Not something that any of us say every day but if we are lucky then once or twice in a lifetime.
Twenty years ago this week I started my work on a project called Orbitor for Nortel Networks. I was the product guy. The project became the world’s first smartphone, and although never launched it changed the way we look at and use mobile devices forever. First use of Java in a mobile phone (Scott McNealy said “I didn’t believe it was possible” to me in Frankfurt in 1997), first over-the-air download of an application to a phone, and many more firsts. The guy who worked on the background tech went on to architect the iPhone. And we all had a ball doing it.
The tech and the product means nothing now, except the legacy. This week I emailed 5 of the key players in the team, two of which I hadn’t spoken to for years. All replied within two hours. Here are some of the comments:
“Phil, What a wonderful note. While other faculties may be failing, your memory is spot on. It is indeed 20 years since Brian and I and the Orbitor team crossed paths with two crazy Brits and commenced a wild journey.”
“I agree. Thanks for the memory.
Nortel’s strength at its height came from the innovation and resourcefulness of its people, and the Orbitor team represented the pinnacle of that value.
Projects like Orbitor didn’t just change the world, but changed those of us who came in contact with them. We (you) are the legacy of that – keep the flame alive!”
“20 years, eh? I didn’t have a specific date etched in my archives, but that timeframe sounds about right. I recall at least one software developer who came into my office asking if he could join my team because he wanted to work on Orbitor. I told him that there wasn’t any such development project at that time. He said, “Not yet, but there will be, and you’re going to be the one to do the development, and I want to be there when you do.” Yes, we did hire him. We had a lot of people on staff who could predict the future. We got pretty used to living 10-15 years in everyone’s future.”
It is a measure of what we built that a lot of the team, although busy with their own lives, have gone on to have serious careers, but still stay in touch, albeit not as often as they would like. What was it that Russel Crowe said in Gladiator? Oh yes, “What we do in life echoes in eternity”
I wonder how we are going to change the world next?