Fathers pass 3000 to next generation

Family businesses tap talents of sons and daughters
to extend MPE legacy of success

Ron Seybold
The 3000 NewsWire, June 1999

It's said that one of the hardest things for a father to do in our modern world is teach something to his children from his own experience. But in the world of the HP 3000, experience is more durable. The computer with a 26-year legacy of success is capturing the energies of [the] second generation, as fathers in the vendor community work alongside children who have matured with MPE.

In celebration of Father's Day we looked for men who have shared their business passions and their advocacy of the HP 3000 with their sons and daughters. Each corner we turned uncovered more benign nepotism, partnerships bound through blood and that stretched across generations. Working alongside your father was once commonplace in our culture. These families have preserved that value into a new millennium, much like the HP 3000 preserves a mature value of reliability into the next decade and beyond.

No study of fathers in the 3000 community could begin anywhere but with its original Russians, a pair of men in longest standing as an HP 3000 father and son team. Vladimir and Eugene Volokh represent the founding partnership of VESOFT, an MPE utility software supplier that began business in 1980 when Eugene was 12 years old -- and writing the company's founding MPEX product for his father.

Vladimir recounts how he had to virtually smuggle the genius talent of his son out of Communist Russia in the 1970s, or lose the boy to the State's apparatus of schools and Soviet industry. Emigrating to the US with his wife Anne, Vladimir took a job far below his advanced university degree as a computer operator. Anne worked as a secretary with her degree in literature. Within a few years Vladimir was consulting, and an idea for a better MPE command set was born. Eugene began doing the coding after working on application development.

Nearly 20 years later, the company counts more than 13,000 packages (MPEX, Security and VEAUDIT) sold in the HP marketplace. The flame of Eugene's youthful intelligence has leapt from computers to law; after clerking for US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Eugene is now a 31-year-old professor at UCLA's Law School, and specializes in cyberspace issues. But he remains the key programmer for VESOFT, and still remembers one of his earliest experiences computer next to his father.

"Even in Russia my father took me to his office, where I saw a computer and a digital calculator for the first time," Eugene said. "It was interesting, especially to a six-year-old. But within two years after we were in the US, my father started taking me around in the evenings on his business. To him, it was always part of bringing up his son. It started out that I'd play computer games, but then he had me write a very simple program, printing out business cards on green-bar paper, four to a page in FORTRAN. It was just a loop and a write statement, but it was a computer program, and it was fun!

"At a certain point he went to work for a company that let him keep a terminal at home. I started by just goofing around, but eventually it got down to serious work. It was such fun, because it was bending the computer to your will. It was instant gratification, and it came from doing something you knew was useful."

For Vladimir, the experience of exposing his son to the HP 3000 was a sharing that led to a professional bond. "As parents you cannot really push children," he said. "But you can follow their interests and just help them. When I was a systems analyst on HP computers, Eugene was 11 years old and I took him to the shop, like good parents should do. All this talk about taking your children to the office one day a week -- I did it long before it was cool."

Eugene did development for MPEX after the seeds were there for the product, Vladimir added. "After he received a certificate of appreciation from the real estate company where he did an application program, we started thinking it was more serious than we had thought. To kind of bypass the child labor laws, we created the VESOFT company. Management of that company couldn't be accused of exploiting the child."

Vladimir had a gifted programmer on his hands, "and because of Eugene's ability, it quickly became a son-father company, instead of a father-son company." While many fathers hope their children can stand on their shoulders to exceed their own skills, "it happened much sooner for me," Vladimir says. "That was just a sheer luck kind of thing, and I'm very happy about that."

Vladimir is proud of his son's accomplishments in the HP 3000 community, including four editions of a "Thoughts and Discourses on the HP 3000" technical textbook on MPE. "Sometimes when I'm with customers they will ask me to sign Eugene's book, and I do," he said.

Conflict isn't a major element of these two men's lives in business. "We talk about development and consult each other, and in some places I have more practical sense of what will work with users," Vladimir said. "It works very well. We didn't have have disputes. Eugene is more technical, but he has a practical sense from developing an accounts payable system. He felt what people needed. There's no dramatic contradictions." Vladimir said when they arrived in the US, producers in Hollywood were interested in making a miniseries about the family -- but the project was abandoned because "there was no conflict to write about."

"We had the usual father-son conflicts when I was 10 or 11, but in a very mild way," Eugene recalled. "When I started working, the conflicts dropped down to almost zero. I remember my mother telling me, 'Your father really respects the work you are doing.' When we started working together I believe it really enheartened my dad, and made him feel like conflict was a lot less necessary. He was happy to turn over the programming to me pretty much from the beginning."

Vladimir feels his work with his son helped keep the boy away from the negative influences any young man can be tempted by. "You can't 'Just say no,'" he said. "You have to say yes, but to something else, by introducing positives. What can be better than working together, and creating common ground? The family that works together stays together."

If working with his father was the first job Eugene held, for other sons and daughters of the 3000 the work was something they graduated to, often in lieu of completing college work. [....]

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