Tom Erickson returned to campus to direct the new Faculty of Computer system, Info and Details Sciences

The September 2021 announcement of a key fundraising campaign — which will include things like a state-of-the-art building — to enable launch the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s new School of Laptop or computer, Details and Facts Sciences, or CDIS, brought with each other 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 Research Foundation, or WARF, which granted $50 million.

It’s fitting that the one particular ideal equipped to respect the working day in historic context — past getting prologue — was the new school’s founding director, Tom Erickson.

As the very first UW–Madison freshman at any time employed at the engineering building’s computer system lab, Erickson witnessed his future extra than 4 many years ago.

The lab was in the basement of the engineering building. This was the 1970s. Erickson basically realized computers — his significant school in Mondovi, Wisconsin, had a terminal joined to an early laptop or computer at the College of Wisconsin–River Falls.

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

“I acquired to fulfill them,” Erickson states. “They have been applying these pc applications to clear up extremely intricate challenges that fairly frankly couldn’t be completed in any other case. It piqued my fascination and was persuasive to me, for confident.”

Erickson went on to a very productive entrepreneurial job in the tech business that took him all over the earth, most not too long ago to Boston at Acquia, a net written content administration program business that had 800 employees and around $175 million in once-a-year earnings when Erickson retired as CEO in 2017.

Tom Erickson1

Photo by Patrick Stutz

Now, for an encore, Erickson has arrive residence to Wisconsin, on the lookout to give back to the location wherever he got his begin.

“I really like the point out of Wisconsin and I enjoy the university,” he states. “It gave me an option I couldn’t have dreamed of.”

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

Erickson absorbed the smaller-city values, accompanying his father on a pre-dawn farm take a look at to support a farmer who essential his water pump mounted to milk his cows. “You took care of each other,” he suggests.

But his father also shared stories of his far-flung Navy everyday living, as properly as pics and unique coins that stirred in his son a want to see the globe.

As a UW–Madison junior in electrical and laptop engineering, Erickson applied, unsuccessfully, for a cooperative schooling (outdoors the classroom) application in then-Yugoslavia. He had greater luck with multinational power big Chevron Corp.’s co-op plan, which took him to San Francisco.

Early on, he was portion of a team of Chevron engineers who took a computing training course from a company called Program Computer software and Growth Inc., or PSDI. At 19, Erickson was the most pc literate of the Chevron crew. He amazed his instructors adequate that when he graduated from UW–Madison in 1980, PSDI employed him.

PSDI was a 30-staff startup primarily based in Cambridge — Harvard Square — though from the outset Erickson traveled extensively. In excess of time and with diverse companies — often startups — he labored in Australia, England and France.

An entrepreneurial spirit was his lodestar.

“The notion of generating relatively than just performing was always quite attractive to me,” Erickson claims. “Creating and increasing is inspiring to me.” Steering a successful ship? Fewer so.

Tom Erickson2

Photograph by Patrick Stutz

Erickson was a founding board member — but not however an govt employee — when Acquia began in 2007. The corporation launched an open up-source website companies item in Oct 2008, but the initial try to monetize it unsuccessful.

“We orchestrated a pivot in the business,” Erickson says of partnering with a new world wide web-hosting enterprise out of Seattle alternatively. “We’d place it in the cloud for you and control every thing about your internet site.”

The nascent internet hosting corporation in 2008? Amazon World wide web Products and services, a new providing from the Jeff Bezos-established bookselling colossus.

“We experienced to persuade companies that Amazon wasn’t just a bookstore,” Erickson states. They did. “It took off,” he says.

Erickson became CEO of Acquia in January 2009. 8 years in — after the business experienced turn out to be vastly successful — he stepped away.

Which was great timing for UW–Madison. Chancellor Blank had fulfilled Erickson through a check out to Boston. In January 2018, Blank announced that Erickson and Silicon Valley veteran Michael Lehman would guide a functioning team on the potential of computing on campus — where the majors have been exploding. (In Oct 2021, computer science was previously the premier one key on campus, and the new data science significant was the fastest-developing, according to a syndicated column by Wisconsin Know-how Council President Tom Still.)

The team advisable combining the laptop science and data departments with the facts university to develop the CDIS. This would strengthen core classes and boost interdisciplinary applications outside of the main sciences — a recognition that there is no spot on campus in which computing is not suitable. There would be a new creating and — announced in fall 2019 — CDIS’ new founding director, Erickson. The doing the job team experienced urged him to utilize.

The new school got its initial named professorship very last slide, funded by the loved ones in honor of Erickson’s sister, Catherine. She was a general public overall health nurse and passionate champion of youngsters with mastering disabilities, and she died in September 2021 of pancreatic most cancers. “She was a robust motivator for me,” Erickson suggests. “An astounding advocate for what we call elementary human rights.”

Erickson says it is essential to have a senior chief on campus who wakes up in the morning wondering about computing. But he’s really pondering about the college students he can see out the fourth-floor window of his existing workplace in South Corridor as they wander up and down Bascom Hill.

“We’re making their tomorrows,” Erickson says. “Making confident they are as dazzling as they can be.”

Doug Moe is a Madison writer and a previous editor of Madison Magazine.

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