Magazine article Information Today

STARring Carlos Cuadra

Magazine article Information Today

STARring Carlos Cuadra

Article excerpt

When the Online Information Age dawned, Carlos Cuadra was there, probably thinking about how to improve on, and sell access to, the colorful sunrise. Yes, when online delivery of information was on a dream, Carlos Cuadra was one of the primary dreamers. It was Carlos who founded the Orbit Search Service (now part of Maxwell Online). Without him the online information world we know today would be markedly different.

Carlos' vision, inventiveness, and entrepreneurial spirit shaped the development of Orbit, and, with it, the information industry itself. Along with Roger Summit at Dialog, Carlos Cuadra is responsible for creating an industry where one previously did not exist. His name is also synonymous with tracking the growth of the information industry. The Cuadra Directory of Online Databases provided the statistical analysis used to explain how online information was exponentially exploding.

Does this bring to your mind some doddering old fogy, immersed in the past, living his life at 300 baud? Think again. Meeting Carlos, with his brisk walk and easy laugh, is greeting the future, not revisiting the past.

Cuadra, as in Cuadra Associates

Today Carlos Cuadra is president of Cuadra Associates, a company that designs and sells STAR, a sophisticated, multi-user text management and information retrieval software system. Cuadra Associates is located in West Los Angeles, a building with (what else?) an automated touchscreen building directory. Carlos has a large office with a view of the frantic drivers on the Santa Monica freeway.

There are clues in this office about what keeps Carlos on the cutting edge of information technology. Not that it's a glitzy, high tech office, although powerful computers are on every desk I saw. There's computer code on office balckboards, and a normal complement of fax machines and high tech telephone systems. But a large fake palms tree stands in the corner of Carlos' office and a plush armadillo sits on his computer. Next door, sharing the office with Carlos' long time colleague Judy Wanger, is a life size stuffed Snoopy. And the staftt room sports a pink pig next to the coffee pot. Wind it up and it was walks across the countertop oinking. It is Carlos, grinning broadly, who winds it up to show me.

This is a company that recognizes fun as a necessary component in the workplace. It is noticeable how many times the world "fun" occurs in Carlos" conversation. Of course, when it's your company, you can set the tone. But this is a man who spent over 20 years building an onlinge host system for Systems Development Corporaton (SDC)--a large, rather bureaucratic, company. Did he have fun during that time, too?

Cuadra in Orbit

"Yes, it's great fun to invent things," recalls Carlos thinking back to those early days. Carlos joined SDC in 1956. Prior to that he had used his PhD in psychology as a research psychologist for the Veterans Administration and a training specialist for the RAND Corporation. But at SDC the switched from psychology to information.

SDC at that time lived on government contract money. "We were the western Beltway Bandits," says Carlos, referring to consultands who thrive in the Washington, DC area enclosed by the freeway system there. The contract that Carlos landed was with the National Library of Medicine. He created the ELHILL retrieval software for MEDLINE. ELHILL is the precursor of both the MEDLARS software and Orbit itself.

Sure with an innovative a technology as online information retrieval, everyone immediately grasped the import for the future? Not according to Carlos. "I did a survey in 1970 of known NTIS information purchasers, trying to find out what the level of interest was for online information retrieval. I hald only a one percent return rate. Most had no idea that this would have any value. The survey basically said there is no market for this kind of thing. …

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