Fact: According to a press release announcing his joining the corporate Advisory Board for startup Triumfant, longtime intelligence-community technologist Bob Gourley “is a strong advocate for user-focused software and his contributions to the Google Gadget community have placed him on Google’s list of the top 200 gadget programmers in the world.”
Analysis: Bob Gourley and I served roughly coterminous periods at the Defense Intelligence Agency (I got there a year before him and left only a month after), and it’s fair to say we became partners in crime (bucking rules and The Man), partners in innovation (helping DIA’s CIO to overturn and modernize some seriously deficient infrastructure and apps), and partners in some boozy misadventures entirely unrelated to our work.
Bob is a brilliant technologist – I recommend his blog over on the blogroll – and as the Triumfant press release correctly states, he was a winner of InfoWorld’s Top 25 CTO award this past year – a mark of great pride for DIA, which had never won that award, so much so that DIA Director Gen. Maples re-recognized him for the honor in a special ceremony at the Agency.
But I have to address this “Google fetish” he has (and he’s not the only one). Let’s tell some truth here….
Back in the summer of 2005, I remember one day wandering into Bob’s office and asking him what gadgets he used on his home-page. At the time I was a big Konfabulator user, and was also playing around with Google’s new “Desktop Search” beta, which featured a sidebar with detachable widgets or “gadgets.”
Mind you, this was a no-no. During my four years at the Agency, I ran through six different unclassified laptops, mostly because of my penchant for loading them up with unapproved downloads of beta software and open-source stuff, and the contrary penchant of the intelligence community’s information-security folks to look askance at individually tricked-out machinery. Every few months I’d trip up somehow, get caught by network monitoring while running a non-standard build, and get that machine red-lined. (I’d get a new one with the standard build, and set about re-making it to my liking.)
Bob was similarly inclined, and I wanted to see if he was into the widget-scene. I was surprised. “Widgets? Gadgets? Never heard of ’em,” was Bob’s response.
I showed him what I was playing with… Konfabulator especially, which I believe was before its purchase by Yahoo. Bob’s first reaction: “This … is awesome!!”
The very next day, Bob came in and excitedly told me he had spent the entire evening teaching himself to create gadgets on his own (whereas I was just happily customizing RSS-feed widgets). He had me sit down and review the first couple ones he’d written, and by golly they were pretty good. And useful (search aggregators if I recall, early mashups if you will).
At my retirement luncheon from DIA, during a light-hearted skit with “Top 10 Lewis Shepherd Quotations,” senior engineering manager Jim Williams pointed out that I routinely tried to spur our developer teams on by ridiculing their skills, saying “If CTO Bob Gourley can write a mashup in one night, how come you Alien guys are so damn slow?”
Since 2005, Bob has soared in the gadget-creation department, though to my knowledge he has stayed firmly planted in the Google Gadget community alone. It’s a nice gated community, don’t get me wrong, but I think Bob needs to prove himself on a new frontier. The Windows Live platform has some interesting competitive advantages, and an enormous audience eager to see what developers like Bob Gourley can do with a robust web platform, in the Live “cloud.”