Magazine article Technology & Learning

A Company Is Born

Magazine article Technology & Learning

A Company Is Born

Article excerpt

Two decades ago there were no big-name educational software companies--just beginning programmers and educators looking to make a difference. Here's the story of the first days of The Learning Company, from Teri Perl, one of the company's founders.

It was 1980 and I had just returned to California from a post-doc at the University of Wisconsin. Ann McCormick, then Ann Piestrup, had learned that she was probably going to be funded by two federal agencies (NIE and NSF) to develop programs in logic and geometry for second- and third-grade children. The person who had been written into the grant as the math expert had just opted out ... and so Ann was short a math person. That was me.

Advanced Learning Technology (that was our first name) was born in a one-room office in Portola Valley, California. The location seemed to portend success since the office next door had just been vacated by an expanding Mrs. Fields Cookies.

At about the same time, Warren Robinett appeared. He had recently left Atari, where he had been the designer and programmer of one of the company's first popular computer games, Adventure. To "prove" himself, Warren went off into his garage for about a week and returned with the "rooms" environment that was the innovative setting for our earliest programs: Gertrude's Secrets, Gertrude's Puzzles, and Rocky's Boots. It was an environment that made people sit up and notice.

Shortly into that year Leslie Grimm appeared. She had just gotten an Apple II computer and taught herself to program. Not that surprising. Leslie was smart. She had a Ph.D. in biology. As a mother of two young daughters, she was working as a teacher's aide and designing and programming learning games for young children on her own time. Bumble Games, Bumble Plot and the Moptowns were programs developed by Leslie at that time. (Later on Leslie was to become the mother, creator, and designer of that world-famous character, Reader Rabbit, and I would tag along with Math Rabbit.)

After that first year, venture capital gave us the wherewithal to become proper software publishers. I remember people sitting around trying to come up with a decent new name for a company that was about to launch software for kids. Advanced Learning Technology would definitely not do. The best we could think of was The Learning Company. No one was thrilled with the name, but we figured it would do for the moment. …

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