Chris Shipley Interview: How Tech Boosts Human Aspirations
Former journalist Chris Shipley, CEO of Guidewire Labs, sees technology ratcheting up human aspirations.
She says that as people come to rely more on technology and even to expect it, the space between anyone and anywhere has shrunk to a single click.
In a recent interview, Shipley reflected on her years reviewing laptops and shared her perspective on how the evolution of computing from early laptops to today's mobile devices keeps raising expectations.
Do you see technology becoming even more important in people's lives?
What I find most wonderful about where technology is taking us, whether it's from the hardware devices or the cloud, where we share information, is that it's making our world both smaller and closer. We're able to connect across borders seamlessly and literally change the world, governments and our interactions.
This is bringing us all together. The leap between us and any place else in the world is just one or two clicks away.
How does Guidewire participate in making those connections?
[It] is a business development platform, sort of like [online dating service] eHarmony for early technology startups and the large organizations that work with them.
What first sparked your interest in technology?
I typed my senior thesis four times on a typewriter. When I saw somebody bring in an IBM PC, I thought, I could have just done that once. That was kind of a wild moment. I know now we look at that and think, well, of course we would use word processors. That sort of early experience of just having the convenience of writing on a keyboard was really exciting for me as a writer.
What was it like reviewing laptops before they became mainstream products?
At PC Computing, we were trying to show what computing was like from a real user standpoint. Less speeds and feeds, although we knew that was important, and more experiential. And so we would try to put products in the context of the business user who was trying to make a decision on what to buy.
We tried to create real-life scenarios -- the life of a notebook -- and we ran through several tests. We checked laptops into our luggage. We put them on the front seat of the car and slammed the brakes so the laptop would jam against the dashboard.
We put them in cold scenarios and hot scenarios that mimicked the way people would use their laptops. We even spilled coffee on them. We did all sorts of things to see how these laptops would hold up in real-life situations.
The machines are actually a lot more rugged than we gave them credit for in those early days, when we were convinced that one drop and the hard drive would crash or the screen would break. For the most part, liquid wasn't a really good thing, but beyond that these early designs were actually pretty sturdy.
If I were evaluating laptops today, notebooks or the new Ultrabooks, I think I would still do the same thing. We use them now as our primary computers. They are our companions.
I carry my notebook with me everywhere I go. It has to be rugged. It has to be available. It has to just work. So I would still want to test these products under those kinds of conditions.
Have laptops revolutionized personal computing?
We always were looking at laptops from the perspective of, I have a desktop and this is this device I use in a different kind of scenario. When I'm home or at work, I have the desktop, so how does this thing [laptop] supplement that experience?
Today the notebook has become the experience. It's our primary computer, and we want it to work the way we might have expected our desktops to work 10 or 15 years ago.
We put so much attention on, if these are portable computers I don't think we even called them laptops. Our portable computers needed to be lighter and more rugged. Yet we recognized that performance would suffer when moving to lighter and smaller. Today I think we don't expect those compromises at all.
What's your take on Ultrabooks?
I want one. Isn't that how we all react? These are beautiful, well-designed products. Looking back to some of the early laptops, they were utilitarian, but they weren't beautiful.
Today our expectation is that these are our companion tools, and we want them to be beautiful. We want to feel good using them.
That visceral reaction of, "this is what I want to have with me in meetings, when I travel, and in my life," is very, very real and important in this class of product. It's light and even friendly-looking. It's something that you want to open up and you want to begin using ... to explore. That kind of friendliness in products wasn't what we expected back in the day.
I look at an Ultrabook as something I can just begin to engage with ... without compromises. Twenty years ago, it was all about compromises. If I need to have storage or if I need to have graphics, what am I going to compromise to get it? If I need battery life, what do I compromise? What do I give up to get it?
Maybe we've become spoiled by what technology can do for us. I think we've come to a point now where this technology is assumed to be there and where it's much more integrated in the way we think about how we're going to interact, communicate, show, learn and engage.
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For more than a decade, Chris Shipley was executive producer of the DEMO Conference, helping shine a spotlight on Salesforce.com, WebEx, VMWare and other fledgling companies before they hit the big time.
She worked as a technology journalist from the mid-1980s to 1995, at publications such as PCWeek, ComputerLife and PC Computing.
Guidewire Labs, is a Redwood City, Calif.-based software and services company that helps startup companies manage innovation.