The following is an excerpt from The U.S. Technology Skills Gap: What Every Technology Executive Must Know to Save
America’s Future written by Gary J. Beach, TECH CORPS Founder.
June 6, 1994, was a typical, hot steamy evening in Washington, D.C. As publisher of Computerworld, I was the master of ceremonies for the annual Computerworld and Smithsonian Institution’s Search for New Heroes gala held in the National Building Museum, one of the most impressive buildings in the nation’s capital. As my dinner conversation concluded, with Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle, Gordon Eubanks, the CEO of Symantec Corporation (both award winners that evening), and Linda Roberts, deputy under-secretary for IT at the Department of Education, a staffer tapped me on the shoulder. This was my signal that it was time to head backstage to prepare for my final duty of the evening, offering a toast to all the winners.
My closing remarks, scripted days before, would be easily on two teleprompters on either side of the main podium. The only logistical issue I had to be concerned with was giving enough time for 45 white-jacketed waiters to pour champagne into 1,000 glasses as I got to the toast portion of the remarks. As I settled into a chair to review my comments, Glenda Cuttaback, the executive producer of the event, approached me with an urgent request.
“Gary,” she said, “we have a problem. The waiters are having a difficult time opening the bottles of champagne backstage, so we need you to extend your closing comments two minutes or so before the toast to give us enough time to open the remaining bottles.” Those who know me well realize that the extension of remarks is not a problem for me. I asked Glenda to delay my stage reappearance for several minutes as I thought of something more to say.
I had brought Noelle, my 12-year-old daughter, to Washington for a weekend of sightseeing before the Monday event. She had been impressed with President Kennedy’s gravesite, and we had talked over the weekend about his accomplishments, including the formation of the Peace Corps.
The idea struck me: that would be my extension remark. I would challenge the 1,000 men and women in the audience, all of them key IT executives, to join me in starting a new organization called the Tech Corps. As best as I can recall, here’s how I challenged the audience.
Just as the Peace Corps, started thirty-three years ago, focused on recruiting volunteers who went into developing countries to help, among other things, build roads that tied those countries to the global economy, what if we, the leaders of the information technology business, this evening start a new effort? An effort called the Tech Corps, and we volunteer our technology skills to help K-12 schools all across America made the digital connections to connect every classroom to the information superhighway [which is what many called the Internet in 1994].
The extension worked beautifully! I filled up the two minutes—my call for the start of the Tech Corps was met with silence—the waiters poured the champagne, and the event came to a conclusion.
Or so I thought. After a dessert reception I was standing in line to get a cab to leave the event when the person directly behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “What is Tech Corps?” After I shared with him that I had just made up the idea that evening and hadn’t thought it through, he said, “Well I have, and I like it. Here’s my card. What’s your Social Security number? I want to meet you tomorrow morning at 9 a.m.” My first thought was “Who is this guy?” but then I looked at his card. It had an embossed golden eagle in the middle of it and raised type that said The Executive Office of The President of The United States.
His name was Ed Fitzsimmons, and he worked in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House. The next morning we did indeed meet, in a special room in the Old Executive Office Building at President Richard Nixon’s desk (I even saw the special drawer where Rosemary Woods kept the hidden tape recorder). The game plan was to share the idea to a wider audience, implement a test concept, and, if all went well, formally launch Tech Corps as a nonprofit organization in the White House.