Doug Engelbart couldn’t even keep his group staffed up.

Douglas Engelbart – whose work led to the invention of hypertext, the mouse, networked computers, early GUI and more – passed recently. As a sort of intellectual mourning exercise, I’ve been watching The Mother of All Demos:

“The Mother of All Demos is a name given retrospectively to Douglas Engelbart’s December 9, 1968, demonstration of experimental computer technologies that are now commonplace. The live demonstration featured the introduction of the computer mouse, video conferencing, teleconferencing, hypertext, word processing, hypermedia, object addressing and dynamic file linking, bootstrapping, and a collaborative real-time editor.”

A detail from the demo caught my eye. Doug casually uses an embedded graph in a presentation to make a point (remember, this is 1968):

Screen Shot 2013-07-05 at 7.10.10 PM

 

He is talking about the number of people working for his lab. See that huge dip towards the end? His lab was growing in fits and starts, and at one point, all that was left was him and one more person. Goes without saying, Doug didn’t let that bring him down and give up!

See also that long flat line in the beginning? That’s just him, working alone for many years.

This is the story of every grand success. What the world sees is the final success, the celebration, the appreciation. What most people don’t see are the hard years and struggle that go into pretty much everything worth striving for.

So, go and create your Doug-sized-dent in the universe, but don’t be surprised if it’s harder than you thought, takes longer than you hoped, if your co-conspirators don’t always believe in you, or if you have to slog all by yourself for many years.

In the end, if you do your job well, there will probably be a kid reading about you, watching  videos of your work – decades from now.

– Amit

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