Have you ever heard of Digital Equipment Corporation, affectionally known as DEC? If you haven’t, let me share a bit about a company that many would say was ahead of its time. I was fortunate to intern and ultimately become a mechanical engineer at this tech giant in the mid-80’s. I still vividly recall my father joining me to take a tour of the facility on my first day on the job. I was a new engineer at DEC-SPO or Digital Equipment Corporation — Springfield Operations.
Almost forty years later, I am thrilled to have attended a 50th reunion celebration honoring Digital Springfield’s opening in 1972. It was a momentous occasion that brought together old colleagues and friends, some of which I have not seen in over 35 years to reminisce about the good old days.
During the event, we had the opportunity to catch up with each other and share stories about our experiences at Digital. We talked about the projects we worked on, the technologies we brought to market, the challenges we faced, and successes achieved. It was amazing to see how far everyone had come since our days at Digital.
What made DEC-SPO unique? Firstly, DEC-SPO was Ken Olsen’s (DEC founder and CEO) commitment to bring people of diverse backgrounds into the company — in all disciplines and at all levels. DEC-SPO was mandated to be managed and operated with two-thirds of the employees being gender or racially diverse.
Secondly, DEC believed in us and our capabilities. They invested in the facility and brought talent to design and manufacture state-of-the-art technology in the old Springfield Armory. We were 20-something engineers and business professionals guided by a cadre of savvy leaders who guided, mentored and sponsored us. It was always reinforced, “you are DEC-SPO, we are family, and we have something to prove.” So you may ask, “what did DEC-SPO have to prove?”
Thirdly, DEC-SPO was woven into the fabric of this country’s history. The Springfield Armory, more formally known as the United States Armory and Arsenal at Springfield, was the primary center for the manufacture of United States talented military firearms from 1777 until its closing in 19681. It was the first federal armory and one of the first factories in the United States dedicated to the manufacture of weapons. Imagine being able to advance computing technologies in this historic site? My colleagues and I had to design manufacturing shopfloor solutions within this 200-year-old architecture. I was proud to be the lead engineer to implement robotic manufacturing workstations for storage devices at the age of 24. We were smart, courageous and maybe even a little cocky.
The reunion celebration brought together people from all over the country and included being at the site where many of our careers began, which made it even more special. Walking into the facility after all these years brought back memories from my time at DEC. I absorbed it all, some things haven’t changed; the layout of the buildings, the offices where I worked, the beauty of the open face brick and the faces of my former colleagues.
It was also fascinating to see how much things in Springfield had changed since I left in 1989. There was an energy in the city, with wonderful restaurants and vibrant night-life.
As the evening came to a close, we all gathered for a group photo, and it was a moment that I will cherish forever. Being able to reconnect with my former colleagues and celebrate the 50th anniversary of Digital Springfield was an experience that I will always treasure. It was a reminder of the impact that we had made and the legacy that we had left behind.
In conclusion, the reunion celebration honoring Digital Springfield’s 50th anniversary was a truly special event. It brought together a group of people who had a shared common experience and lifelong connections. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of it and to have had the chance to reflect on the old days at Digital Equipment Corporation Springfield
Strategic Technologist — “Develop future leaders through education” — Tonie Leatherberry — Antoinette
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