The September 2021 announcement of a big fundraising campaign — which will consist of a condition-of-the-art building — to help start the College of Wisconsin–Madison’s new University of Computer system, Info and Facts Sciences, or CDIS, brought with each other an array of campus luminaries.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank was there that day at the Discovery Making. So have been John and Tashia Morgridge, alumni who contributed a staggering $125 million to the new organization, and Erik Iverson, CEO of the Wisconsin Alumni Study Foundation, or WARF, which granted $50 million.
It is fitting that the just one greatest in a position to take pleasure in the working day in historic context — past remaining prologue — was the new school’s founding director, Tom Erickson.
As the to start with UW–Madison freshman ever employed at the engineering building’s computer lab, Erickson witnessed his potential additional than four many years in the past.
The lab was in the basement of the engineering building. This was the 1970s. Erickson truly knew computers — his higher college in Mondovi, Wisconsin, had a terminal linked to an early laptop or computer at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls.
But the key was that Erickson’s desk in the engineering lab was subsequent to an outdated dot-matrix printer. All the graduate scientists came by for their printouts.
“I bought to meet up with them,” Erickson says. “They were being applying these computer system packages to solve extremely elaborate challenges that pretty frankly could not be completed or else. It piqued my desire and was powerful to me, for sure.”
Erickson went on to a hugely profitable entrepreneurial job in the tech marketplace that took him close to the entire world, most a short while ago to Boston at Acquia, a world wide web content material administration application enterprise that had 800 staff and close to $175 million in yearly income when Erickson retired as CEO in 2017.
Now, for an encore, Erickson has occur property to Wisconsin, on the lookout to give back again to the location where by he received his start.
“I like the condition of Wisconsin and I really like the college,” he claims. “It gave me an possibility I couldn’t have dreamed of.”
Erickson’s dad ran a hardware shop in Mondovi that was begun in 1905 by Erickson’s great-grandfather and is nonetheless operated by his sister.
Erickson absorbed the modest-town values, accompanying his father on a pre-dawn farm check out to enable a farmer who essential his drinking water pump set to milk his cows. “You took care of each and every other,” he claims.
But his dad also shared stories of his considerably-flung Navy existence, as well as photos and exotic cash that stirred in his son a want to see the planet.
As a UW–Madison junior in electrical and laptop or computer engineering, Erickson used, unsuccessfully, for a cooperative education (outdoors the classroom) plan in then-Yugoslavia. He had greater luck with multinational power huge Chevron Corp.’s co-op plan, which took him to San Francisco.
Early on, he was element of a group of Chevron engineers who took a computing class from a corporation identified as System Application and Development Inc., or PSDI. At 19, Erickson was the most computer system literate of the Chevron crew. He impressed his instructors sufficient that when he graduated from UW–Madison in 1980, PSDI hired him.
PSDI was a 30-staff startup based mostly in Cambridge — Harvard Square — though from the outset Erickson traveled extensively. Above time and with various companies — often startups — he worked in Australia, England and France.
An entrepreneurial spirit was his lodestar.
“The idea of generating relatively than just undertaking was normally incredibly appealing to me,” Erickson claims. “Creating and expanding is inspiring to me.” Steering a thriving ship? Significantly less so.
Erickson was a founding board member — but not yet an executive employee — when Acquia began in 2007. The enterprise released an open-source internet products and services merchandise in October 2008, but the to start with attempt to monetize it unsuccessful.
“We orchestrated a pivot in the business enterprise,” Erickson suggests of partnering with a new world-wide-web-internet hosting organization out of Seattle alternatively. “We’d set it in the cloud for you and handle all the things about your website.”
The nascent hosting firm in 2008? Amazon World-wide-web Expert services, a new featuring from the Jeff Bezos-launched bookselling colossus.
“We had to persuade providers that Amazon was not just a bookstore,” Erickson states. They did. “It took off,” he states.
Erickson became CEO of Acquia in January 2009. 8 many years in — after the business experienced turn into vastly successful — he stepped absent.
Which was fantastic timing for UW–Madison. Chancellor Blank experienced achieved Erickson all through a take a look at to Boston. In January 2018, Blank announced that Erickson and Silicon Valley veteran Michael Lehman would lead a working group on the long term of computing on campus — where the majors were being exploding. (In October 2021, pc science was now the premier solitary main on campus, and the new data science big was the speediest-expanding, in accordance to a syndicated column by Wisconsin Know-how Council President Tom Nevertheless.)
The group suggested combining the laptop science and statistics departments with the details university to produce the CDIS. This would fortify core classes and boost interdisciplinary programs further than the main sciences — a recognition that there is no position on campus where computing isn’t pertinent. There would be a new setting up and — announced in tumble 2019 — CDIS’ new founding director, Erickson. The functioning group had urged him to use.
The new university acquired its initial named professorship last tumble, funded by the spouse and children in honor of Erickson’s sister, Catherine. She was a public health nurse and passionate champion of little ones with discovering disabilities, and she died in September 2021 of pancreatic cancer. “She was a potent motivator for me,” Erickson says. “An awesome advocate for what we connect with fundamental human legal rights.”
Erickson suggests it’s significant to have a senior chief on campus who wakes up in the early morning considering about computing. But he’s truly thinking about the college students he can see out the fourth-flooring window of his current workplace in South Hall as they stroll up and down Bascom Hill.
“We’re setting up their tomorrows,” Erickson says. “Making confident they are as vibrant as they can be.”
Doug Moe is a Madison writer and a former editor of Madison Journal.
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