Remembering Ken Olsen (1926-2011): A Sense of Pride and a Sense of Humor


While we are remembering Ken, I couldn’t help sending this picture of a poster that appeared in my office one Monday morning about 30 years ago that illustrated Ken’s sense of humor that most people never saw (see photo at bottom of this post).

This is something we shared, along with the concern about wanting to have beautiful computers and cabling. Unfortunately, I don’t have the text on the back of the poster that listed 20 reasons for the messy cables—e.g., “engineering said ‘marketing made me do it,'” and “we don’t ever want a customer to say that our cables are too short.”

Ken loved to work on the cabling and power supply problems for the DEC computers, a problem he and most every other company has never solved. He delivered a lot of the crisply burned out power supplies that customers sent him to my office.

Cabling has only gotten worse.

However, as a Ford board member, he claimed that he was able to get them to have a beautiful engine compartment and cabling (after he became a board member).

There are other things to recall as well. There’s the story of him wanting to redesign the famous, large, Yellow Ethernet cable just as we were to announce it!

I tend to remember all the humor and moments of irony that we shared while building computers at DEC.

Personally, I believe one of his longest living legacies will be the founding of The Computer (History) Museum(s) that started in Maynard, moved to Marlboro, then Boston for 15 years, and has lived in Silicon Valley for the last 15 years.


[Editor’s note: The author spent 23 years at Digital Equipment Corporation as Vice President of Research and Development, where he was responsible for Digital’s products.]

Gordon Bell is a Principal Researcher at Microsoft’s Silicon Valley Laboratory. Follow @

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