By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.
If one is born in the United States, or emigrates here as a fairly young person, those of us fortunate enough to be an American citizen are truly blessed.
As I look back over my life and career, being here as opposed to being somewhere else has genuinely provided me tremendous opportunities. I am eternally grateful for having had this privilege.
Let’s start with higher education. As an undergraduate I chose to attend one of the top engineering schools in the country. I had considered M.I.T., but as the first generation to attend higher education, I chose to stay a bit closer to my home in New York City. Troy, New York was only a three-hour drive vs. Cambridge, Massachusetts – more like five hours.
At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute “the tute” I was exposed to some of the top technical minds in the world. The experience caused me to expand my way of thinking about problem solving. To this day I look at problems with a very broad view. While it does not sound like much, being taught this skill has allowed me to see a much larger picture than being narrowly focused on just what is immediately in front of me.
Graduate school in Boston (see I ultimately wound up there anyway), again, was a chance to expand opportunities I had. I managed to get a “free ride” through all of my graduate schooling. Again, being in the United States allowed me to do that. I’m not sure the same would have been true elsewhere.
Perhaps the most important opportunity of attending graduate school in Boston was exposure to such a rich academic environment. If you dropped into just about any bar in the area, you would often hear conversations about very advanced subjects. I particularly love the bar scene in "Good Will Hunting." It demonstrates what very smart people you run into just about everywhere.
One of my earliest commercial ventures was a spin-off company from M.I.T.. There were three PhD’s from M.I.T. who had founded the company. Hanging around with these guys really opened my eyes and ears to what “greatness” was about.
Among the advanced technologies we worked on was the forerunner to the personal computer, one of the first digitizing devices for use in CAD/CAM (computer assisted design, computer assisted manufacturing), and a host of other advanced topics.
I had the pleasure of meeting Nicholas Negroponte, (of the One Laptop per Child Consortium), truly one of the foremost thinkers of advanced computer technology. Funny, at the time he and one of the three PhD’s who had formed my own commercial venture, Michael Dertouzos, were both in contention to be the next president of M.I.T..
Neither one was selected – but the two of them continued to rib each other about it for the next 10 years. I am certain that being exposed to this caliber of thinking has helped me throughout my life.
As I helped found other computer companies over the next 20 years, I think back to certain moments that these opportunities presented and which will be with me for life.
On one occasion, I was “selling” a computer system to The Economist Magazine in London. Certainly one of the most prestigious publications in the world. They gathered all the senior editorial and management people in their conference room for me to “educate” them on the advances in computer publishing.
So there I was, a humble boy from Brooklyn, New York, giving a lecture to some of the most sophisticated people in the world. To add to this “heady” experience, their offices looked down on Buckingham Palace. That was one of the highlights of my professional career. There were lots of other “seminal” moments.
As I look back, it is clear that having all these opportunities is special and that being raised in this great country afforded me many of them.
Just to finish this story, as I left The Economist and walked past Buckingham Palace, there was a horde of people looking through the fence.
I asked what was going on and one of them answered, “It’s the Duke of Edinburgh.”
So I asked, “Who is that?”
I was greeted by a stony reply: “It’s the Queen of England’s husband.”
To this day I am still thankful that I didn’t commit this faux pas in front of my Economist friends.