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RIP Tom West – MV/8000 Mastermind

General
Author: Mark Dixon
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
4:15 pm

I began my career in 1977 as a digital electronics designer.  My first engineering project was to design a color graphics display, powered by a 16-bit microprocessor and interfaced to a Data General Eclipse minicomputer that was at the heart of a Minuteman II missile simulator at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. So when Tracy Kidder wrote his seminal work, “The Soul of a New Machine,” about the development of the Data General MV/8000 computer, I was immediately hooked.  I still have that book on my office bookshelf.

On May 19th, Tom West, the leader of the Eagle Project which spawned the MV/8000 computer, passed away.

The New York Times article reporting his death was appropriately entitled, “Tom West Dies at 71; Was the Computer Engineer Incarnate.”

Mr. West and his team of engineers at the Data General Corporation, in Westborough, Mass., developed a 32-bit microcomputer that briefly led the field of digital processing in the early 1980s, when the computer industry was poised between the eras of the mainframe and the PC.

Joseph Thomas West III was born in Bronxville, N.Y., on Nov. 22, 1939, the son of an American Telephone and Telegraph executive who moved the family often. Mr. West attended four different high schools before enrolling at Amherst College, where both his father and grandfather had received their degrees. Because of low grades, however, the college asked him to take some time off. He spent a year playing folk music and working part time at the Smithsonian Observatory in Cambridge, where he first became interested in computers, before returning and finishing his studies with a major in physics.

Thanks, Tom, for inspiring me at an early stage of my career!  May you rest in peace as your legacy lives on.

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