How did you get started in this business?
My start in the tech industry was pretty serendipitous and began what seems like eons ago. Newly married, my husband was a computer graphics researcher in the early days of computing. He brought me a terminal that he connected to his PDP-11 VAX computer at his university and told me to learn UNIX and a bunch of obscure systems and “throw out my typewriter.” (I wanted to be a journalist.) These systems were archaic dial-ups and hard to learn, but I felt strongly that the future would be changed because of machines like these. I wrote a column for the now-defunct InfoWorld magazine in 1979 called “How I Learned about Computers to Save Our Marriage.” I predicted that computers would become essential tools, especially for women who would benefit from flexible working conditions.
After reading my essay, (I was paid $25 for it) Ziff Davis Publishing asked me to write more. Bill Gates called to ask if I really thought PCs would be everywhere. It was a wild ride, as I went on to become the first female editor of PC Magazine in its glory days. In 1994 I saw that families were rampantly adapting technology and became intrigued about how that would affect kids’ lives. I founded FamilyPC as a joint venture between Disney Publishing and Ziff Davis Publishing. This time we had real families testing products and reporting to the magazine. It was an early experiment in community publishing. Social media at the time consisted of Prodigy, AOL and Compuserve. The Internet and browser-based HTML were just being born. During those years I appeared regularly on major network TV, USA Today, The National Academy of Sciences and even the White House as these new technologies and kids’ safety and access were becoming increasingly important issues.
Please share some milestones, and what makes you most proud about your career
FamilyPC closed its doors as print got too expensive. It was crushing to see “the baby I had built” die, but it taught me a lot about resiliency. I went on to help found Yahoo! Tech. Now that technology was mainstream, I published in places including Real Simple and Good Housekeeping and wrote six books on parenting in a digital age.
Weary of publishing, I began a new company called Living in Digital Times. CES and its parent company CTA bought our company in 2019, but I continue to consult on content for their conferences. From them, and leaders like Gary Shapiro, I learned how to create exhibit spaces and generate excitement with speakers from some of the most exciting companies on the planet.
Once the pandemic hit, lockdowns forced us all to tech up quickly with work-from-home and remote meetings. The Virtual Events Group, my latest company, was founded to help people explore this digital transformation. The company is a membership-based community with a weekly newsletter, a large database of products, monthly meetings, and a lot of consulting and special assignments. I continue to speak at places as varied as SXSW, Cosmoprof (Beauty), and Toy Fair (kids and tech).
Which executives in the CE industry do you admire most and why?
Mentors like Bill Machrone, Michael Miller and others taught me the importance of creating exacting processes and validation as we tested hardware and software. They taught me that power of our words and an Editor’s Choice could set a company on a path to stardom or sudden death. It was an important responsibility.
How would you describe your management style?
Always more of a creator than a great organizer, I depended on the skills and talents of many to get the job done. Instinctually my management style was flat — good ideas could come from anyone at any level of the organization. We worked hard but tried to leave time to experiment with new technologies and try new ways of getting the story out (some worked, some flopped.)
What will be the future of our business, and of retailing, in the coming years?What an incredible ride it’s been to see technology morph from mainframes, to floppy disks, to CD-ROMs and ultimately the World Wide Web and beyond. It’s an honor and a joy to play a part in reporting on these complex changes, spinning them into understandable language and championing equal access to them. After forty years of following the tech scene, I can say that no two days have been the same the velocity of change continues. I remain an optimist most of the change has bettered our lives. Along the way, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the best journalists, CEOs of companies, entrepreneurs, and generations of creators yet to come.