Digital Computing Pioneer Kenneth H. Olsen Passes

by | Feb 8, 2011 | Charisma Archive

Widely recognized as one of the 20th century’s leading computer industry pioneers, Mr. Kenneth H. Olsen, founder and former CEO of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), long time trustee at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, and alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), died Sunday, February 6, 2011. He would have been 85 years old on February 20.

In 2008, the Ken Olsen Science Center was dedicated at Gordon College during which time Olsen’s archives were given to the College.

“An inventor, scientist, and entrepreneur, Ken Olsen is one of the true pioneers of the computing industry,” said Bill Gates, founder and chairman of Microsoft, in a letter to Gordon College. “He was also a major influence in my life and his influence is still important at Microsoft through all the engineers who trained at Digital and have come here to make great software products.”

Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Olsen developed a love and curiosity for electronics at a young age. After an enlistment in the Navy during World War II, he attended MIT for both undergraduate and graduate degrees. While at MIT, he worked on a team that developed air defense technology and core memory, the precursor to today’s RAM. He married Aulikki Valve in Finland on December 12, 1950.

In 1957, he co-founded DEC in a refurbished mill in Maynard just outside of Boston, a company that grew to over 125,000 employees in 86 countries. Countless CEOs, engineers and inventors recognize Olsen’s technological innovations, leadership style and entrepreneurial philosophies as the foundation for today’s information and computer networking industry.

“Ken Olsen was a pioneer of the computer age, but beyond that, he was a good man. He was a major philanthropist who did his giving quietly, never seeking recognition or thanks. Ken’s many contributions to business, leadership and technological innovations were unmatched,” said Tom Phillips, former chairman of Raytheon and fellow board member at Gordon College since 1970. “He cared deeply about his family, his faith and of course, his work, and sincerely expected that each would help make the world better. That was his legacy and I’m proud to have called him friend.”

Under Olsen’s 35-year leadership tenure, DEC pioneered the concepts behind interactive computing. Creating one of the first digital computers for commercial use, DEC marketed the “mini-computer” and set records in size and affordability. The company also set industry standards in program languages, operating systems, networking architectures, applications software, computer peripherals, component and circuit technology, manufacturing processes and business practices.

In 1986 Fortune Magazine named him the “most successful entrepreneur in the history of American business.” He was also inducted into multiple halls of fame including the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame (1990) and the Computer History Museum (1996). He served on the boards of several prestigious organizations including the Computer Science and Engineering Board of the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.; and as a member of the President’s Science Advisory Committee. He was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 1993.

Olsen had a particular fondness for Christian higher education. As an active member of Park Street Church in Boston, Olsen joined the board of Gordon College in 1961, along with fellow trustees Phillips and evangelist Billy Graham. Olsen admired Gordon’s openness to scientific inquiry and commitment to the Christian faith, and provided both spiritual and business input for the next 50 years. He supported numerous capital and building projects in all areas of academics, athletics, music and the arts, and moved the College towards greater efficiency in technology by donating his time, expertise, and company equipment.

In his early leadership at DEC, Olsen often visited Gordon’s campus to meet informally with science students or professors about specific developments in computing. Sometimes he would drop off his latest prototype for Gordon scientists and challenge them to “play around with this in the lab and let me know what you think.” Because of his involvement, Gordon was a natural recipient for his archives.

“Ken Olsen made a lasting impact on generations of science students at Gordon College. He took his leadership role seriously, not just attending meetings but also helping to design new computer labs, giving of his own resources for the College to meet its financial goals, and asking the tough questions that a growing institution needed to answer,” said Gordon College President R. Judson Carlberg. “Ken never saw a conflict between his Christian commitment and his embrace of scientific methods. It was up to us to understand how science and the Bible were two expressions of God’s creativity; and we are still pursuing that task.”

Through all of his accomplishments, Olsen’s family and friends defined him by his humble commitment to loving God, loving excellence and loving others. His character in and out of the workplace reflected his life-long belief that values, business ethics, and scientific inquiry should coincide with faith in God.

“Science is more than a study of molecules and calculations; it is the love of knowledge and the continued search for the truth,” Olsen once wrote. “The study of the sciences promotes humility, leaving us with a clear sense that we will never understand all there is to know. At the same time, science provides a defense for truth, authenticates Christianity and stems from the nature of God.”

CHARISMA NEWSLETTERS

Stay up-to-date with current issues, Christian teachings, entertainment news, videos & more.

The latest breaking Christian news you need to know about as soon as it happens.

Prophetic messages from respected leaders & news of how God is moving throughout the world. 


MORE FROM CHARISMA

How Divine Wrestling Changes Our Identity

How Divine Wrestling Changes Our Identity

All of us at some point will hit a place of getting the wind knocked out of us. We all experience unexpected detours and times when there seems to be no way out. But there is One who lives in us, the Lord Jesus Christ, who gives us the strength to overcome obstacles....

Spirit-Filled Pastor: How Does God Lead Us Today?

Spirit-Filled Pastor: How Does God Lead Us Today?

Whether it is the Spirit leading or forbidding in the book of Acts, or the Spirit leading throughout Christian history, it’s clear that the leading of the Spirit is important. In the Old Testament, it appears that the Spirit of God could be withdrawn completely from...

Joyce Meyer: Keys to Winning Your Race in Life

Joyce Meyer: Keys to Winning Your Race in Life

Everyone has a race to run. That just means we all have a life to live. The apostle Paul says in Hebrews 12:1 (NIV), “Therefore...let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for...

Prophetic Word: The Lord Says, ‘I Am the Consuming Fire’

Prophetic Word: The Lord Says, ‘I Am the Consuming Fire’

God says that during this season, He is turning up the heat, finding the gold and bringing His refining fire. Job makes a powerful statement of faith as he says of the Lord, "When he has tried me, I shall come out as gold." God knew Job's heart and Job knew the heart...

What Is ‘The One Thing’ God Wants From You?

What Is ‘The One Thing’ God Wants From You?

In 1971, I was invited to spend one month in Singapore at a new institute that had been started by John Haggai. It was still in the formative stages then—a place where Asian church leaders would be trained and challenged to witness for Christ. Today, more than 40...

37 Prayers for the Suffering Persecuted Church

37 Prayers for the Suffering Persecuted Church

It was a Pentecost bloodbath and most Christians never heard about it. More than 50 Christians were killed in one of the deadliest terror attacks on Nigerians this year. Scores of gunmen rushed in to kill Christians in the midst of worship. All told, over 360 million...

RECENT ARTICLES

Prophecy: A Window of Time Has Opened for Believers to Preach the Truth

I was rejoicing and praising God on Friday, June 24, 2022, for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, knowing that an ungodly decree was overturned and one national curse was broken. I heard by the Holy...
The Man Who Spent 23 Minutes in Hell: The People I Saw in Hell

The Man Who Spent 23 Minutes in Hell: The People I Saw in Hell

In 1998, God gave me a life-changing vision of hell. I receive many questions about my experience from people all over the world, but one question I'm often asked is, "Who did you see in hell?" There are others who say they've had an experience like mine, and they...

The United States: Birthed in Prophetic Symbolism

The United States: Birthed in Prophetic Symbolism

One of the most amazing facts about the Founding Fathers of our nation is this: The one referred to as the "voice" of the revolution (John Adams) and the one referred to as the "pen" of the revolution (Thomas Jefferson) both died on the same day—July 4, 1826—exactly...

Why Did God Give ‘This’ to Me?

Why Did God Give ‘This’ to Me?

It’s a question I frequently hear. It’s one I’ve asked. And maybe it’s one you’ve asked, too. The question is, “God, why did You give this to me?” This can be any number of issues, from emotional or psychological struggles to symptoms or sicknesses, disabilities or...

No Evil Can Stop What God Has Planned

No Evil Can Stop What God Has Planned

I sense it. And I perceive a growing number of people in massive proportions sense the increasing momentum of power and might worldwide. Something is on the horizon—something more eerie and ominous than what the people of the world have ever before experienced. Even...

Pin It on Pinterest