Richard Seltzer's home page  Publishing home

Refreshing Memories of DEC, (Digital Equipment Corporation),

the world's second largest computer maker before its demise in 1998

by Richard Seltzer

I worked for DEC for 19 years (1979-1998), first in Corporate Employee Communications and then in the Internet Business Unit. For Communications, I was the editor/writer of DECWORLD the company newspaper, and then I was the editor/writer of MGMT MEMO for its full run of eleven years (1982-1992). For the Internet Business Group, I wrote the book "The AltaVista Search Revolution," and, as "Internet Evangelist," delivered speeches around the world to awaken audiences to the business opportunities that were opening on the Internet. 

Now, 20 years after the demise of DEC, I'm posting on the Web all of MGMT MEMO, because they may be of historical and nostalgic interest, and also for what they reveal about the evolution of DEC's unique culture and management style.  You can see all those issues starting from the links below on this page. Over the next few weeks, I will add selected articles from DECWORLD, and the complete text of the AltaVista book.

When MGMT MEMO was originally published, most DEC employees couldn't read it. Labelled "For Internal Communication Only", it was only sent to managers, with the understanding that they would communicate the messages to their employees.  Now, twenty years after the demise of the company, when there is no longer a need for confidentiality, these documents can help us to remember and relive the challenges, the triumphs, and the camaraderie of that time.

Over the course of eleven years, this publication evolved from a collection of short news items to lengthy discussions of the many reorganizations and the reasons behind them, as well as Ken's thoughts on management and corporate culture, his hopes and his advice. It served as a tool for him to deliver messges that he considered important and timely.

The articles reflect the dynamics of rapid growth in a fast changing high tech environment: the stress of the ever-urgent need to develop one new product after another and related services, for an ever-expanding range of uses; the need to come up with new ways to connect product to product and people to people, with new kinds of organization and new theories of how to motivate and manage large numbers of people.  They repeatedly attempt to redefine the company, as the employee population doubled in size. They recount the struggle to invent not just new products but also new kinds of new products and  to find ways to effectively use those same products to develop the next generation of products and to market them and to help an expanding range of customers who needed our products and services to build their businesses and to create new businesses and invent new kinds of business.

How was it possible to manage such an entity in hyper-growth mode, to accurately prophesize changing customer needs and tastes and come up with new products and services that they would need and to be prepared to manufacture products in the volumes required, and to recruit and train the people necessary for all that, and to do all of this in sync, so the money and the resources were available when and where they were needed? How could such an entity -- such a storm of creative activity -- hold together and continue to grow? How was it possible to "manage" it, to deal with one unprecedented challenge after another? How was it possible to foster a core of values, a sense of corporate culture and identity?

For decades, through enormous changes, Ken Olsen found ways to exert his influence, and perpetuate his unique style. The image of himself that he projected, as a benevolent and visionary leader, helped hold it all together. He inspired faith and loyalty. He helped tens of thousands of people believe in their own potential and in the far greater potential they had working together, doing what they knew needed to be done, in the ways that they knew were right, rather than waiting for top-down orders; all animated by a belief that conflicts could be resolved by "doing the right thing", and that a rapidly growing capitalist enterprise could operate for the good of all - investors, customers, employees, and society as a whole.

Some might wonder why DEC failed. Far more amazing is that it succeeded so well for so long. Perhaps clues to that can be gleaned from the messages generated by Ken and his ever changing core of managers over the course of a decade of hyper-growth, the words they used to provide the enterprise with a degree of self-awareness and direction and a sense of pride and mission, to give tens of thousands of people a common faith that this miracle made sense and could endure and continue to thrive for the good of all.

DEC wasn't just a legal entity, a fiction of law and finance. Rather it was a human entity, with a unique personality, sharing a common purpose and working in uncommon ways. It was a vast Camelot roundtable, where people worked together in new and creative ways, a phenomenon that will be long-remembered and should be studied for what it reveals about human potential.  DEC let the world know that large numbers of people, working together, often on their own initiative, can repeatedly achieve technological and business success. In so doing, DEC redefined what it can mean to be human.

- Richard Seltzer


Volume 1

November 1982 (#1)

December 1982 (#2)

Volume 2

January 1983 (#1)

February 1983 (#2)

March 1983 (#3)

April 1983 (#4)

May 1983 (#5)

June 1983 (#6)

July 1983 (#7)

August 1983 (#8)

September 1983 (#9)

October 1983 (#10)

November 1983 (#11)

December 1983/January 1984 (#12)

Volume 3

February 1984 (#1)

June 1984 (#2)

July 1984 (#3)

August/September 1984 (#4)

October 1984 (#5)

December 1984 (#7)

Volume 4

February 1985 (#1) - State of the Company Issue

March 1985 (#2)

April/May 1985 (#3)

July 1985 (#4) - State of the Company Issue

August 1985 (#5)

October 1985 (#6)

November 1985 (#7)

December 1985 (#8)

Volume 5

January 1986 (#1) - State of the Company Issue

March 1986 (#2)

May 1986 (#3)

June 1986 (#4)

July 1986 (#5) - State of the Company Issue

September/October 1986 (#7)

November/December 1986 (#8)

Volume 6

January 1987 (#1) - State of the Company Issue

February/March 1987 (#2)

April 1987 (#3)

June 1987 (#4)

July 1987 (#5) - State of the Company Issue

August 1987 (#6)

October 1987 (#7)

December 1987 (#8)

Volume 7

February 1988 (#1)

March 1988 (#2)

May 1988 (#3)

June 1988 (#4)

July 1988 (#5) - State of the Company Issue

August 1988 (#6)

October 1988 (#7)

December 1988 (#8)

Volume 8

January 1989 (#1) - Desktop Announcement Issue

February/March 1989 (#2)

April/May 1989 (#3)

June 1989 (#4)

July 1989 (#5) - State of the Company Issue

August 1989 (#6)

October 1989 (#7)

November 1989 (#8)

Volume 9

January 1990 (#1)

February 1990 (#2)

March 1990 (#3)

April/May 1990 (#4)

June 1990 (#5)

July 1990 (#6) - State of the Company Issue, Part 1

July 1990 (#7) - State of the Company Issue, Part 2

August/September 1990 (#8)

October/November 1990 (#9)

Volume 10

January 1991 (#1)

February 1991 (#2)

March/April 1991 (#3)

May 1991 (#4)

June 1991 (#5) - State of the Company Issue

July 1991 (#6)

August/September 1991 (#7)

October/November 1991 (#8)

December 1991 (#9) - State of the Company Issue

Volume 11

January/February 1992 (#1)

March 1992 (#2)

April/May 1992 (#3)

June 1992 (#4)

August 1992 (#5)

Snapshots of DEC (selected articles from DECWORLD the company newspaper)  [more to be posted soon]

- DEC -- The First 25 Years (interviews with Ken Olsen, Win Hindle, Jack Smith, and Jack Shields), September 1982

- Gordon Bell Talks about Engineering at DEC, July 1983

- All Out to Win (Tenth Anniversary of a Computer Family), May 1980

-Innovations and Risk-taking -- Views on the Future of the Computer Industry from Captain Grace Hopper, Computer Pioneer, July 1983

- Captain Grace Hopper's Lessons (article written in 2018)

- DEC's General International Area (GIA): Sales and Service from Sydney to Toronto, from Tokyo to Rio, March 1983

- Going International: the seeds of DEC's worldwide business, March 1983

- Jean-Claude Peterschmitt Remembers: the growth of Digital Europe, July 1983

- Ken Olsen on Engineering Education, July 1983

Digital Introduces Personal Computers, June 1982

The AltaVista Search Revolution by Richard Seltzer, Eric Ray and Deborah Ray (Osborne/McGraw-Hill, two editions - 1997 and 1998; Hebrew and Japanese translations. Braille edition published by National Braille Press)

Amazon Review: "The authors first explain how to do basic searches, then move on to more advanced searches with Boolean operators and AltaVista's special parameters. Chapters detail how to do such things as search Usenet newsgroups and how to translate hits into other languages. If, for instance, you want to limit a search to Australian pages, this guide details the procedure. A lengthy alphabetical chapter lists searches for particular targets and, in doing so, illustrates some unusual search strategies.Those who publish their own Web sites will appreciate the chapter that reveals how AltaVista ranks the sites it indexes.

"Indispensable," said Library Journal, Feb. 1, 1997, p. 102. "This complete guide to using the AltaVista web searching/indexing system will be indispensable to both librarians and patrons.... Get one copy to circulate, nail one down in the computer lab, and pass one around the reference desk."

"Richard Seltzer by day is a mild-mannered marketing consultant at Digital Equipment and by night is an awesome Web Evangelist, providing aid and encouragement to people in web distress, giving public lectures, writing articles and publishing anything and everything here on his own personal web site." (Quantum Books)

Winner of the "Distinguished Technical Communication Award," the highest award given by the Society for Technical Communication Publications.


That's me, Richard Seltzer, in the foreground, as a model, sitting at the console of the TXO-1 computer. Captions in computer history books misidentify me as a pioneering computer scientist :-)

A Glimpse of the Future

This video was created by Richard Seltzer and Berthold Langer in February 1994, when they worked at DEC, half a year before formation of DEC's Internet Business Group. NCSA (creators of Mosaic, the first Web browsers) and dozens of other organizations, including Digital's competitors distributed this video on cassette tape to spread the word about the new and rapidly expanding opportunities on the Internet.

DEC's Internet Business Group

DEC, Not Digital (What's in a Name?)

The DEC Case Study

Business Opportunities on the Internet (script of speech delivered at Comdex, Buenos Aires, Argentina and elsewhere) 

AltaVista Search Tutorial

Use Content to Attract Traffic to a Web Site (script of AltaVista speech)

The Future of Business on the Internet (script of speech delivered in Lewiston, Maine)  privacy statement