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Technological Legacy Of Success

by Christian Zeidner
June 11, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 24


Except for an eight-month hiatus in the 1970s for a motorcycling adventure, I've been part of CAS's technology development team for my entire career and would not have chosen to do anything differently. My most vivid memories surround working with the amazingly talented people here. Let me give you two examples.

Lou O'Korn was my first boss when I entered management. Everything Lou did, he did fast. Lou thought fast, he worked fast, he had fast comebacks, and at meetings, he listened and doodled fast. For several years, Lou drove a group of guys to the OSU Horseshoe (the football stadium) for a run over our lunch break. Even if others finished ahead of Lou, he was always the first one showered and dressed waiting at the car as he inhaled his sack lunch. But most important, Lou was fast to encourage new ideas, fast to encourage his staff, and fast to confront problems head on.

For about half of my career, I had the privilege of working under Nick Farmer. Nick had the greatest technology impact during my CAS tenure, but he rarely let his technical abilities overshadow his business acumen. He earned the respect of the sharpest software developers, the most demanding customers, the shrewdest competitors, or the most probing CAS board members. Nick was creative, set high standards, led with passion, and worked with high energy. Nick's leadership left CAS a technology legacy that has endured since he retired five years ago.

Nick was heavily involved in shaping the STN technology and business architecture. His vision for the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office contract of the mid-1980s and his drive to make it happen resulted in the technology innovations that were subsequently leveraged to grow the STN franchise and launch SciFinder.

The technology he is most remembered for was one he devised over a weekend. CAS was ready to challenge Dialog and SDC by expanding the fledgling CAS Online (1980 predecessor to STN) structure search capability to also load and search bibliographic databases. We knew this was a core competency that CAS had to have control over, financially and technically. But time was of the essence, and the time it would take to develop it ourselves would jeopardize our chances for even getting into the marketplace.

Over that weekend, Nick saw the hierarchical database management system CAS had built in the early 1970s in a completely different light. He identified a few targeted and inexpensive changes that almost magically transformed it into the inverted text search technology critical to CAS's future.

Nick later championed an approach for applying it to structure searching and for running both text and structure searching on parallel commodity computers. The result in the late 1980s was the search engine's architecture, functionally the same architecture used by Google in the '90s.

Zeidner received a B.S. degree in mathematics from Heidelberg College in 1969 and an M.S. degree in computer and information science from Ohio State University in 1973. He started with CAS as an associate programmer in June 1969. His job titles have included software engineer, projects manager, research department manager, manager of the Registry Renovation software development team, and manager in the New Products Development Department.


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