Nov 25

In 1970, Larry Tesler, reeling from a failed marriage, moved with his young daughter and a group of friends to something like a commune in rural Oregon. It was a hip thing to do, but the freelance computer coder quickly learned there was no way to make a living with computers in the wild. The Stanford University graduate eventually chucked the commune and was hired by the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).

While working on the Online Office System and a user-friendly computer named Alto running Smalltalk, a programming system, Tesler was looking for features to add. He decided to pick the brain of a secretary who knew nothing of computers, asking her what features she thought would be useful. Her suggestions led him to create something seemingly obvious, a cut, copy, and paste system he named “Gypsy.” The rest, as we say, was history. But it wasn’t. Tesler was just beginning his long and illustrious career.

A presentation to Apple CEO Steve Jobs led to Tesler joining Apple. There he worked on the Lisa computer, which eventually morphed into the Macintosh, and the Newton personal digital assistant, a forerunner to the iPod and iPhone. A desire for a change led Tesler to leave Apple for Amazon, Yahoo and then 23andMe. Looking back, he explained the logic behind his professional nomadism.

“I wasn’t on a career ladder. I was on more of a career seesaw. Didn’t bother me. Come up with a new thing, grow it big, give it to somebody else, start over with a new thing.”

Tesler departed this world in February 2020 at the relatively young age of 74. He left us with sage advice we should all take to heart, especially those of us who think everything has to be perfect and beat ourselves up when it isn’t: You can fail and still be part of progress.

Dearly Departed profiles are the musings of SC Innovates’ Director and SmartState Endowed Chair Laura B. Cardinal. Dr. Cardinal teaches a series of courses in Strategic Management of Technology + Innovation, wherein each course adds to the unique fusion of innovation, business strategy, science, and technology. Her courses are offered through the UofSC Darla Moore School of Business Professional MBA Program.

Laura B. Cardinal, PhD