Margaret O’Mara is a professor of history at the University of Washington. Her new book, “The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America,” was just published by Penguin Press. I interviewed her about it.
Ross Perot died recently. Few Americans realize he played a key role in the U.S. software industry. Why was he an important figure before he ventured into politics?
Perot embodies the tight interconnection between tech and politics that I trace in this book. He started two enormously successful software-and-services companies and remained a tech-industry player for decades, intersecting with the Silicon Valley story I tell in this book again and again.
In the early ’80s, he tried to buy Microsoft. (Bill Gates took the idea seriously enough that he got a haircut before his meeting with Perot, but he still said no.) In 1986, he bailed out Steve Jobs’s NeXT, which the Apple wunderkind had started with his own money after his notorious firing from the company he started. The partnership didn’t last, partly because Perot kept on pestering Jobs to take on defense contracts to build up NeXT’s book of business. He also successfully lobbied to make Texas the location of federally-subsidized microelectronics and semiconductor research centers.
Read the full piece at The Washington Post.