Stephan b wessels

 

My Mentors

I do have several people to personally thank for helping me get to where I am today.

My Dad
I know it sounds corny. But his setting a "high bar" of expectation for me was essentially to my early years. Dad was a hard working bricklayer. I wanted to become an architect (of houses) because of that. The irony is that I've now done both kinds of architecture. There's a house standing in Cincinnati, Ohio that I designed. And I've designed many complex software system architectures.

My dad worked with his hands. I think the belief that you had to get your hands on things to really accomplish something influenced me. Dad died when I was 17 and never got to see where my life's path has led.

Don Meyer
I was a pretty nerdy kid in High School. I'm certain that back then nerdy was never seen as a socially acceptable trait. I was in Chess Club. I used to hang out with the kids that were wizards in math.

But here's the thing. I was also a fairly bright kid. I had a strong mechanical aptitude and a surprisingly very high score in Abstract Reasoning, in the top 5 percentile in the US from some tests in Junior-High School. I learned only much later in life to appreciate what that was good for. I was part of a small handful of 11th grade High School students that was given a chance to develop technical training in a mechanical design 2-year program at Colerain Senior High School. My instructor for those 2 years was Don Meyer. He had a strong influence on my belief in applying logic and science to everyday ideas that could be applied in engineering design. Don, although looking back now I can see he was "quirky", was an inspiration. He demonstrated faith in me too. I was one of only 2 kids allowed to Co-Op part time during my High School years in his program. The biggest skill I learned from Don was how to think about problems. He helped me to develop good analysis and problem solving skills that help me to this day.

Wayne Adams
When I was 17 years old I started work in Research and Development as a mechanical designer. Wayne was the department head. His personality was the most unique I had ever met to that point. I believe he was also the first person I'd ever met who was a Mensa genius. Wayne was quick and clever. And he had the funniest sense of humor. He took me under his wing and became my mentor. Wayne helped me to see things from unusual points-of-view. "Thinking outside of the box" was a common theme while working with Wayne.

Dale Aunspauch
Dale was my manager at one of the best companies I've ever worked for. By that time I was starting to do fluid flow calculations along with my other mechanical engineering duties. Dale entrusted me with running a critical new product development project. With him as my mentor I learned that work was allowed to be fun. I also gained a healthy disrespect for the-man-in-charge -- part of the way we worked, since our develoment efforts often seemed to run (quite successfully) against the will of other department heads. Dale showed me you could be successful in a large company with hard work and still be a bit of a maverick too.

Dean Lampman
My relationship with computers and software began with encouragement and assistance from Dean. Dean was also a Mensa genuis. The wonderful gift that Dean gave me was access to microcomputers. This was in the late 70's. When hobbyist computers were dreamed about and quite expensive, Dean had two. And he lent one to me to use for learning about microcomputers and programming.

Dean let me borrow, for months, an Altair 680 microcomputer, with it's many switched front-panel and 64KB of RAM. It didn't have a floppy and used a cassette deck for storing the operating system. You used a "dumb terminal" to talk to it. It was essentially a teletype user interface with a glass screen. You had to bootstrap the Altair from the front panel with a few machine language instructions, entered in binary, and then the Altair would load the O/S from the tape and start running. After it came up it ran MITS BASIC. Dean showed me enough of the fundamentals that very soon I was "hacking" away at MITS BASIC with my own version of the Basic computer programming language. I added my own special functions to Basic and even added a min-assembler to make low level assembly language calls directly from within Basic. I learned assembler and many other fundamental skills during those days and I am forever grateful.

I moved away to Omaha and while living here learned that he died one year while I was gone. Dean was a great friend and mentor to have.

Larry Hollingshead
Speaking of great friends, Larry is right up there. Larry and I worked together for many years. I remember that we both decided to learn the C programming language one year, 1984 I think, and decided to split the cost of a C compiler and installed it on both of our home computers. I wrote quite a few programs in C and even did a couple of consulting jobs with it. Larry was steeply experienced in LISP and AI-related topics and decided one day to teach me a little about LISP. He gave me a set of tools for my Macintosh and off I went. I still have great memories of learning LISP using the book by French, studying together with my friend Paul Weingartner.

Consistent with his general style, Larry always encouraged me at whatever I was interested in. I give him credit for the next most important venture in software for me. One day we were talking about my beginning experience with CLOS (The Common Lisp Object System) and he said to me, "If you think LISP is cool, you should explore Smalltalk."

That started things for me. I tried Smalltalk/V on my Mac, and my software world changed.

Dan Jahns
I have to give Dan credit. He was my manager while at The Ohmart Corporation. Dan promoted me to Product Manager and said, "You're a natural Leader." He demonstrated faith in my vision to get the company's software moved over to using Object Oriented Programming and permitted me to launch a major product development initiative using Smalltalk. It became the most successful product the company ever produced in that industry.

Dan also mentored me on basic business decisions. I learned a great deal about how a development organization needs to run. The thing is, at the time (and I'm talking about many years) I found myself often at complete odds with him on the more "soft" people skills. Still, looking back I see that he was one of the best mentors for me.

I learned this morning, June 5, 2011, that Dan died in 2009. Here's a link to a site with some more information and some nice pictures of him. Dan was a good mentor.

Mike Taylor
Mike is the President of Instantiations. He was head of Digitalk's Professional Services team when I joined the company. We hit it right off because we seemed to have a consistent vision with how to run a consulting group. Mike taught me the value of taking care of your people. In those days, when I was Regional Manager, I had three driving values: Recruitment, Retention and Revenue. Mike taught me that when you take care of your team, the rest will fall in-line.

Rebecca Wirfs-Brock
When I first met Rebecca, she was part of my technical interview with Digitalk, I was scared of her. After all, she is one of the industry luminaries of object design. But she put me right at ease. During the interview we both ended up sitting on the same side of the table with our feet up on the desk!

At least two important qualities were driven home for me while Rebecca was my mentor. The first was just having a general confidence in yourself. I learned that I'm as smart, and sometimes smarter, than most the customers I would meet and not to be intimidated by my perceptions of them. And of course I learned a lot about "practical" object design. Not a lot of goofy theory. Basics like getting the task done and deliverying what's needed; Striving for high re-use, refactoring and easy-to-maintain code.

Tim Kinman
Tim was my manager, well most of the time, at SDRC. What I want to give credit to Tim for is learning a lot about project management and project status tracking. I thought I knew a lot about project management before I met Tim. He really forced me to ramp things up a notch.

I'm sure I've left out somebody really important to my career. But it's interesting to see how these folks from sometimes really different backgrounds have come to shape my path. In some instances, it was how challenged these people made me feel that helped me to grow. Looking back, you don't always see that when it's happening.

If you are one of the folks mentioned above and wish for me to remove the entry or modify it in some way, or maybe believe you belong in here for some unforgivable reason on my part, please write to me: stevewessels@me.com.

Same goes if you have a reference link or URL for web sites from any of these folks. I'd be happy to add them.