Why aren't there more Aussie tech celebrities?
Australia has punched above its weight in terms of contributions to the world IT industry — the CSIRO’s role in the invention of Wi-Fi being one of the more recent examples — and yet in terms of the world’s most prominent IT “faces”, we’re barely a blip on the radar.
I was reminded of this recently due to the sad passing of the head of local ISP Exetel, John Linton. Linton passed away rapidly following a stroke, and his passing was announced on Exetel’s customer-only web site.
Linton was a fascinating character who had been involved in the local technology industry for decades. His role at Exetel grabbed the local headlines, but he’d worked at IBM and then later (and more significantly, in terms of overall local impact) Linton was at the helm of Osborne computers, which was at one time the largest PC seller in the country. Osborne was, at one time, a massive force in the local industry with plenty of local presence even in smaller regional centres, a model that nobody’s been able to duplicate since. indeed, when Osborne folded I knew more than a few folks who lost regional work as a result, and in one of life’s little quirks, I worked for some time at the company that bought out Osborne, Gateway 2000 (later just Gateway).
Linton was an outspoken and often vitriolic CEO of both Osborne and Exetel, and certainly a man that could be described as a “character”, however one choses to take that term. In more recent years, he was a notable critic of the Federal government’s Internet Filtering and National Broadband Network initiatives. I didn’t personally agree with his anti-NBN stance, but taking on Linton as a journalist was always an interesting proposition; he was vehement in his views and not afraid to speak his mind, which always made for (at the very least) some interesting headlines. If Linton didn’t like you, you were an idiot — if you were lucky.
Linton’s passing is sad, but it also gave me pause for thought. Linton was a notable figure on the local technology scene, but there are relatively few Australians who have taken that kind of Australian determination to an international scale. IT is notably not particularly bound by national borders, especially in the Internet age, and yet, so far, we’ve virtually no IT “celebrities” to speak of. I’m not sure if that’s simply a matter of scale or opportunity.