Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Michael Pouliot

Michael Pouliot died in Kuwait last month. He was a founding member of Tapestry Solutions. Mike leaves two daughters and a wife.

I found out about his horrible death this afternoon from NPR. Michael wasn't a soldier. He wasn't a reporter. He was a software engineer. A programmer. He was like me, and all the rest of us computer folks, except he worked on defense software. He was a military contractor, and he was in Kuwait installing software. He was driving in an SUV with David Caraway, another Tapestry Solutions programmer, when an unknown number of unidentified gunmen opened fire on it. David was injured. Michael was killed.

Reading the eulogy on the company web site, I see that Mike had a focus on military software. He had a real customer-focus, and believed that you needed to be near the users to understand their issues. For him, this meant being in battle-scarred Kuwait.

I don't think young students studying computers ever think about being in harm's way. I know I never did. But from my job at a computer systems company that serves the defense industry, among other markets, I can sense first-hand the reliance of computers in war-fare. I often see hardware chassis that will make their way into planes, and battle cruisers. I'm at peace with this. Bigger companies build the planes, or the cruisers, or the tanks, and then they put our systems in them. We're just a small piece of the machinery. Well out of harm's way.

But as systems get more complex, as the reliance of computer systems grows, more and more military contractors are finding themselves near the front-lines. And with last month's news about Mike Pouliot, the proximity to this danger can be perilous.

Unlike our intrepid astronauts, for whom the risks were well known and understood, Mike's job as a software engineer (and company executive) should have been risk-free. I'm sure he was told to "be careful", but he was a civilian. He was just there to install software. I'll feel the senselessness of his death. The randomness. As we head towards a confrontation with Iraq, I will be remembering Mike as already having paid the highest-price for our freedom, and for our military.

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