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A look back at the computing industry through the eyes of technology veteran, John Walicki! From PCs, to Linux, the Internet and edge computing, he…


“Walicki with Watson” seems to be an appropriate way to introduce myself. As a member of the IBM Developer Advocacy team, I am eager to share my experiences with IBM Cloud and the powerful IBM Watson AI APIs. As an edge computing and IoT expert, I’m passionate about helping developers build custom edge, IoT and embedded Linux solutions for their industrial and enterprise use cases.

If you peer back in time, the computing industry has undergone epochal transformations. Once you experience that transformational technology, you’re quick to realize “This changes everything…” As a way of introducing myself to developers, I’ll rewind the cassette tape a bit and give you some background about my personal career evolution during important inflection points of the computing era.

This changes everything… 1982

Personal computing – My first Apple IIe – and my friend’s IBM PCjr – started me down a path with computing in high school. The “which OS is better” debates that my buddy and I had back then have raged for the past 30+ years. What I learned from all those operating systems – DOS, MacOS, OS/2, Win95, WinNT, Linux, AIX, WinXP, Win7, Win10, OS X, embedded, mobile etc is that there is an appropriate platform, OS and form factor for every use case. Pick the one that does the job best for the task at hand and quickly move beyond the fanboy arguments. I’ve learned to love them all.

This changes everything… 1984

GUI – The original Macintosh and its new graphical user experience changed everything in 1984. I was still in high school and landed a job at the local Apple reseller teaching introductory classes to new owners of expensive Macintosh systems. To my delight, the reseller gave me a Macintosh to develop the courseware. I quickly became an expert in MacOS, MacPaint and MacWrite. I’ve loved to teach about computing ever since.

This changes everything… 1990

Open source – After graduating from Lehigh University with a BSEE, I went to work at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center and became an OS/2 programmer. My first introduction to open source software (OSS) was to port the BSD licensed SunRPC to OS/2. My work was incorporated into the OS/2 TCP/IP implementation. Open source has been the single most important thread through my 30 year IBM career.

This changes everything… 1994

Browsers – The first time I saw Mosaic running on an AIX RS/6000, I knew that the nascent Internet was maturing from connecting computers to connecting people. We had been heavy users of FTP, Gopher, Usenet, sendmail but the introduction of a web browser opened the internet to everyone. I went on, later in my career, to lead the effort to switch all of IBM from Internet Explorer (IE) to the open source Firefox browser. Say it out loud: IBM is moving to Firefox as its default browser.

This changes everything… 1999

Linux – In 1999, I was a founding member of the Linux Technology Leadership Council which established IBM’s Linux strategy and led to the establishment of the Linux Technology Center. For 17 years, I was the architect for the world’s largest enterprise Linux client desktop and desktop virtualization deployment ever conceived. Based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, the internal Linux@IBM Open Client initiative paved the way for corporate adoption of Linux. Open technologies, open standards, open source, and Linux have been a core IBM strategy.

I was at LinuxWorld 2001 when Sam Palmisano announced IBM’s billion dollar investment in Linux. Unequivocally, Linux has won. An entire generation of developers have contributed to making Linux great. Today, linux runs the internet and is the foundation of cloud computing. Arguably, Linux saved the mainframe, powers the world’s largest supercomputers, runs on the majority of smartphones in the world and it powers billions of IoT and edge devices. I could not imagine a greater opportunity to help Linux become even more pervasive!

This changes everything… 2001

Smartphones – I had been a gadget guy for a decade, with a bat belt featuring a pager, StarTac mobile phone, and Palm Pilot. Forget the pocket protector of the prior generations, nerdy data center managers were easy to spot. In 2001, I bought a Kyocera 6035 – one of the first smartphones. The Kyocera smartphone consolidated all those devices into one. I became a Blackberry addict and Apple went on to improve the user experience with the iPhone. Apple’s app store flipped the mobile computing market on its head. I became a mobile iOS and Android application developer – oh my, my first PhoneGap apps were bad! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyocera_6035

This changes everything… 2005

Enterprise scale distributed systems management – I left IBM Research to join IBM I/T where I became the IBM I/T Client Platform Architect, responsible for IBM’s internal strategy for Windows, Linux, Mac, Mobile, and BYOD. I set strategy for internal client platforms and managed 500,000+ IBMers workstations. Security, fighting malware, and global patch management kept me busy for a decade. I established IBM’s Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategy and have deep expertise with mobile devices, desktop virtualization and open standards. As the IBM I/T workplace of the future strategist, I led the transformation as IBM embraced a heterogeneous workstation environment and adopted open standards-based cloud native solutions.

This changes everything… 2016

Internet of Things (IoT) – As IBM reinvented itself around Watson AI technologies, I was drawn to the challenge. I joined the Watson IoT Developer Ecosystem team to engage IoT and AI developer audiences around the world, create tutorials, teach developer workshops, share my understanding of managing large scale distributed endpoints and apply my open source expertise toward improving the IBM Watson Platform.

This changes everything… 2020

Edge computing – Are you excited about faster 5G speeds and AI-infused edge use cases? I am too! But I’m also an electrical engineer turned embedded software developer unfazed by gushy headlines. Edge computing, at the core, is about the movement of workloads and models away from the cloud and closer to where the action is. Edge computing is about managing distributed AI models that can process data and distill insights by running predictive analytics close to the source of data. Essentially edge computing and 5G bring together every aspect of my career. I’m looking forward to applying my latest data science and containerization skills toward helping developers manage AI workloads at the edge.

Follow me weekly on IBM Developer Twitch.TV as “Walicki with Watson” guides developers through the next AI, 5G and edge inflection point of the computing era.