December 10, 2023


Develop Technology For The Connected World

Tom Erickson returned to campus to direct the new School of Laptop or computer, Details and Data Sciences

5 min read

The September 2021 announcement of a big fundraising campaign — which will consist of a condition-of-the-art building — to support launch the College of Wisconsin–Madison’s new College of Computer, Facts and Information Sciences, or CDIS, brought alongside one another an array of campus luminaries.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank was there that day at the Discovery Developing. So were being John and Tashia Morgridge, alumni who contributed a staggering $125 million to the new organization, and Erik Iverson, CEO of the Wisconsin Alumni Investigation Foundation, or WARF, which granted $50 million.

It is fitting that the a person best in a position to take pleasure in the day in historic context — past staying prologue — was the new school’s founding director, Tom Erickson.

As the very first UW–Madison freshman at any time hired at the engineering building’s laptop lab, Erickson witnessed his upcoming extra than 4 many years in the past.

The lab was in the basement of the engineering setting up. This was the 1970s. Erickson basically realized computers — his higher college in Mondovi, Wisconsin, had a terminal joined to an early computer system at the College of Wisconsin–River Falls.

But the crucial was that Erickson’s desk in the engineering lab was upcoming to an previous dot-matrix printer. All the graduate scientists arrived by for their printouts.

“I acquired to fulfill them,” Erickson claims. “They were working with these computer system applications to clear up extremely complex issues that quite frankly could not be carried out or else. It piqued my interest and was compelling to me, for absolutely sure.”

Erickson went on to a remarkably thriving entrepreneurial job in the tech market that took him all around the earth, most recently to Boston at Acquia, a world-wide-web articles administration program company that experienced 800 personnel and around $175 million in once-a-year revenue when Erickson retired as CEO in 2017.

Tom Erickson1

Photograph by Patrick Stutz

Now, for an encore, Erickson has come residence to Wisconsin, looking to give back to the area the place he got his begin.

“I adore the state of Wisconsin and I love the university,” he states. “It gave me an possibility I could not have dreamed of.”

Erickson’s father ran a components retailer in Mondovi that was started off in 1905 by Erickson’s excellent-grandfather and is still operated by his sister.

Erickson absorbed the tiny-city values, accompanying his dad on a pre-dawn farm stop by to assistance a farmer who desired his drinking water pump set to milk his cows. “You took treatment of every other,” he says.

But his dad also shared tales of his considerably-flung Navy everyday living, as very well as images and exotic coins that stirred in his son a want to see the planet.

As a UW–Madison junior in electrical and personal computer engineering, Erickson used, unsuccessfully, for a cooperative instruction (outdoors the classroom) program in then-Yugoslavia. He experienced much better luck with multinational energy big Chevron Corp.’s co-op program, which took him to San Francisco.

Early on, he was component of a team of Chevron engineers who took a computing training course from a enterprise called System Software and Development Inc., or PSDI. At 19, Erickson was the most laptop literate of the Chevron crew. He amazed his instructors plenty of that when he graduated from UW–Madison in 1980, PSDI hired him.

PSDI was a 30-worker startup based in Cambridge — Harvard Square — though from the outset Erickson traveled thoroughly. Above time and with various companies — often startups — he labored in Australia, England and France.

An entrepreneurial spirit was his lodestar.

“The notion of generating somewhat than just doing was constantly extremely interesting to me,” Erickson claims. “Creating and developing is inspiring to me.” Steering a productive ship? Fewer so.

Tom Erickson2

Photo by Patrick Stutz

Erickson was a founding board member — but not nonetheless an government employee — when Acquia commenced in 2007. The business launched an open up-source website companies solution in October 2008, but the first try to monetize it failed.

“We orchestrated a pivot in the business enterprise,” Erickson says of partnering with a new world-wide-web-internet hosting enterprise out of Seattle rather. “We’d put it in the cloud for you and handle anything about your website.”

The nascent hosting business in 2008? Amazon Web Expert services, a new supplying from the Jeff Bezos-founded bookselling colossus.

“We had to convince providers that Amazon was not just a bookstore,” Erickson says. They did. “It took off,” he says.

Erickson grew to become CEO of Acquia in January 2009. 8 many years in — after the company experienced become vastly successful — he stepped away.

Which was excellent timing for UW–Madison. Chancellor Blank had achieved Erickson through a visit to Boston. In January 2018, Blank introduced that Erickson and Silicon Valley veteran Michael Lehman would direct a working team on the potential of computing on campus — where the majors had been exploding. (In October 2021, personal computer science was presently the largest single key on campus, and the new facts science significant was the swiftest-expanding, according to a syndicated column by Wisconsin Know-how Council President Tom Nonetheless.)

The group recommended combining the laptop or computer science and stats departments with the facts school to produce the CDIS. This would bolster main lessons and promote interdisciplinary programs past the core sciences — a recognition that there’s no area on campus the place computing isn’t suitable. There would be a new building and — announced in fall 2019 — CDIS’ new founding director, Erickson. The functioning team experienced urged him to use.

The new faculty obtained its first named professorship very last drop, funded by the family members in honor of Erickson’s sister, Catherine. She was a public health nurse and passionate winner of young children with finding out disabilities, and she died in September 2021 of pancreatic most cancers. “She was a solid motivator for me,” Erickson states. “An astounding advocate for what we simply call basic human rights.”

Erickson states it’s crucial to have a senior chief on campus who wakes up in the early morning wondering about computing. But he’s actually imagining about the college students he can see out the fourth-floor window of his current place of work in South Hall as they wander up and down Bascom Hill.

“We’re creating their tomorrows,” Erickson claims. “Making certain they’re as vivid as they can be.”

Doug Moe is a Madison author and a former editor of Madison Journal.

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