John Petrone is the CTO I cut my teeth under and the man’s who’s words run through my head on a weekly basis. He is currently the CTO of AutoByTel and was recently named an IDG Computerworld Premier IT Leader of 2006. He was CTO of aLibris and Dells & James before that. In between that we even schemed a real-time fantasy bet marketplace that had a lot of potential, but not enough legailty to enjoy our U.S. citizenship.
I first met John when I was a junior engineer at Preview Travel. Preview is a company every web user recognized by 1997 (going public in 1998) but after it’s merger with competitor Travelocity in 1999 has slipped out of most people’s buffer. It’s very likely the place you bought your first plane tickets, car rentel or hotel res online. John Petrone was at Preview when they converted selling vacation packages via video they made to selling them on AOL. That then led John’s team becoming the first company to sell plane tickets on AOL and the second company to sell plane tickets on the web – the first to do so and not go out of business. There were many other great people at Preview such as Barrie Seidenberg, my first boss at Preview who ran the interactive development and co-led the charge to internet front-runner, but this day is about John. If only I had the scale and growth numbers in memory I could run off an achievement most next generation sites have yet to approach.
John treated all the workers, no matter what department they were in as an integral member of the team without whom the bigger picture could not be achieved. As the web was unfolding in ’96 and ’97 I realized that even though John had never deployed technology in this manner with these tools before, he knew exactly what he was doing. He didn’t even have to get a manual, his deep understanding from programming in the ‘early days’ gave him all he needed to know about programming machines to process input, store data, and present output. John’s incredible understanding meant that each new possibility was comprehended and intelligently chosen without requiring extensive testing and learning.
John’s other great insight is that the average worker is passionate about their job yet the workplace has a tendency to dull that. So whenever there was a reason he’d plan a paid social outing to a restaurant or bar for everyone inolved. My low pay, low stock pangs would fly away amongst the comaderie of a night out. My ongoing annoyance with the marketing department would turn into arm-in-arm praise, my existential battles with being a cube-drone were replaced by the warmth of appreciation for hard work. John took this so seriously, he stood down the board to ensure his social budgets we kept in tact. If they had ignored him I probably would have jumped ship.
So congrats John. I’m sorry we haven’t gotten to work together again. It was a lot of fun putting Bet-Me through the paces. Best of continued success!