards, 8100 of them.)  So SAG went out and bought some little PC-like documentation machine (System-4 or some such thing), and soon after they brought in Text-360 on the mainframe – and someone to use it.

Except SAG didn’t really have a mainframe, but was instead borrowing time locally and not so locally.  We borrowed time at places like the National Education Association in DC, Litton, Planning Research Corp., DuPont, and R. T. French Mustard in Rochester.  One of our geniuses brought up the entire list of mustard inventory one day on one of those new things – a terminal screen accessing the system remotely.

At PRC, about 10 of us wanted to use the one terminal we had.  We did not have multiple terminals because this would cost too much, with multiple people banging away on the PRC system.  There was a second terminal, but the boss removed it and stuck it in his basement so that we would not ring up a double-sized bill.

So, in order to get anything accomplished, and to avoid one employee’s dog slobbering on my pants, I decided to go to the computer center and use the card punch.  The whole ADAMINT shebang — product, docs, tests, etc., and large computer printouts — took seven huge boxes, which I carried around in my car for “security purposes”.   Yes, dogs were allowed in the office – and his master insisted this dog was smarter than the average COBOL programmer.

Before that, for a year I used the DuPont system 3 hours away to get things done.  They have great hoagies in Newark, DE.  But, I was destroying my car with weekly trips.  I asked to use one of the company’s many Mercedes cars, but instead they leased a Pinto for me to use.  It caught on fire on the DC Beltway.  We changed its nickname from the ADALEMON to the ADAFLAME.

Regarding support, John hired Harry Ottinger.  John and Harry full well understood the concept I was trying to get SAG to recognize, that customers would have problems and it would be good to have someone answer the phone, patiently listen, record these problems and solutions somehow.  Then eventually we would have fixes and be able to answer some other customers with a fix developed for an earlier inquiry.  What a concept.

Harry did a great job and we developers all liked him and what he did.  One day, Nov. 30, 1977, a small airplane flew right by the windows of our offices in the 15-story International Center in Reston, in foggy, nasty conditions, and blasted directly into Harry’s townhouse, killing both Harry and his wife Sue instantly.  Harry was home for lunch, late.  The school was alerted so that their six-year-old daughter would not be dropped off at the house.

That was incredibly sad and it is still hard to talk about.

I do not know exactly what John Maguire (and his wife Ann) did over the years about this, but I do remember how he was distraught and became totally dedicated to making that child’s life better than one would think possible.  He would dedicate himself to causes such as this.  If you had a problem or unfortunate situation, you could count on John to deal with it.  We were more than mere employees to John.

John also did a special favor for my wife, Emilie, and me, when our son Mike was born.  What might have been a costly pregnancy and delivery for us was simply taken care of by John, through the efforts of his great office manager, Penny.  (I have a Penny too: her name is Terri).  I didn’t talk to John much back then (but I did over the past 10 years until about a year ago).  After all, you did not just go in and talk to the president of a company back then –- he was too important to bother!

Needless to say, I learned a few things from John.  I try to do things for Treehouse employees, within our limitations. We have few rules, but a lot of common sense perspectives that we try to show to new employees. I try to be approachable by employees. I do all this with one understanding wife, three kids, and five grandchildren.

There are probably many other stories about his life and generosity that can be shared, but for now, I will respectfully share a link to his legacy page in case anyone would like to offer condolences to his family.