Meet the inventor of the first electronic spreadsheet | Dan Bricklin

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1 year ago


It was yesterday, April 10, 2022, when I watched the YouTube video about Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston's invention of electronic spreadsheets. It was intriguing to discover about the creators as well as the backstory of how electronic spreadsheets were created. Dan Bricklin delivered a TED talk about his incredible story of how he came up with the idea for VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet, and how he went about prototyping and developing it.

Dan first learned to program back in 1966, when he was 15. He went off to MIT to go to college and worked on Multics Project to make money.

After he graduated from MIT, he went to work for Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), where he helped newspapers replace their reporters’ typewriters with computer terminals. He’d write software and then go out in the field to places like Kansas City Star to train users and get feedback. After that, he became the project leader of the software for DEC’s first word processor. He then works for a small company that made microprocessor-based electronic cash registers for the fast-food industry.

But after all the job experiences he had, he always wanted to start a company with his friend Bob Frankston whom he met on the Multics Project at MIT. So, he decided to go back to school to learn as much as he could about business.

In the fall of 1977, he entered the Master of Business Administration program at Harvard Business School.

That’s when he started daydreaming about things that could make his writings, or calculations easy to erase, and change without writing them all over again. Such as like when you erased one number, all of the other numbers of your computations would automatically change. Now, he just had to take his fantasy and turn it into reality. So, he conceived the idea and design for the electronic spreadsheet, teaming up with his friend Bob Frankston to do the programming.

He aced the case regarding producing financial projections for various scenarios of a corporate marketing campaign. He astounded the professor and classmates with the breadth, depth, and precision of his analysis, unusual in the time of hand-held calculators. In the year 1979, VisiCalc, the first-ever spreadsheet was released to the public and ran on the Apple II Computer.

Most early microprocessor computers had been supported by basic and a few games, but VisiCalc introduced a new level in application software. It was considered a fourth-generation software program that allowed them to change any cell and the entire sheet would be automatically recalculated.

It was the electronic spreadsheet most of us use now daily in its Microsoft Excel incarnation. Not only did it have a tremendous impact on how businesses are run around the world but even in schools, projects, and at home.

At the end of the film, Dan Bricklin said his uplifting last words, “You too should take your unique backgrounds, skills, needs, and build prototypes to discover and work out the key problems, and through that, change the world."


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1 year ago