Required Viewing: IBM's "They Were There"


It's hard to believe that IBM is 100 years old (well, nearly -- it turns 100 on June 16, 2011). Yet, watching this newly released 30-minute documentary, the point is driven home: IBMers were indeed there at many crucial points in American technological history. They invented so many devices and systems we take for granted today that it really does take 30 minutes to review them in any depth. For example, there's the SABRE computer reservation system that still powers many travel bookings. And then there's Fred Brooks, author of the seminal text The Mythical Man-Month and manager of the IBM System/360 computer system -- that still hosts something like 60% of the world's data. There's even the dearly departed Benoit Mandelbrot (he was an IBM Fellow). And there's even a brief glimpse of Watson, IBM's Jeopardy-playing computer that will make a splash later this year.

This is an industrial film created for a computer company, but it's the best film of its type that I've seen. Directed by Errol Morris and scored by Philip Glass, the documentary is a remarkable testament to the quality you get when you hire top talent. It's also -- all director- and composer-related fawning aside -- an impressive greatest hits reel for IBM. Got half an hour? Watch this knockout documentary on 100 years of IBM history. During the portion about Apollo 13, I teared up a little.

You may want to watch it on YouTube to see the film in all its 1080p glory.

If you like this, you'll love The Machine That Changed the World.