Austin’s Internet Pioneers – Wayne McDilda

Note: This post is part of a continuing series of biographies of and interviews with the people who made things happen in Austin’s early internet history.

Wayne McDilda joined the Texas Department of Information Resources in June 1986. While there, he spearheaded efforts that lead to all state agencies creating websites. As a result, the State of Texas’ website system became a model for the other forty-nine states.

In February 1995, Wayne was profiled in Texas Monthly, in an article titled “Gone to CyberTexas” by Joe Nick Patoski.

Since leaving Texas DIR in late 1995, Wayne has been involved with a number of private sector web projects, including Elecomm Corp., ClearData, Aperian, Mirage Networks, and Extreme Networks.

Brian Combs: When did you first get onto the internet?

Wayne McDilda: I first got on the Net in fall of 1990 via DECnet gateway from UT to the State of Texas and via a Listserv gateway to Dec Allin1 mail system. Surfing the net via a Listserv email isnt pretty but it worked (made Fidonet routing look like child’s play).

BC: I can only imagine the institutional resistance you must have encountered when bring the State of Texas onto the Web. How did you work your way through it?

WMcD: Technology (and organizational change) follows a three stage process: Joke, Threat, Obvious.

In the first stage (Joke), institutional resistance took the form of a running joke: “you can’t put all of that information on the Internet, that would take years and millions of dollars. Besides that software (i.e. web server, multimedia, etc) would cost too much.” This stage seemed to be the hardest to understand.

In the second stage (Threat) the resistance illuminated the political idea of “Service vs Control”. Information is power and people want to “Control” that power. This took the form of endless meetings, standards committees, asking permission to put public information out to the public. The net was also seen as doubling the workload of employees- serving information to the public in person AND electronically. The threat not only applied to information but power structures as well. When anyone can publish information one does not need the permission of IT department to do so (even if IT thinks its their job). Vendors to the state also saw this as a threat because product information (prices, features, etc) could be instantly searched by any employee.

The third stage (Obvious) seemed to come quickly as soon as perceived rival adopted the Net. Once one agency had information (and got press exposure) everyone else wanted to have a presence on the net. The ease of access soon made putting the information on the net became obvious to (most of) state government.

In the end I took my lead from a hero of mine, Adm Grace Hopper. Her motto was “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.” I took the initiative to research, learn and build the web servers. I “liberated” any public information I could get my hands on and put it up. I set up web pages for all state agencies and counties as a master index. If an agency had a page I liked to it. If an agency did not have their own page I put up simple contact information.  I began to make contacts (both IT and otherwise) within various agencies and provide them with a heads-up as to what was coming. I offered free help, tools, and training to the agencies making sure to give credit to the agency employees, not me.  In parallel I made a conscious effort to place articles, interviews, and public presentations in both technical and non-technical press. This approach worked well- when a decision maker saw the press and called their staff to implement, their staff already had training and the tools to make their boss look good.

BC: You left Texas DIR in late 1995 and joined the private sector. Tell us about Elecomm.

WMcD: Elecomm was the first in a long series of startups I’ve been involved in. Elecomm created one of the first web sites for professional communication for doctors: I built on my experience at the State with Content management systems and created a database driven website to organize the medical information. It started with a staff of three people and still exists today as one of the largest and best women’s health information sites.

BC: No doubt you’ve been involved with hundreds of Internet/Web projects over the years. Of which are you most proud?

WMcD: Several come to mind. The first was putting up the online purchasing system for the State of Texas. This gave state employees web access to the 5000+ vendor online catalogs of IT offerings. This project saved the State several millions of dollars and probably a decade of development time. It was one of the first large scale unofficial projects to help both the vendors and state employees.

I really liked putting in the Internet for the Universities in Australia. Very interesting cultures: social, business, technology, and educational. It really is amazing what a dedicated group of geeks can do in a foreign country. Although I think I could retire in New Zealand.

I am also very proud of a group of my friends that have taken several ideas from conception to reality including some very innovation security products.  One learns a wealth of information when doing start-ups. Good, bad and ugly things. Someday these experiences may make for a very interesting book or books.

BC: What web projects (or non-web projects) are you working on currently?

WMcD: Mostly I’m working with an open source content management system called Drupal. It is an intriguing modular system that has great promise. Seems like I am always messing with database driven web sites. I am also active in several community bands in with I play saxophone. It’s great stress relief.

BC: Other than social media, what are the most important things happening online today?

WMcD: The organizational change in America and the World. The web has had an extreme effect on many aspects of our culture. Just look what it has done to the “media”- newspapers, magazines, television. This has pushed social and political change. Many institutions (like the national government, education, and others) will be changed as a result. The net has followed the three phases of technology for most of the world. Read Thomas Friedman’s “The world is flat”.

BC: Other than social media, what should we be watching for (or watching out for) on the Internet in the future?

WMcD: Security and the “semantic web”. Security because we’ve grown so dependent on the web. There are a lot of bright people (some of them criminals) out there. We take security and privacy for granted. Our trust of the web (and the underlying software) will be used against us. Whats happening on the web makes most movies look trivial in comparison.

The “Semantic web” is something to watch because there is a ton of data on the web, there is even some information , but there is little “knowledge” built into the web. I like Bing’s commercials as an example of how search engines affect our life. The web should present information that has context and meaning leading to knowledge. That’s why I want to go to Information School (previously known as Library School. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *