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Five People Who Made A Difference. . .To Me (#5 The Geek)

March 9, 2015

#5 Trevor Harrison – The first geek I ever met

Hey Rodney, wanna see a trick?


Watch this.

Okay, what am I seeing?

Open the that file on the screen.

That’s my password? Both passwords, the system and my private one! How’d you do that?

Trevor was a geek. He was also my friend. We were teammates in WordPerfect Office support. WordPerfect Office wasn’t like Microsoft Office. WP Office was basically email with some other utilities thrown in. Trevor had just run a program against our corporate database and sucked out not just my password, but everyone on our post office. It almost got us fired. 

This week I’ll introduce you to five people who have made a difference in the IT world, to me. You’ve probably never heard of many of them. Unless you know me outside of this blog, you may not have heard of any of them. But, each one taught me something very important at a critical point in my career. Unlike many of my other posts, here I’m using their real names. If you are lucky enough to know these people, you are lucky indeed. 

When I started working at WordPerfect, I started in the telephony office (Back To Where It All Began.) That was a part time gig and with a young family to support, I needed something better than 20 hours per week. I started into customer support in 1989. At that point in time, the most important qualification for getting a job at WordPerfect was the ability to touch-type. If you had a friend recommending you and you could type without looking at the keyboard, you were in. 

It was a magical time to be in the computer industry. The industry was still young enough that often we were making it up as we went along. And by starting in WordPerfect, I learned from the very beginning that the customer was king. (You Want A What? We Don’t Even Make Those Any More)

During our two week training period, we spent a lot of time learning WordPerfect 4.2 and about an hour learning WordPerfect Office. When my class of about twenty graduated we went to the “Pool Group.” We were essentially temp-workers. If one of the printer teams had someone call in sick, they’d assign someone from the pool group to head to printers for the day. My first day I went to the Office group. Actually, at the time it was called WordPerfect Library. But, most of our calls were on the new email product. 

I got a crash course on the tools to setup an office system and then thrown on the phones. Years later, as a course writer for Microsoft’s email system, I often drew on the terror of those early days to try to anticipate what to put into the training materials. Microsoft’s Exchange Email training is two weeks. 

It was a bit of a pressure cooker environment. But, for those who survivied it was a great place to work. We were on the cutting edge of a whole new industry; truely pioneers. I don’t remember when Trevor joined the team. It was at least a year or so after I started. I was one of the senior engineers by then. Although, my tenure had been longer, Trevor was light years ahead of me on the technical side. He really should have been in Testing or Development. 

When he showed me his utility for cracking passwords, it was almost with a conspiratory tone. He made me promise to not tell anyone he’d built it. 

But, Trevor, if it was this easy for you, there have to be others out there who could also do this. We should let development know.

It makes me smile to think how naive my young self was. Of course, development knew. They were probably praying like mad (it was Utah after all) that no one would notice before they had a chance to get a version out with proper encryption. 

You can tell them if you want, Rodney, but leave me out of it.

Trevor understood corporate politics a lot better than I did. Development’s response was to be expected:

Tell whoever wrote this to forget they ever knew how to do it

Eventually, they fixed it. Eventually WordPerfect Office would challenge the email goliaths of the time, cc:Mail and Lotus Notes. Eventually, Microsoft would beat all of them. . .like always. 

But, what impressed me most about Trevor, and has stuck with me nearly 30 years later, is his intense curiousity. He didn’t break the passwords to do anything malicious, he just wanted to see if he could. Trevor also helped me realize that as smart as I was, I would never be as smart technically as he was. He wasn’t arrogant about it. Years later, when I was hiring developers for RESMARK, I remembered the lesson I learned from Trevor. I knew that there were men and women who had that innate curiousity. People who were much smarter than me when it came to coding. I realized that if I wanted my project to be a success, I needed to go find people like Trevor.

Like I said, it’s a lesson that’s stuck with me for nearly 30 years. 

I’ve lost touch with Trevor over the years. But, I believe you can still reach him here. Wherever he is, I’m sure he’s doing cool and exciting things with comptuers. That was just his way. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild. 
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