J O R D I     V I L À
Physicist & Software Engineer
Barcelona, 1954
I studied Physics to try to understand the world but in fact I didn't really understood it fully until I ended up working for a few years in Switzerland as the Director of IT at a Swiss bank.
When I was a kid, in days of Franco's dictatorship, I was one of the children of the first promotion of a Catalan school in Barcelona: Sant Felip Neri. Later when I grew up I learnt that the Spanish police showed up at the school on a weekly basis with the aim of checking that Catalan was not spoken! The school is still located today in a square in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona that bears the same name. That square is one of the most beautiful ones in Barcelona. The famous phrase of Sant Felip Neri was: "Be good... if you can! I'm not sure I've always succeeded on that regard!
I worked quite a number of years for Phillips Andover Academy as a Mathematics teacher but overall most of my professional career has been related to Innovation and IT.

For instance I worked a few years at Apple in Northern California as a Senior Software Engineer. I also have been involved in the creation of two startups in Silicon Valley.

I have also worked in management positions in companies like ALG or Parc TaulĂ­ de Sabadell, one of the largest hospitals in Catalonia.

When I finished my Physics studies at the University of Barcelona, I worked first as a teacher. Among other centers at the UB, the Institute of North American Studies in Barcelona and for eight years as a professor of Mathematics and Programming Languages for Phillips Academy (Andover), a private school in Massachusetts. Andover, founded in 1778 -President George Washington sent his nephews to study there- is one of the most prestigious schools in the United States (the best valued according to Business Insider in 2016) and, despite the fact that president George W. Bush belonged to its Alumni (Jack Lemmon and Humphrey Bogart had been too , although the latter was expelled!), I am proud to have been part of such a respected institution in the United States.

The second company, Powerschool, is an Internet platform in which I participated in the beginning as a partner and co-author based on a proposal of a colleague with whom I had already worked in the first startup in the mid-90s. PS was pioneer in its field (high school management systems, called SIS) and nowadays has become the industry leader in the world. It is deployed in 90 countries and has more than 45 million student users. In 2021 it did go public on Nasdaq with a valuation of around $3.5 billion.

Since 1984, after the Macintosh was released, most of my professional life has been linked to Apple in one way or another. To the point that I got to work for the company in California personally appointed by Steve Jobs himself, a fact that has always seemed to me a surreal twist of fate in the context of my previous history with Apple in Spain and the difficulties of carrying out independent projects related to the brand.

In 1984 while I was working for Andover I had the opportunity to own one of the first Macintoshes to hit the market. I started writing educational programs in Pascal for the classroom. I was becoming more and more interested in software engineering and exploring its immense possibilities. Fascinated by the intellectual beauty -and why not also the romantic beauty of the history of Apple's beginnings- of what those extraordinary geniuses of technology, the fathers of the Mac, had done: People like Wozniak, Andy Hertzfeld or Bill Atkinson, -to mention the ones I remember with the upmost respect-, I began to relate to the recently inaugurated Barcelona Science Museum, today CosmoCaixa, developing software for some modules of the museum. One day I was proposed to develop a solution for the Museum for the management of its Educational Service. This gave me the confidence to decide to leave teaching and thus embarking on the course of the IT industry by founding a small company in Barcelona, Mac Quatre. It was one of the first companies in Catalonia to develop software exclusively for Apple.

On those days I developed software projects for Generalitat de Catalunya (Catalan Government), Barcelona City Council, la Caixa Foundation (Museum of Science), La Fira de Barcelona, ​​COOB92 and for companies such as Carburos Metálicos or Top Cable, in addition to publishing several management applications. The latter must be admitted with uncertain success, due in part to the enormous difficulties that piracy in our country presents to any creative initiative. One of the most outstanding projects was the software used by the Institute for Urban Promotion (IMPU) of the Barcelona City Council for the financial management of the construction of the Barcelona Ring Roads as well as other smaller projects for the COOB92. Also a software commissioned by Fira de Barcelona for the management of  Construmat91 in Barcelona or a video software connected to the database of the prison system of the Catalan Government. I also remember an eye-tracking software (detection of the movement of the eye's pupil) pioneered in 1991 that, at least until a few years ago, could still be seen at the San Sebastian Science Museum. However, after Barcelona92, the enormous impact of the success of the Barcelona Olympic Ceremonies opened somehow the doors of Silicon Valley for me, so I decided to move there to live the experience for the first time participating in a startup founded in Cupertino by an Apple vice president with venture capital from JP Morgan.

My interest in computer science awoke in the last two years of my BS degree (I studied Astrophysics). In those days, early 70s, having the possibility of accessing a computer terminal was only within the reach of a select few. Writing a computer program back then consisted of locking yourself in a faculty room (shared with other faculties of the university and therefore having to stand in long queues to gain access to it!) where there was a gigantic keypunch device. You had to type the code written in the FORTRAN scientific language -one card for each line of code-, put the punched cards in a shoe box and carry it to the Computing Center where the mainframe was located, deliver the box to a counter and pick up the list of results (if any!) within a day or two. Obviously, if there were errors, the process and the cycle of trips would be repeated indefinitely! You must have experienced this once in life to understand the impact that the appearance of the first personal computers had on someone who had already been captivated by programming and the ability to use the capabilities of computers to solve problems.

When I look back, now retired, it never ceases to fascinate me to see how deeply are we attached to our smartphones these days. Nowadays it is a fact that we carry phones with a processing capacity equivalent to that of the huge supercomputers of the mid-80s. For example, the processing capacity of an iPhone in 2018 is comparable to that of a Cray -2 which, with a price of around 30 million dollars (in equivalent terms in 2017), was the reference for supercomputers in 1985. The dizzying speed at which we have seen the world of computing evolve certainly not it is comparable to no other discipline in our time. It has been very exciting for me to have been able to live this for almost the last four decades, making out of it my profession.

As I explained at the beginning, as an engineer I have alternated the development of software projects in very diverse fields with managerial responsibility in several companies: I was the IT director of a Swiss bank in Basel, director of IT at ALG, an engineering company in Barcelona, ​​specialized fundamentally in the aeronautical sector with clients such as AENA (Airport Authority in Spain, Iberia, CLASA (Air Cargo Spanish Authority today part of AENA, or ISDEFE (Defence), where I was entrusted with the task of setting up an Artificial Intelligence department able to assume the development of real time expert systems. Also after my return from the United States, I worked for a few years as technical director of Innovation at Hospital Parc Taulí in Sabadell, one of the largest hospitals in Catalonia covering a population of 400,000 inhabitants. In this last position, despite having lived an interesting experience in a field where there is so much to do and having even collaborated in obtaining some international patents in areas as Robotics Applied to Surgery, I suffered first-hand the enormous difficulties that working in a public company in our country you face as an independent professional without being a civil servant or having a political party card in your pocket. Having been able to experience the world of Silicon Valley first-hand -its dynamics, its independence from politics in general-, and being able to compare the mentality there and here, there are times when I cannot be less optimistic. Fortunately, in recent years the situation has improved a lot in Catalonia and there have arisen even some unicorns in our enterpreneur ecosystem, like Wallbox, which makes the future look brighter.

The Barcelona Olympics
IT has become a gateway to allow me entering worlds and fields previously unknown. This has led to a very interdisciplinary professional life, often changing projects and roles. So, I have been alternating various management positions with projects where I have done strictly engineering work. Among the first, I remember very especially the responsibility of the IT department of the Barcelona Olympic Ceremonies in 1992, not only for what it meant for Barcelona, ​​my home town, but also for having had the privilege of working side by side with one of the most creative and brilliant human teams among any I have ever had the opportunity to work with. As we have seen in the subsequent Olympic Games, I believe that the Barcelona Olympic Ceremonies a keystone disruptive moment about the conception of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games.

For the first time in Olympic Games history, desktop computing was used intensively for the creation and production of the ceremonies. As an example, the athletes parade was prepared with a computer simulation, the logistics of the selection and rehearsals of volunteers involving more than 15,000 final people, transport, catering, dressing, protocol and also various aspects of the choreography of the show. For example, in the central piece "Mediterranean, Olympic Sea" created by La Fura dels Baus, a program created from scratch was used to generate the production of the mosaics displayed by the spectators in the stands. The artist, Antoni Miralda, author of the mosaics, drew them interactively directly on a Mac screen showing the distribution of seats in the stadium. For the first time, a mosaic was designed by computer for a major event in a stadium.
Although as a software developer I have worked with a very wide range of tools that have come onto the market, there is one which made me feel the equivalent of the intellectual admiration I felt for its creators at the time of the appearance of the Macintosh, or the Apple's Newton, or more recently the iPhone. I want to express here my recognition of a development platform that gave me the ability to work on most of all of these projects I have explained above during very pioneering times in computing as we understand it today where resources were very limited. I am talking about 4D or 4th Dimension. 4D has been used as an application development tool in companies as large as Boeing, Prudential or Lockheed & Martin in the United States and it was the tool that I basically used to develop the applications which helped to create and produce the Barcelona Olympic Games Ceremonies.

4th Dimension was created in 1984 by a young Frenchman, Laurent Ribardière, and it remains on business today still as an independent company. Despite being largely unknown to the general public, it was at the time a major disruptive innovation in the development of relational database applications. Specifically, it was the first graphical RDBMS (1985), the first 32-bit RDBMS (1987), the first integrated client-server RDBMS (1992), the first cross-platform RDBMS (Mac and Windows) with the same code (in 95!) and the first dynamically integrated front-end and back-end Web development system. Apple tried to integrate 4D into its OS in the mid-1980s, but due to complains from companies like Ashton-Tate -who were trying to develop dBase for the Mac- they gave up. This made Guy Kawasaki, well known in the world of Innovation, who at that time was vice president of Apple, to leave, subsequently becoming the first CEO of the 4D subsidiary in the United States. One of the features that always attracted me to 4D was the ability to integrate within the orbit of its collective of professional developers from all disciplines. Not necessarily from the world of software engineering: for example Professor Carlo Rubbia, from CERN, Nobel Prize in Physics. I am proud to have been part of this group of highly talented professionals from such different worlds.

correu at jordivila.cat