Dan Connolly's tinkering lab notebook

From KC to MIT and back again

My family is here in KC but my work is at MIT and Silicon Valley and Vancouver and Edinburgh and Beijing... mostly over the Internet, supplemented by travel schedule of about one trip a month. After working remotely for 10 years, I'm interested to mix in a little more local collaboration.

Programming computers came pretty naturally to me; I suppose I was born with the right personality: laziness, impatience, and hubris are the three great virtues of a programmer, according to Larry Wall. They make for awkard high school years, though, so rather than head for KU or MU with most of my classmates, I headed to the University of Texas at Austin to lose myself among the 50,000 students there.

After school I got a job in the Dallas area at Convex, developing online documentation systems for supercomputer applications. They sent me to Hypertext '91 in San Antonio where I met Douglas Engelbart, who everyone knew was a visionary, and Tim Berners-Lee, whose design for the World Wide Web was so radical that his paper was rejected by the conference peer reviewers.

That weekend I also met Mary, who lived in Austin. After a year of driving between Dallas and Austin for dates, we got engaged and settled down in Austin. Then in 1994, Tim moved to MIT to start the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and invited me to help out. I went to ask some mentors at U.T. Austin about moving to MIT when we had just bought a house and had a child in Austin. The answer was pretty clear: "What?! You're not already on the plane?! Go!"

I expected to spin my propeller for a couple years, take some graduate school classes, and then move on to the next thing, but the explosive growth of the Web and the excitement of our second child captivated me, so we looked for an affordable house in the Boston area. After learning that there is no such thing, I said to Tim and the W3C management, "We have a perfectly good house back in Austin; we're going to go live in it; I'll keep working for you if you like." And I have worked remotely out of a home office ever since. All I need to collaborate is an Internet connection, a telephone, and an airport, since the 400+ member organizations that make up W3C are spread all over the globe.

When our third child arrived, we started looking at houses again and chose one in the Kansas City area because while Austin is a great place to be young and single, the Midwest is where Mary and I feel at home raising our family.

While I wasn't taking graduate classes, I was getting an education in the art of collaboration... learning how often people need to hear each other's voice on the phone or see each other's faces in the same room in order to work together well over less expensive facilities like email and the Web.

My last trip to MIT was so great that I realized that while I can't travel much more without driving my family crazy, I might be able to do more collaboration here in the Midwest. Midwest Web Sense is about stepping back to look at stories in the past 15 years of the Web and sharing them. It's also the start of a conversation about how our families and our businesses and our town and our society are changing as the Web matures. Some of that conversation will naturally happen over the Web and on trips, but I look forward to doing more of it in person here in town.