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CTO’s Corner- Ray Tomlinson And How To Deal With Legacy Data

TransVault CTO

Hello my friends!


This month, I wanted to talk a little bit about legacy in technology. This was prompted by the recent sad passing of Ray Tomlinson, one of the founders of email as we know it today. There have been many articles written about his life already that I can’t hope to improve upon, so I won’t try to repeat that. However, the way that technology can leave a long lasting legacy behind, as Ray’s work has done, seemed like a good topic to blog about.


As I’m sure you’re aware, Ray’s claims to fame include inventing the @ in an email address – when people remember you just because they see a symbol, that’s when you know you’ve made it! With another person fondly remembered for a symbol (I’m talking, of course, about Prince) also recently leaving us, it has been a tough few months for punctuation lovers everywhere. I can only hope Mr Ampersand is eating healthily and taking plenty of exercise…Ray Tomlinson


Sometimes it seems like “legacy” can often be used as a bit of a dirty word in technology. We talk about legacy code, legacy systems – our natural instinct is always to look forward rather than back, and to assume that what people have done before us must be worse than the new, shiny system that we’re now building. In my last blog I suggested getting yourself a cup of coffee – this month, I’d suggest grabbing a mirror to look into. I’d be the first to admit that some of my old code might, ahem, have been better or more elegantly written, but, you know, we all do the best we can with the resources we have at the time. So legacy technology is just a fact of life, and perhaps we should celebrate it more than we do!


Very few people will leave a technology legacy such as Ray Tomlinson’s. Bill Gates, for sure – Steve Jobs, definitely – but it’s often only with 20/20 hindsight that we can say which ones will stand the test of time. If I were forced to put some money on it, my leftfield bet for someone who’ll leave a big legacy will be whoever figures out how to keep track of our digital footprint and let us take ownership of it back. Yes, that’s right – all that stuff we’ve been wilfully throwing into the cloud, just waiting for a prospective employer to stumble across it, and now you rather wish you hadn’t. There’s not a day goes by that I’m not glad I went through adolescence before someone invented the camera phone….


So what do you think? Who’s your tip for being the next Ray Tomlinson?


In the wonderful world of TransVault, one of our biggest challenges is dealing with legacy data. We deal with emails in archives of all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of issues. Part of what makes my job fun is that, just when you think you’ve seen everything, another project rocks up with some new and crazy data that we have to figure out how to deal with. Unlike my suggestion above, usually our problem is to migrate it successfully, rather than to make it disappear! Maintaining the legacy of who sent what email to whom is obviously incredibly important for any company, for any number of legal or continuity reasons – and I’m proud that we’re able to help our customers do that. Hopefully your embarrassing Christmas party photos will have been removed due to retention policies by now…..


So to conclude, I guess what I’m trying to say is this – while it’s tempting to focus on the new, the shiny and the exciting, it’s also important to respect the legacy that’s brought us to this point. Remember, that new thing you’re working on (project, code or just an email) will someday – and sooner than you think! – be considered legacy.


Until next month



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