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The Most Significant Death Of 2016…And You’ve Never Heard His Name

March 7, 2016

We’ve had some very high profile people pass away in 2016. Chances are some of them touched your life in some way, even if you never met them. The one who had the most far reaching influence passed away on March 5. He is a man you’ve never heard of, Ray Tomlinson.

I can hear you now, explaining that I’ve got it all wrong. After all, how could someone I’ve never heard of be more influential than David Bowie, a musician that inspired multiple generations? How could Tomlinson be more influential than Alan Rickman, who played Snape in the Harry Potter movies, but had a career spanning decades with dozens of movies? How could Tomlinson be more influential than former First Lady Nancy Reagan, wife to a president?

The at symbol: “@.” 

Tomlinson made it one of the most important keys on your keyboard. You see, Ray Tomlinson invented email. It’s odd, in our modern world of collaborative teams and iterative software developments to find a true inventor. He invented it back in 1971. This was in the age of “big iron.” Computers were huge and really expensive. 

Tomlinson says that he created email to allow people to leave a message if someone was not by their phone. Pretty much the same way we use it today. 

Email wasn’t destined to be as simple to use at it is today. For example, there are other more complicated address schemes than the brilliantly simple [email protected]. One of the most complicated was one called X.500. It included about a dozen fields that you had to fill in. Kind of like addressing an envelope, but for international mail.

My career has been involved with email since I started back in 1988. I spent 5 years ago WordPerfect supporting WordPerfect Office (which Novell GroupWise.) Later, I went to Microsoft supporting MSMail and later Exchange. And I was just one of thousands of people working on email at those companies and numerous other companies. 

It’s strange to think how much of my life and the lives of thousands of other people were influenced by Tomlinson. Email isn’t the sexy application that it was back in the 80’s and 90’s. And I would have found a different job if email didn’t exist.

But, I’m glad that Tomlinson created this technology so many years ago. One of the true pioneers of the Internet age.

Rest In Peach, Ray Tomlinson

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 grandchildren. 

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