Dan Weinreb, Boston Computer Geek, Community Figure, Dies of Cancer
We at Xconomy were extremely sad to learn that Dan Weinreb, well-known in Boston’s innovation scene as a computer geek, entrepreneur, prolific commentator on technology, and all around great guy, passed away earlier today after a long battle with cancer. Dan was also an angel investor in Xconomy, and always had great feedback and support to offer. He will be sorely, sorely missed.
Dan was in his early to mid-50s.
Dan was a graduate of MIT (he got his bachelor’s degree in 1979) and had a long history in computer and software circles. According to his Wikipedia entry, he worked first for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and later co-founded software makers Symbolics and Object Design, maker of an object-oriented database management system, which was sold to Progress Software.
Most recently, Dan worked for ITA Software, which was bought by Google in 2010. In this Xconomy profile of ITA two years before Google came in, Wade Roush quoted from Dan’s blog post about his decision to take the job and work on an airline reservation system. As Wade wrote:
Dan Weinreb [is] a veteran software engineer who joined ITA in 2006 after a stint with BEA Systems. In a blog post from last December, about his decision to take the job, he admits he “didn’t have any a priori interest in the airline software field,” but says that he’s fascinated by how software can help real-world organizations process millions of transactions without error every day. In any case, Weinreb writes, his primary job criteria is “that I get to work directly with extremely good software engineers who work well together.”
The Polaris project fit the bill. For Air Canada, Weinreb says, he and his colleagues spend a lot of time working on “high availability: making the system stay up all the time, despite any kind of failure that we can reasonably anticipate. I have been focusing specifically on the problem that we call ‘hot upgrade’: how to install new versions of components of the system, while it’s running, without impacting latency. This is very challenging and a lot of fun.”
I got to know Dan shortly after Xconomy launched, when he began commenting, with unusual depth and insight, on our stories. He later joined as an investor, and we were honored to have him. Wade reports that Dan sent him more than 150 emails over the last few years, filled with insights. “He was a big catalyst for innovation around town, the kind of guy who was always connecting other people,” Wade says.
When Wade was getting ready to move across the country to open Xconomy’s San Francisco bureau in 2010, Dan wrote to say that he’d crossed the country three times as part of convoys with friends, and he offered the following piece of friendly (pre-Internet) advice about finding good food along the way:
“When we drove across the country, we often just ate road food at chain restaurants. One day I put my foot down and said I wanted some good food. My plan, which worked was: (1) Find a downtown hotel, which will surely have a pay phone with a Yellow Pages; (2) Look up Restaurants, Chinese and pick the one whose ad has the least prominent mention of “exotic tropical drinks”. We ended up at a very nice Chinese restaurant in Indianapolis.”
[Editor's note: This paragraph added Sept. 7, 2012, at 5:35pm] Xconomy Boston and National IT editor Greg Huang remembers: “I will remember Dan’s earnest and constructive commentary on everything from airships to Amazon Web Services; his disdain for Moore’s “Law” (he said it’s descriptive, not predictive, and could stop working at any time); and his engineer’s insistence on giving people proper credit for their ideas and inventions. He was one of the good ones.”
James Geshwiler, managing director of CommonAngels, of which Dan was a member, says Dan had been sick with cancer for about a year. He and Chris Sheehan, also a CommonAngels managing director, visited Dan regularly through his illness at his home in Lexington. ”He was a super guy, very thoughtful and just always thoughtful and courteous to entrepreneurs,” says Geshwiler. “He was always extremely passionate and enthusiastic for databases, which were his love.”
Nilanjana Bhowmik, a partner at Longworth Venture Partners, worked with Dan at Object Design in the 1990s. “Brilliant mind, a colleague, and a friend,” is how she sums Dan up. “It’s such a loss to the community. He has a very broad network of friends, admirers, colleagues. New England has lost a very big contributor to the community.”
Dan was also an investor in Daily Grommet. Founder and CEO Jules Pieri said they met over beers and such at a networking group in Lexington and became good friends. She called him the “resident brain” at ITA, “somebody who dipped into projects, cracked problems.” She also tells of Dan’s fondness for notebooks (real notebooks, not notebook computers), of which he kept an extensive catalog. “He was like Mr. Technology, but he had this anachronistic habit of using physical notebooks” and a detailed system for indexing their contents, she says.
Dan is survived by his wife, Cheryl Moreau. They have a son in college.
All the Boston tech scene will really miss Dan.